Failed Poetry

Back at Oregon State Tracy Daugherty talked about the idea of finding past literary faces in old documents and old manuscripts in files–sort of like identity found in past drafts. And I always thought that was an interesting concept but I never felt it the way he spoke of it until perhaps just this morning. I happened to search for ‘poesy’  on my computer this morning at work in between tasks and finding documents for class–the drudgery of photocopying.

I happened upon three files filled with bad poems–some from the University of Southern Colorado and some from days in Oregon. And it was enlightening. I was amazed and puzzled by these poems I haven’t seen in literally years. Hard to believe I have been in Springfield going on 4 years and so wouldn’t have had occasion to look at these poems until this week. I searched them out because I like to write the assignments along with my students–for solidarity reasons and I wanted to steal one from the large amount of abandoned files.

I remember the first time I applied to grad schools back in the day that I applied as a poet student for the MFA programs in CA and in CO. I am so heavily vested in the fiction I write now and it seems so far from me to think I used to introduce myself and talk to people as if I wanted to only write poetry. I don’t see myself as someone who only thinks or writes ina certain genre. I like to think I’m like Sam Shepard and just gives in to the authorial mind or the creative literacy and that gives me fiction at the moment–I’ve also worked so hard at developing my fiction sensibilities and to develop those fictive/creative spaces–especially in graduate school. I guess it was just oddly exciting to open documents from 1990 and to understand Tracy Daugherty. Now, I do this with fiction all the time. I found a novel idea I sketched out in the 90’s and the Ballerina project I want to pick up some time about my spending time in New York State back in the day–wow, was it really 98 or 99. And I also remember finding poems about a man who is dating a woman with an autistic son.

Anyway, here is one of the poems.  In fact I remember talking to David Keplinger about it but at the same time I have no memory whatsoever of writing this poem.


The wood was faded
skin just out of hock

and her posture perfect down a thin leg.
Bad thoughts were in my head.

Oily stations left on the fretting board,
My hands were

scratches as she tuned.
No one is going to hear,

she said.
Don’t be afraid.

Published by

john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

2 thoughts on “Failed Poetry”

  1. Once again I marvel at the synchronicity of your writing and my thoughts. Last week I went to a poetry reading and I wasn’t really struck by the poetry; instead I spent quite a bit of time thinking about Stuart Dybek and how he said that lots of his stories come from failed poems. And I thought that if I started writing poems maybe I could get some stories on paper, because my poems always fail.

Leave a Reply