I hate to be ruthless, but…

What the poem needs? Or, what the poem doesn’t need must go. After coming up with a pretty solid draft of my annual poem for a friend, I realized early this morning that a lot of the beginning is just setting the scene. And that’s hard to give up, because to me that scene is so resonant in my memory. But is it critical to the poem?

To make the decisions more fun, I’ve sewn a few important bits in those first stanzas, so I don’t want to cut them out wholesale. Ah, time to tighten. And I’m pretty sure one stanza’s got to go. (We tell ourselves, “That’s for another poem.”)

For me, the struggle’s deciding what’s extra and what’s adding complexity. If everything fits (neatly, in its little box), is that boring? Can you have a few stray meanderings? My sense is yes, and yes they have to tie back or refer back or otherwise not belong to an entirely separate universe. And they can’t be solely for the purpose of setting the scene.

If place is central to the poem, how do you root the poem in that place just setting the scene–slowing down the poem or getting right to where the poem really starts?

How do you decide what to keep, what to cut?