Sometimes you have to do it . . . sometimes you have to sacrifice a poem for the good of a manuscript. This has come up a couple of times when people ask me about "Requiem for the Orchard" which used to be a long poem. (You can see the intact version here at Guernica). I chopped the long poem into its component sonnet parts and distributed the parts throughout the manuscript, entitling those individual parts "Requiem". In retrospect, now that the book's out, would I do it again. My answer is yes. I would do it again.
One of the tenets of my poetic aesthetics (as they stand today) are as follows--I never write towards completing a single poem. Rather, I write towards completing and understanding a single obsession. My understanding of my own obsession at the time was this--I needed to sacrifice this particular poem to satisfy a particular inertia that was moving the collection forward in a particular way. Had I kept the long poem intact, where would I put it? At the beginning of the collection? At the middle? At the end? In any one of these locations, the long poem sequence would drown any tonal momentum. Contained within the poem is the entire arc of the manuscript and having the poem rest at one end, the middle, or the other end would, harshly effect the manuscript. My interest is not in fulfilling the reader's immediate understanding of my obsession through the immediacy of a poem. Rather, I'm interested in creating the conditions that sustain a particular tonal movement, modulating that tone a bit here and there, but for the most part, maintaining a particular feeling or emotion.
You might argue that such a belief threatens the staying power of any one poem. I'm here to tell you, I don't care about that as an artist. I care about my body of work, and that I, as a writer, in the span of a writing career will produce a diverse array of projects. Some will fail. That's a given and that is part of the poetic process.
I have difficulty working on a single poem without an understanding of the context of that poem. This is a sensibility that has governed my work since 2001. And thus, my willingness to spill the blood of a long sequence of poems for what I perceive as the good of a manuscript of poems, will continue.
Think of two museums--The Louvre and The Guggenheim. I like the Guggenheim because of the way the building's structure invites you to climb its corkscrew up to the top. The Louvre . . . hell, just take me to the Mona Lisa.