When does a poem become a poem?
I have poems that I started ten or twelve years ago that I’m still working on. Well, actually, I should say that I have one poem from that time in my life that has remained definitively unfinished, and a spattering of non-consequential unfinished poems. With regard to the one though, I don’t think I’ve taken a stab at finishing it since I’ve been married. Now, four kids later, my writing style has changed and I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it.
Does it matter if I finish it? No. Robert Frost comes to mind and just as way leads on to way, poem leads on to poem and I can’t see as I’ll ever make it back to that one. So what is it? What is this thing that’s hanging out in my journal from ten years ago? It’s not a poem, but I refer to it as a poem that’s not finished. Maybe it’s a pre-poem, or a potential poem. Or maybe just an unfinished poem.
Now, what about a poem that I start right this instant, it takes me an hour to write and then it’s finished. At what point in the duration of the hour does it become a poem? What’s the moment that it transforms from poetic lines to an actual poem.
If two weeks from now, I decide to edit the poem I write tonight. The poem is at one point fixed as a poem, and then changes are thrust upon it. The fact that I change it two weeks from now doesn’t make it less of a poem now.
“what you doing?” someone might ask me.
“Writing a poem,” I answer. Which might not be true if the lines of verse that I’m scribbling never become a finished poem. Is a finished poem different than an unfinished poem? Something poetic isn’t necessarily a poem.
I do know that when I’m writing a poem, there’s a point where I stop writing and look at the poem and know that it’s a poem. Not only do I realize that it’s a poem, It’s a poem that I created.