4 minutes reading time (732 words)

THE LOST LAST POEM

I put off finishing the poem a good while ago. There was a bit of a muddle in the middle. It needed plenty of time, and I didn't have plenty. I never have plenty.     

Today it occurred to me that it's been over a year — it might even be nearly two — since I last looked at it. But the last line keeps coming back to me. Gotta be telling me something.

It's the last poem in a long set. A long set that I want to make into a book. It's ten years since my last book of serious poems came out. You can put things off too long. 

I can put things off too long.

So I go to the electronic folder to take a look. Oh. It's not where I thought it was. 

Where is that folder?  I know what it's called. 'Find' comes up with four copies of a 2003 folder. Not the one I'm looking for.

But I'm cool with this. I'll find it.

Systematically, I search the usual places. My hard drive; the USB sticks I take on holiday; the desktop of the laptop; the Cloud. It'll show up.

Except it doesn't. Bummer.

The end of the poem is taunting me. It goes like this (the line breaks may not be right):

So now tell me, she says,
what you've done with my pearls.

This might not sound riveting. But I tell you there was a tricky back-story before those lines. A tale that was the last tale to be told in the bigger story of Mr and Mrs Philpott, who began in a Rialto publication in 2003 and might be finally at the end. Except I've lost the end.

I might once have panicked. But not these days. I know how things get lost. I know how to find them. (I know there are too many poems in the world already.) 

I go to my ring-bound paper files, where I print and file every poem. Well, nearly. It seems I didn't print this one. Or if I did, I didn't file it.

But I remember putting the poem into the large file I'd made of all the poems. The WHOLE SET, which amounted to a great many pages. And I printed that file. It's in a perspex wallet underneath the mountain of books and magazines on the table beside the stove.

And this turns out to be true.

Except when I printed that WHOLE SET, the last poem hadn't been added. I might have guessed, since the plastic wallet is dusty. But at least its physical existence proves I did create a file of more than 80 pages. Because here they are.

But I worked on several versions of the last (and longest) poem. I remember this absolutely clearly. It has to be somewhere.

Two hours later, I can confirm the Pearls poem is not somewhere. It is not even in the back-up drive of time-machine-saved files, most of which could be jettisoned with impunity. I must have been keeping it in the Cloud, in the same folder as the book file to which it was to be added. I must somehow have deleted the whole folder, no doubt thinking I had a copy on the backed-up hard drive. It happens. 

Nobody else has seen that poem but me. It might as well never have existed. They call it The Cloud for a reason.

Idly, I riffle through the stack of metal trays on my desk, where I keep all sorts of odds and sods. Letters, poems, bills, cartoons, pictures. I also go through them regularly and throw old poems away. But not this one. This poem is there.

Nearly three A4 pages. It's THERE.

It's not the last saved version, because a whole lot of stuff is horribly wrong with it. I fixed some of the muddle, I know I did. I'm not even sure it's a good poem, now that I read it again. Maybe I should end with the one before. Maybe it was meant to get lost.

On the other hand, one of the reasons for getting poems published (if you're lucky enough to be able to) is to save them from oblivion, at least temporarily. Or to ensure that they get lost in the right way, i.e. by being forgettable for most readers.

So now I had better help that to happen, if I can. It's time.


FIFTEEN BOLD ASSERTIONS ABOUT POETRY
When Zoom is doom
 

Comments 10

grahaeme barrasford young on Sunday, 19 July 2020 16:46

At least you found it. I've got a poem I know I wrote (or, I shouild say, have just recalled I wrote): I have no idea anymore what its called, and I have 350 titles in my 'Complete' folder. Aagh.

At least you found it. I've got a poem I know I wrote (or, I shouild say, have just recalled I wrote): I have no idea anymore what its called, and I have 350 titles in my 'Complete' folder. Aagh.
Guest - Sheila Aldous on Sunday, 19 July 2020 17:21

Dear Helena,

I know the frustrations. I hope you find it soon or your previous edits come back to you. How do you normally file your poems in a ring binder? Is it alphabetically? I have not found a way that works for me. Any tips on this? Your blog is usually very useful, I really enjoy it.

Dear Helena, I know the frustrations. I hope you find it soon or your previous edits come back to you. How do you normally file your poems in a ring binder? Is it alphabetically? I have not found a way that works for me. Any tips on this? Your blog is usually very useful, I really enjoy it.
Helena Nelson on Sunday, 19 July 2020 17:50

You might be able to find it from a key word or phrase, Graeme. 350 is not so many....
Good luck! :-)

You might be able to find it from a key word or phrase, Graeme. 350 is not so many.... Good luck! :-)
Helena Nelson on Sunday, 19 July 2020 17:53

Sheila, I file them by Pigeons Out (sent to magazines), Pigeons Returned (rejected from magazines), Pigeons with Homes (accepted by magazines or in books) and Fledglings (new ones that haven't gone anywhere. So the missing poem should have been (but wasn't) in the Fledglings. Oh and I have another file called 'Relegates'. These are the ones I've given up hope for. Eeeek.

