Too often it happens, I believe, as poets, we believe that there is a road-map that one can follow in the creation of the “perfect” poem. Say, if we go up Linebreak 55 and get off on Enjambment 2, and go North on Stanza Boulevard, then we’ll find the almost microscopic village of Perfect Poem. I’ll admit that I’ve loaded up my metaphorical pickup and set out Manifest Destiny Style in search of this Utopian city where all our words play nice with one another. I’ve flicked at least a thousand still-lit cigarettes out the driver side window and watched them glitter on the highway like a trail of breadcrumbs that I will, undoubtedly, have to follow back later. If I’m going to speak frank, and if honesty is the best policy, or so I have been told, it’s bullshit, really.
There’s no such thing as the “perfect” poem. No Utopian city of exact rhyme that sounds beautiful in every listener’s ear. But still, as poets, we set out in our covered wagons for that great golden ghost town. Why? Well, why not? Human beings, as a whole, are always chasing after some sort of unattainable perfection. It is our nature, unfortunately. But, if I am going to break away from metaphor—which, by now, I’m sure that’s what you’re hoping for—we need to understand that there is no such thing as the perfect poem, that all-pleasing lyric, or narrative, or L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E poem. If you set out every time to write the perfect poem, you’re only going to end up disappointed.
That was me. And to some extent, still is me. Each time I sit down at the computer (I cannot write with pen and paper, my handwriting, is, well, abysmal), I think “Ahh, Jeff, this is gonna be the one.” And you know what happens? I walk away shaking my head, thinking, “Well, Jeffy-boy, you sure mucked that one up good.” But I should not feel that way. And neither should you. As an instructor once said in workshop, “I don’t know why we think we can write perfect poems—we don’t have perfect people.” Very wise.
So I said, “Fuck it.” I tossed the map to Perfect Poem in a blaze out my window. And it got easier—this whole poem writing thing. Now, I don’t plan out my poems like some road-map to Graceland or wherever it is people find inner peace. I just say, “I want to write about a cat today. Or Twinkies.” and I’m happier for it. Sure, the poems aren’t perfect. People may like some of them. People may hate some of them. That’s life. I’ve made plenty of enemies. What’s a few more? It’s writing for fun. For yourself. Too often, I believe, we forget about that feeling. You know the one: happiness.
You’ve got to love your poems, flaws and all. They’re like your children. Sometimes you have a child that is everything you wanted—and hey, that’s great. Sometimes though, you’re going to have the one that colors on the walls, and won’t eat their spinach—and hey, you know what, that’s okay too.
As so many people so much smarter than me have said, “If this becomes a job—then you should quit.” I’ll add my own little blurb to that: “If you’re still on the road, still looking for perfect, pull over to the shoulder and appreciate the ugliness for a little while. It’s there for you, too.”
Jeff Haynes is a first year MFA student in Poetry. He is from Illinois, and loves The X-Files.