Being True to Your Audience

outhouse.jpgYou know that moment when you finish a poem you think is really amazing and you can’t wait to share it with someone? That was my moment last week when I hosted writers’ group at my house.

I was excited because it was the first time I’d used a new format for a poem. Usually, I write with plenty of breaks and spacing to create pacing or give a more visually appealing experience. This time, I’d written the poem almost in short paragraph form, like this particular paragraph, in fact.

I’d seen it done a few times before, and I wanted to see if I could present something in the same way. So I did.

And it fell flat.

Really flat.

I mean, really really flat.

Okay, so what went wrong? The writing they liked, with a few exceptions. At least they said they liked it, and I’ve never known these people to withhold on a critique. I wouldn’t like it if they did, either.

There was one line that wasn’t poetic. Okay, easy fix. Still, they said it wasn’t as strong as my other work. How did I miss the mark so badly when I thought I’d nailed it?

The format.

In fact, both of my friends said the same thing — the format wasn’t strong enough for the idea. One even said what stood out to her in my other poems was my formatting.

Damn.

I won’t deny I was deflated. I still am. I keep thinking that maybe it’s better than they think, and maybe they’re reacting strictly to the formatting. But I can’t ignore that formatting was what killed it for them, right?

I opened the file today and started applying my usual formatting. And now I hate it.

So what’s the lesson here? It’s not “be true to yourself and hang the critics.” No, that would be wrong — the critics are my readers, and here are two of them saying they don’t like what they see (literally).

The lesson, from my perspective, is that maybe this poem wasn’t the right one for this format. Maybe the seriousness of the subject — Alzheimer’s disease — deserved more words, more space. Or maybe I need to rework it in the format I like so that the flow is better. I don’t know.

For the first time in a while, I’m rather stumped. And right there is the real issue. All those doubts about my understanding of poetry, those feelings of just getting lucky a few times or just writing about blah blah nothing come rocketing to the surface. I’m a good writer. I know that much. However, as a poet, I might need some time yet.

Time to set this particular poem aside and work on something that will elevate my confidence again.

Poets, have you had something you’ve loved get a lukewarm reception? Have you tried taking suggestions and reworking the piece? What’s been the result?

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