Kill your darlings: Peter Filkins on going ‘back to the future’

With the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference underway, we challenged our JHU Press authors to write on the theme “Kill your darlings.” We asked: What poem, line, stanza, or piece of brilliant work have you sacrificed for the greater good? Has this piece or well-turned phrase found its way into another poem, short story, or into your subconscious to use at another time? Read on to find out what they had to say.

Guest post by Peter Filkins

Good lines are not abandoned, nor do they disappear. Instead, my fear is that I’ll never live long enough to finally get right the poem that’s not quite there yet, for how many times have I sorted through the mounds of unfinished poems and come upon one that I’ve worked on many times before, only to suddenly see where it can go, the shape within it awakening at last? And as for the bad ones, or those that I’ll never make work, they sort of just vacate the premises, travelers that resided for a while before checking out, no forwarding address left behind, the door closing on the lived-in clutter of their transient dwelling upon the page.

Just this year a line I’d written in graduate school showed up in a new poem in just the right place, some thirty years having passed since my last attempt at using it. The line comprises the first two stanzas of the “Vespers” section of  a poem called The Hours that has just been published in the online  version of the journal The Common. Here is the entire section:


toward evening

toward night a

setting things


down toward

evening the wide

open spaces


the traffic

exhaling its

halo of sighs

filkinsPeter Filkins is a poet who teaches writing and literature at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. He is the author of What She Knew and After Homer as well as the chapbook Augustine’s Vision. He has also translated the poetry and novels of Ingeborg Bachmann and the novels of H. G. Adler. Filkins’s most recently published collection, The View We’re Granted, is available for perusal and purchase throughout the AWP at the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars / Hopkins Review booth (#2805).