How it Slipped Away was written in a single session shortly after waking from the dream described. I see it as not only about the specific occasion, but about all those times when a notion comes along that could make for a solid poem, but that slip away before the effort is made. Memo to self: Keep notebook (or iPad) handy. It is also about those poems that are simply beyond one’s scope–the vision is there, but the work just falls short. This is most poems, to a greater or lesser extent. Be reconciled to disappointment; but don’t become reconciled to less than your best attempt.
This poem taught me something new, in that the visual elements of dreams remain to me pretty much intact, but the sound and sense, in this case the song, I rarely retain. This tells me something about my brain. I’ve talked with musicians who have had the opposite experience–no visual recollection of a dream, but a perfect recollection of melody.
Just Before the Fall was heavily revised to make the version seen here. Two ending stanzas were removed, and replaced by the last one presented here. I had had this image, while surveying my home domain, of an emperor looking out upon his realm. That this particular realm was looking decidedly down at heels took me to the notion of the rise and fall of empires. My intent was to be a little light-hearted and self deprecating, but Gibbon is pretty dismal stuff.
The first version took the Gibbon progression to its logical conclusion, total ruination. Terry, my life mate and best first reader, said the poem was pretty good but a real bummer. This is an example of a time when following a poetic strategy leads far from one’s intent. Sometimes the result is a better poem, so I wouldn’t recommend against following the poem’s lead. But in this case, the result was not better (or worse for that matter), but it didn’t do the work I intended, and I could see an equally good turn that would. I may not have improved the poem in revision, but I did it no harm either, and brought it back in line with what I wanted.
It occurs to me that I may have abandoned imposing my will on vast tracts of real estate, but I have not given up on trying to enforcing my will upon the page. A subject, perhaps, for a future effort.