Out With the Old?

I have a small box (nothing fancy) where I keep copies of journals that have published my poems.  I have, of course, stored all my recent publications, but I also have journals dating back to when I was an undergraduate.  One of my first publications was in Seton Hill’s literary journal, Eye Contact.  (I just took a look at their blog — it looks like they are heading towards online editions.  Suddenly, I feel old. )  Another early publication was in Sigma Tau Delta’s The Rectangle.    When I was compiling my first chapbook manuscript, I didn’t even look at such early publications, and now I am wondering why.  Yes, they were written by a beginner creative writer.  Yes, some of the language is a bit forced, and I could’ve used some more help with line breaks.  But when I recently read over both works, I didn’t run screaming from the room, or want to change my name so I wouldn’t be associated with “such works.”  In fact, I was a bit surprised that I’m still writing about such themes (15+ ahem years later) as class issues and working class women.  (One poem was titled “All the Girls on 3rd Shift” — no doubt inspired by Working Classics, and my own brief stint in a factory).

So now I am wondering, dear readers, what I should do with these poems.   Yes, I know they are mine, so I can really do with them what I want.  I could slide them into a chapbook manuscript or a collection. But do you ever take a look at your early work?  Work that showed promise, but could use some refining?  Are you tempted to go tweak this work (like I am)?  Or should I let the long past, be past? 


  1. There might be pieces of the poems you can rescue? I do this sometimes – find a line or stanza or idea from an older poem and kind of give it an update/refresh? It’s like repurposing a door as a desk – it may not be exactly the same animal when you’re done, but at least you’re getting some use out of it!

  2. margo roby Said:

    Good Heavens! Keep them to hand. As Jeannine says, you can use lines, themes, images and write whole new poems, or your slightly [:)] older perspective might want to shift a point of view, or you may want to strengthen some word choices…I would say let your writer’s gut tell you. If your brain starts buzzing, harvest away! If it’s different enough you will have a new poem to submit; if it’s tweaking, it will satisfy some inner part of you and maybe go into a new chapbook as a form of a published poem…

  3. Keep them! I like the advice above on new things to do with them, but maybe they are fine whole, too! Maybe they will fit into the later large collection…on down the road…in the chapter called “Juvenilia.” Wait, does that make you feel older or younger?!

  4. Karen Said:

    Thanks everyone! I am going to take another look at them…there’s one that really won’t need much revising, except maybe the title.

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