It’s always a difficult decision, particularly if the poem in question has involved a good deal of hard work; but a bad poem benefits no one, neither reader nor writer.
The saving grace is that it’s sometimes possible to salvage a good line for future use or simply to serve as a starting-off point for another, better poem.
One line that survived the destruction of a bad poem, was ‘brotherhood is built, not born’ and it encouraged me to write Twenty-One, a poem about a close childhood friend, John Simpson, who died in tragic circumstances, half a century ago this year.
The image below isn’t us, but it’s probably the way we saw ourselves at the time.
We started out with cocoa tins
attached by string:
of sorts; progressed to proper phones,
old army surplus; wired them up
and strung a line from my bedroom,
to yours next door.
We formed a link
that bound us fast through teenage years:
fifth form, sixth form, till,
on you went to uni, I to unsought work.
Where you were cerebral and gauche,
I was the opposite, and yet
we hit it off: no other friend,
before or since, meant half so much.
In those strange, final months, we seemed
to drift apart: you went away
and I, in turn,
went elsewhere too.
Estranged at twenty-one, we were.
You didn’t live to twenty-two.
Your picture, pale, in newsprint grim,
beside the stark facts of your death,
remains my image of you now
a half a century away.
My vanished childhood friend,
you look so innocent,
so fresh of face:
forever in a state of grace.