This post features my poem ‘The Talking Cure’, written in 2005. Here is the first version of the poem and comments made during the workshopping of the poem, compared with the final version, published in my prize-winning Smith/Doorstop pamphlet, Show Date and Time.
The poem begins as eight quatrains and ends up as five tercets. It is an example of a poem which has a lot of extraneous over-writing in the first half – something immediately picked up in the workshop ( ‘Does it need the first verse? ‘Take care with the account of Budapest -clunkier here’, ‘Trim it a bit’) – and writing which is more immediate and urgent in the last three stanzas. We’re often told to check the beginnings of our poems for ‘throat-clearing’; warm up ‘gargling’ before we start to show our real voice and what we want to say. The original beginning of the poem was stilted and pretentious: ‘ for this head-to-head with your own head’, ‘shifting tectonic plates / of adolescence’, ‘ the Pacific drift / of early middle-age’, ‘ and inner decrepit heart’, and so on. Some people wanted me to put in more specifics earlier: a mention of the Danube, name of the park, more names generally.
The poem is about the relationship between a therapist and patient so a crucial piece of advice was to ‘Check the scene-setting; the heart of the poem is and what goes on in the person’s (patient’s) mind’. ‘Should it be more about therapy?’ someone asked, but I think there is enough said. ‘Check title’ – I didn’t change it. The first four stanzas in the original poem were far removed from the main experience. So the general feeling was that it should be ‘sparer, more oblique’, and that it could be three stanzas (one person thought two) and I agreed.
The final poem, as I have mentioned, is five tercets; I take the first line of the original stanza three as the beginning, then tease out much of the final three original stanzas which stay more or less the same, with some re-lineation. So in effect, I was told to lop the first five stanzas from my poem, which is a pretty drastic murdering of my darlings but which showed that there was a much better poem inside trying to push its way out and breathe.
What do you think? Would you have kept anything else that my workshoppers threw out?