I think the toughest thing about looking back at previous writing is the shame or embarrassment of looking back at some of it, not being satisfied with my work. I always want to use things and to have it be as perfect as I thought it was at the time I initially wrote it. But that’s part of being a writer and an editor — some works must be left behind. It was helpful for me to hear from Ray that the writing that is left behind isn’t wasted time or effort. It’s just a foundation and a learning process for better writing later.
In constructing my project for Capstone, I was going to include a poem I did two summers ago about police brutality. It was about a dream of mine in which I witnessed someone being unlawfully shot by a cop. Here’s an exerpt:
“Hello, Officer, I just saw that you shot a man of my same skin tone/My hands won’t go near the wallet in my pocket/So leave your holster alone.” I really liked it at the time, but now realize that it doesn’t necessarily fit into the message of my project. Its relevance isn’t as strong as it was when I wrote it. And other things I have written lately haven’t either. My new project is about examining complexities and empathy and raw emotion in this racially-tensioned time. I think I don’t like some of the things I’ve written because I’m trying to make my poems rhyme and that doesn’t really fit my style. Rhyming feels like a limiting poetic device for me at the time. There’s good in getting out of my comfort zone but it’s also good to stick to my strengths and what I know.
I’m learning that there’s a time and a place for certain things that we write. And that what make work one time, may not fit with new material. I’m finding comfort in the fact that I can make mistakes and these mistakes and attempts can be used in an abstract way to produce more refined material. Squished lemons can still make lemonade.