I was talking with two different people recently about sharing work in progress with others for critique versus developing and relying on one’s own instincts. I guess there’s a place for both, but I was, knowitallishly, advising them to use their own instincts. But this process of honing your own editorial instincts for your own work. How the heck do you do that? I know I read and read, both poetry and critique, but how capable am I of really “seeing” my own stuff? I find that the main element required to get some decent perspective is time. I love love love many of my new poems. Then I hate hate hate them. Only with sufficient time can I come to some middle ground of a cooler, less passionate perspective. Also I have found that putting together collections is a really useful exercise for feeling out weaker poems. My cilia may vibrate a bit, or a lot, when I’m reading through a collection of my own poems, and I’ve learned to trust this indication that something’s not right. Sometimes the whole poem just has to be removed, sometimes it’s a line, and every once in a while, it’s not the poem but where it stands in relation to other poems. Sometimes just moving its location can make the cilia calm down. But how do I know I can trust myself? Northrop Frye wrote, in The Archetypes of Literature (Kenyon Review, “The fact that revision is possible, that the poet makes changes not because he likes them better but because they are better, means that poems, like poets, are born and not made. The poet’s task is to deliver the poem in as uninjured a state as possible, and if the poem is alive, it is equally anxious to be rid of him, and screams to be cut loose from his private memories and associations, his desire for self-expression, and all the other navel-strings and feeding tubes of his ego.” This readjusts my perspective — maybe I need to not so much trust myself, but trust the poem. When it’s able to walk, it’ll walk away. Or run.

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