Kill Your Darlings: Michele Callaghan’s stages of poetry

During the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference earlier this month, 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? Inspired, we turned to our own talented staff and posed the same questions. Read on to see what they had to say. And check our archives to learn how poets Peter Filkins and X. J. Kennedy responded. 

By Michele Callaghan, manuscript editor

In response to this call for “darlings”—lines of poetry that we loved but had to let languish or even kill because we could not find a home for them—I went through decades of poetry ideas. Some have stood the test of time. Others—scribbled on old papers, envelopes, and notebooks of all sizes and typed on onion skin—are better left to the ages. I realized that my poetry has gone through stages, including the teen-heart-on-a-sleeve phase, the faux-e.e.-cummings phase, and the beginning-of-finding-my-voice-in-the-classics phase.

Here are two “darlings.” If you can finish them, let me know!

From my classics phase (which I annotated with “first verse good but what the hell am I trying to say?”):

O, glib Odysseus
weaver of words
wearer of disguises
Talk is a tool to mask your face.

The second, a few lines after I lost a baby on April Fools’ Day:

O cruelest of jokes on the cruelest of days
Twice the first has fooled me
Twice it has taken from me.

Although I never finished the poem, the story has a happy ending. Within a year of penning these lines, I gave birth to my daughter, Emily, who is a darn good poet in her own right.