Monday, June 18, 2007

Two Versions

I have a poem, which I wrote a few months ago. In fact, I have two very different versions of it (and various drafts for each).

One draft sprawls all over the place. There’s a television showing news from an unnamed city on which bombs are raining down in the dark. The poem moves to an afternoon beach scene, back to the living room and TV, then to the narrator and his computer, then a panning out to a telescopic view of the living room and TV, then right into the TV and onto a scene from the bombed city not seen onscreen. The common thread is the emotional distance and helplessness of the cut-off narrator.

The other version is much simpler and thematically coherent. It starts from the telescopic view of the room, moves to the TV, moves to the image not seen by the camera lens. The theme is similar, but more obvious. The emotional distance and helplessness of the narrator is shown purely between himself and the TV screen.

This second version is much more direct, has a logical linear progression, and is much easier to understand on a single reading. It's how a textbook might tell you to write a poem. The first version makes more demands of a reader, is longer, and probably more puzzling.

I much prefer the first version. But perhaps that’s because I like being awkward and indirect. And maybe that’s not so much what readers like. Or editors.

It could also be that I am wrong and the second version is superior. Or it could be that neither version is any good!

Anyway, I’ll post both versions below, and leave them for 48 hours. Honest comments welcome.



Ben Wilkinson said...

I prefer the second poem for its succinctness in making the same points as the first, though in a less obvious way. As a result, the second poem opens up the images of the first to more ambiguity, which as Empson rightly pointed out, is one of the keys (if not the key) to good poetry.

The problem is the fact that I didn't read the second poem in a vacuum. That's to say, I was aware that it was related to the first. Perhaps this altered my reading. But then I don't agree that the first poem 'makes more demands of a reader'; I'd say it's more colloquial tone and often prose-like construction spells things out more clearly. Conversely, the second draft leaves the reader in the position of mulling things over; it prompts more thought and asks to be re-read. Or at least that's how I feel about it, which is something that you probably won't find all that surprising given my reading of short poem H on the TLS comp's shortlist!

Colin Will said...

I'm going to disagree with Ben and say that the first version really hit me emotionally, whereas the second, having read the first, didn't affect me at all.

There's a more detached(?), edgy tone to the first that contrasts with the more direct, 'poetic' tone of the second.

Andrew Shields said...

Are dishonest comments welcome?

Sorry, I should not just make a flip remark without commenting on the poems, but grading calls.

Rob said...

Thanks, Ben and Colin, for giving me your reactions.

Andrew, dishonest comments are welcome, as long as you label them as such.

Julie Carter said...

I greatly prefer the first. I like the circularity of it, the tone, and (to be extremely shallow) the way it sits on the page.

Andrew Shields said...

Honest comment: I stopped reading the first one because I was distracted.

I read the second one all the way through because it captivated me out of my distraction.

Rob said...

Julie, Andrew - thanks a lot.

I can see already - there isn't going to be a uniformly-held view on which version works best, is there?

Maybe I have to do better than either. That could be my challenge.