Sheila, I file them by Pigeons Out (sent to magazines), Pigeons Returned (rejected from magazines), Pigeons with Homes (accepted by magazines or in books) and Fledglings (new ones that haven't gone anywhere. So the missing poem should have been (but wasn't) in the Fledglings. Oh and I have another file called 'Relegates'. These are the ones I've given up hope for. Eeeek.
Guest - Sheila Aldous on Sunday, 19 July 2020 18:03


Thanks Helena,

I have a lot to go in the Relegates, thinking of getting rid of those. It is a very useful filing system you have despite your loss. Nevertheless your system sounds generall a dependable one and could maybe help me keep track of ‘published’ and ‘wins’ of which I have a few now. I hope it is okay to imitate? Are these hard copies or in electronic storage btw?

Thanks Helena, I have a lot to go in the Relegates, thinking of getting rid of those. It is a very useful filing system you have despite your loss. Nevertheless your system sounds generall a dependable one and could maybe help me keep track of ‘published’ and ‘wins’ of which I have a few now. I hope it is okay to imitate? Are these hard copies or in electronic storage btw?
Helena Nelson on Sunday, 19 July 2020 18:27

Those are just the hard copies, Sheila. I file by year electronically, but mark onto the digital poem page if it's been accepted somewhere and where. I am not wholly reliable with this, and only started doing that about ten years ago. And separate electronic folders when poems go into publications of one kind or another, to group them. And please imitate anything that's useful. I think you just need a system that works for you. My earliest poems are in books, handwritten, and then a typed version pasted in. But those go back more than 40 years. What a thing to SAY!

Those are just the hard copies, Sheila. I file by year electronically, but mark onto the digital poem page if it's been accepted somewhere and where. I am not wholly reliable with this, and only started doing that about ten years ago. And separate electronic folders when poems go into publications of one kind or another, to group them. And please imitate anything that's useful. I think you just need a system that works for you. My earliest poems are in books, handwritten, and then a typed version pasted in. But those go back more than 40 years. What a thing to SAY!
Josephine Corcoran Horsfall on Sunday, 19 July 2020 19:49

Reading this post, I was willing you on to find the poem. Now you have it, of sorts, I'm willing you to publish! I daren't share my method of filing with you and your readers, you'd faint.

Reading this post, I was willing you on to find the poem. Now you have it, of sorts, I'm willing you to publish! I daren't share my method of filing with you and your readers, you'd faint.
Guest - Catherine Nicholls on Monday, 20 July 2020 06:29

Yours has me nodding with recognition and delight that I’m not the only one.

Yours has me nodding with recognition and delight that I’m not the only one.
Helena Nelson on Monday, 20 July 2020 11:55

Josephine (and Catherine), you've made me chuckle. How comforting to find there are fellow numpties!

Josephine (and Catherine), you've made me chuckle. How comforting to find there are fellow numpties!
Oliver Comins on Sunday, 26 July 2020 22:56

Sorry, I am several days behind (at best) but have seen any number of poems rushing around together in the shared space of the gardens behind the houses in the street where I live. I am sure come of them have travelled far to be here (perhaps from Fife to West London) and I am also sure many of them are here without the consent or, possibily, the knowledge of their author. They behave a bit like juvenile foxes, but not so smelly. In my experience, the poems that get away from me are always nearly ready. The elusive ones are generally two or more streetlights ahead, then they go. Good luck to them. There are other poems which never disappear. Every once in a while they return with some element of "thanks, but no thanks". They are special friends who have been out and back maybe 30 times. Two of them will be published in the Autumn and I never lost sight of therm, although I may not have given them the care and attention the needed - until just now.

Sorry, I am several days behind (at best) but have seen any number of poems rushing around together in the shared space of the gardens behind the houses in the street where I live. I am sure come of them have travelled far to be here (perhaps from Fife to West London) and I am also sure many of them are here without the consent or, possibily, the knowledge of their author. They behave a bit like juvenile foxes, but not so smelly. In my experience, the poems that get away from me are always nearly ready. The elusive ones are generally two or more streetlights ahead, then they go. Good luck to them. There are other poems which never disappear. Every once in a while they return with some element of "thanks, but no thanks". They are special friends who have been out and back maybe 30 times. Two of them will be published in the Autumn and I never lost sight of therm, although I may not have given them the care and attention the needed - until just now.
Already Registered? Login Here
Guest
Tuesday, 27 October 2020

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://happenstancepress.com/