“No one ever talks about the paternal aspect of being a writer, the sending of your children off into the world…” -Pattiann Rogers
Every once in a while I come across those lines of poetry that make me shudder. Their texture, exquisite, their sound, melodious, as if they are not only words but living particles of lead or ink, swimming about a page with perfect precision. These lines of poetry are like cadences composed within invisible staff lines. However, these lines are often cut, existing only in that unpublished, ethereal realm of “darlings” that had to be killed.
In the rare occurrence that I’ve written one of these lines myself, I find it nearly impossible to let it go. I am afraid, almost, that it will be lost forever, that it will somehow find its way into the world and be taken from me, stolen from a haphazard posting on a social media site or hacked into a poem where it doesn’t belong, or scribbled in a notebook on a shelf in a dark corner. I’m afraid that if I kill my darlings, they’ll stay dead, but maybe that’s how things are supposed to be.
Pattiann Rogers’ manuscript collection is filled with folders and folders of drafts of poems, and I find myself shuddering at least once a box. Perhaps this is mostly because of the coolness of the Reading Room, but the drafts I have read through contain the ghosts of genius, the penciled in, inked out, and all but forgotten lines of poetry: real, raw, word-music. How many are these drafts? I don’t know. What are their names? I couldn’t tell you for sure, and if I could I don’t know if I would. These lines are not meant for public consumption, but meant to be found.
I frequently laugh at the similarities I see between the way I edit my own writing and the drafts of Rogers’ works: the random mark-outs and comments that twirl around the edge of the page to keep a thought together rather than turning the page over, the sudden onset inspiration that starts with a beautiful phrase and expands into something like a mushroom cloud of words. The original poems are often entirely buried under the soft lead of revision, as if, right when Rogers had “finished,” she remembered that the poem should be something more—like the parent who sends their child off to school for the first time realizing too late that the child’s favorite toy was left in the living room.
More often than not writers are selfish with their “darlings.” We cultivate, coddle, keep these darlings from the world because we must protect them at all costs. At some point, though, writers must leave their lines to their own business, and whether these lines perish or flourish depends only on the writer’s willingness or unwillingness to change them.