How do you know when a poem is finished?

I keep tinkering. But at some point you have to cut it loose. This is what I’m taking to the poetry workshop tonight (changes, while small, I think are signficant):
Vermeer’s Lady Writing a Letter
she’s taken a knife to her hair, again,
sliced away those willing strands
that each day hold her captive
in the clasp of perfect pearls
she studies herself in the mirror,
in the mellow light of morning —
a golden woman besieged by shadows
chained to a string of perfect pearls
at night she dreams of rubies
crystalline and star-filled
burning shadows bloody,
crushing seas of pearls
to evanescent dust
and so she closes her door
against the burdens of moment
turns to quill and paper —
a mirror freed by sunlight
and rich ruby dreams

5 thoughts on “How do you know when a poem is finished?

  1. I like all the changes. I agree they’re mostly small: changing into to in seems better for the rhythm. But I think the willful to willing is a huge change though.

  2. Yes. Exactly. I also changed the third to last line. I didn’t like the other one at all and am still not sure why. It has something to do with the rhythm, but also something do to with the transition to the image in the last two lines. Oh well, we’ll see what the comments are tonight.

  3. Ditto, I like this (and penultimate, earlier) better because you got rid of the husband. Hey, nothing agin husbands, but he was hogging too much space — this is much more focussed. The image coheres much more vividly.

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