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digging out old poems to recycle

Flogging old drafts – ‘do I still want to say this?’

No, not flogging in the sense of selling, although who knows? Maybe there’s a market for it – poets could sell their old given-up-on poems to others who might be able to make something of them.

But what I’m talking about here is old stuff that you rediscover years later and think ‘hmm… maybe there is something in this.’

I don’t know about you but I have tons of folders on my computer, actually it’s sprawled across two computers, both of which are current, just to add to the mess. ‘Poems Archive’, ‘Old poems’, ‘Old bad poems’, ‘Poems to work on’, etc. There are also folders which date from various ‘poem a day’ exercises, courses and self-styled retreats, going back seven or eight years.

When I find myself trawling the current ‘working on’ folder and finding nothing to inspire me, I sometimes open up one of the old folders for a peek. But I think the trick is not to do it too often, because you want to surprise yourself with stuff you’ve forgotten about.

Sometimes I just need reassurance. ‘Wow! look at the tat I was writing in 2009’ or whatever. Or to see how fruitful a certain retreat or course had been. In March 2015, for example, I took myself off to Standen for a three day retreat. When I looked at the folder of ten poems I started or worked on while I was there, I see that two were subsequently published – after a lot of work though – in Prole and The Interpreter’s House, and one eventually came second in the 2016 Stanza competition. On the other hand, the May 2013 ‘poem a day’ folder only contains three poems (!), none of which made it to publication.

But more exciting is to find poems I just could not get to work, but when I read them again now I’m thinking ‘I still want to say this.’

So after today’s hunt through the various rejected-by-myself piles, I have found seventeen poems worth revisiting, on the basis that each of them have something, however small, going for them. Yes, they are riddled with tired phrases, poor line breaks, too much ‘telling’, portentous last lines and the rest. But that can all be worked on, and it will be fun to do so. Most importantly, they make me think ‘yes, I still want to say this.’

8 Comments on “Flogging old drafts – ‘do I still want to say this?’

  • elly
    October 3, 2017 at 11:20 am

    OK, winter’s coming … I might try it too 🙂

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      October 4, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Definitely! Hunker down with a cup of tea… I guess winter gets a bit chilly where you are, Elly!

      Reply
  • J V Birch
    October 3, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Can so relate to this! A poem I wrote nearly ten years ago has just been published. And have a bursting ‘Work in progress’ folder. Must revisit 🙂

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      October 4, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Ten years! Great stuff, that must be so satisfying. Good luck with your archive-trawl 🙂

      Reply
  • Pam Thompson
    October 3, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    It sounds like a good thing to do, especially after some time has passed. I’m glad it is proving fruitful for you.

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      October 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks Pam, yes, I’m always pleasantly surprised at least to start with. Although sometimes I start working again on something and remember the reason I gave up on it….!

      Reply
  • Peter Raynard
    October 4, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Interesting as always Robin. If I go back through old drafts of poems the deciding factor is whether the premise of the poem is worth working with. If I think the idea is a good one, irrespective of the quality of the writing, I think it is worth another go.

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      October 4, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      Hi Peter, yes I agree. And the passing of time always gives us fresh eyes I think.

      Reply
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