The Blog of John Hewitt

Write a new poem an old subject – 31p31d

Where you came from

Trees from a trip to Montana

Trees from a trip to Montana

Reviewing your old poems is an important way to grow as a poet. Because I am not always the most organized of people, I keep finding more poems that I have scribbled down somewhere or saved in inappropriate places. At one point in my life, I had a file cabinet full of poems, but after a dozen moves over the past fifteen years, it has long ago disappeared. Many of those poems would be over twenty-five years old now. That’s a trip through time I would still like to take at some point.

As I read my old poems, I have varying reactions. Some poems I clearly remember writing, while others are a mystery to me. Some even make me cringe just a little. When that happens, I try to tell myself that they can’t all be winners.

Overall, my old poems tell me about where I have come from. I have ventured in and out of poetry over the years. My old poems definitely show signs of their age, at least to me. I can almost immediately see the difference in life experience between then and now. That doesn’t make the old poems bad, just of a different time.

Changes in Focus

In reviewing my more recent work, I can spot a certain narrowing of focus. My life is spent in hotels, offices, hospitals and on the road between them. These are the places where the events of my life happen, and it shows in my work. While I like many of the new poems, I feel as if my poetic world has gotten a bit too small, and I need to open it up again. This project is helping with that.

I don’t have specific advice for how you should review your old work. I can tell you that the process isn’t about editing (though you are free to edit). It is about assessment and growth. By reviewing your old poetry, it is possible to spot patterns and habits that you may want to break or bring back. You can also track changes in your point of view. If nothing else, reading your old work is an interesting personal journey, and one that I suggest you take at some point.

Today’s poetry assignment

If you like, reread some of your old poetry. Write a new poem about a subject from one of your old poems. See how revisiting it feels.