Friday, August 26, 2011

How do you know when you're finished with a novel, a poem, a book...

Yesterday, Matt Bell posted a Facebook comment about finishing the new round of edits on his novel -- a process that took two years of daily work. He ended with "Already wondering what I'm going to write tomorrow."

I get the question, "When do you know it's finished?" For one thing, I don't hand anything over (to a reader or a friend or an agent/editor) until A. I'm lost. I don't know how to make my next move. or B. The deadline shows up and I'm at an ending -- not the ending, mind you.

But there's also this shifting of attention. I saw it in Bell's post. He wedged in the final brick, saw something out of the corner of his eye, and turned his head toward it.

So, here's a poem that answers the question. (The poem appears in my collection Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees and is originally dedicated to poet Rodney Jones -- a great poet to read as both an aspiring poet and fiction writer. Today, I'm dedicating it to Matt Bell.)

Q and A: When do you know a poem is done?

I have said that each shirtless boy pumping a bike could be a lover,

that a new baby needs attending. There is no

finish; only

a shift of attention.

Like this: I determine that it’s spring.

An observation not of bright crocus beaks breaking ground from below or rain,

but some clockwork,

my whole body suddenly tightening with blood.

Sometimes, yes, forewarned by slow warming,

but usually it’s as if winter were an old house in a field

torn down while I slept

and I’m not sad that it’s gone,

but overwhelmed

by how much sky it had been holding back.

(For those of you who might reside in Newark, Delaware, this poem was specifically inspired by the massive old lonesome house that sat empty forever on Barksdale Road until, one day, it was gone.)