Poetry and “maturing” tastes

Poetry as an art is subjective not only in quality but in interpretation and experience.

Such experiences are difficult to shape as an author. It is questionable that such shaping should even be attempted. I suppose, in that,it parallels the ethics of psychology or propagandistic advertisement. Ought we, as writers write what we think will tug at people? What will resonate? As mentioned in a previous post, poetry is weak if it does not resonate — if it is incapable of communicating — but what about the other side? What about not accounting for taste, but being accountable for our tastes?

My own tastes have certainly changed with time. As I have changed as a person, so too have my tastes, with equally unclear catalysts. I cannot point to moments in my life and say “that’s it, that’s where I realized I disliked enjambment” but somehow that feeling sits in me, to this day. I have no idea what happened, but something changed. To call it a realization implies it has always been that way, but I do not think that is true. This is most evident, however, in my own work.

In writing poems, I have clearly changed my style over time. What may not be so clear, however, is that as my tastes have “matured,” a sense of contempt for works I once found ideal or perfect also developed. Often, my past work frustrates me, sometimes enough to require a complete rewrite, as I still find the underlying concepts interesting. In one case, a poem I wrote has 14 versions on record. Here is a more recent poem that sat in a position relative “perfection” for nearly four years:

Some would say that God was there
Others knew it was just the Faeries.
For some, for many, nature is a place of peace.
That is God.
Order in all things.
Structure and a reason.
It is meditation that seeks an inner silence,
a stillness to wander in.
A slice of oblivion to inhabit.

For others, Nature is a place of Chaos.
Those are the Faeries.
Disorder with harmony, bound without clarity.
It is meditation that seeks reverberations,
Being amidst a thousand echoes

And then I read it one day, and nothing about it sat well enough with me. I still loved the ideas behind it and certain images and even specific word choices, but for whatever reason, after four years of being content with it, I suddenly felt it was deeply inadequate. In this case, the alterations I made were drastic. It’s almost fair to say the rewrite was more so an entirely different poem than a retooling or fixing. This is how it turned out instead:

Some would say that God was there
Wandering past the trees,
But something else stalked sylvan air:
A cohort, circus, of Faeries.

God implied a harmony:
Order in a quiet breeze;
Whistling reeds as symphony;
A choir nestled in the trees.

Earth enchanted
To follow lead.

But in a moment, contrast stands.
The winds have turned and balance shakes.
Shouldered by brittle wingspans,
Faeries beg the birds debate.

And the woods erupt in raucous chirps
Irreverent of time and place.
Yet a certain harmony is birthed
Left by Chaos, in its wake.

A breath is taken
And the wind is freed.

In some ways, even now, I feel discontent about it. But I also feel a lot better — enough so that I’ve let this poem represent me in a few contests.

And yet, I feel as though even if this version single-handedly won me a contest, or was placed in a literary magazine, front and center, ready to print and spread across the world, I would still find it unfinished or perhaps wrong. Even with all the validation in the world, this specific version would still feel incorrect at its fringe.

I seldom seek critique for poetry, not because I fear it, but because I feel like I wouldn’t be able to respect it as much as with writing. I would, of course, listen to what others had to say, but with poetry, I find the locus of authority on my work is much harder to share, or perhaps is simply more limited to myself. I do not claim to be a greater expert in poetry than prose, but with prose, I am much more receptive to responses — I actively seek beta readers and critique when I can (and I fear that my requests for critique are an imposition), even though I am not necessarily lacking confidence in my work.

In poetry, I am much more aware of the risks of subjectivity, not only between myself and others, but within myself.

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