Poetry Friday: “After the Harvest”

Sometimes, you just need to quit while you’re ahead.

About a month ago, I wrote a poem, shared it with several folks who write & critique poetry all the time, and received all kinds of feedback. Some of it was good; some of it was contradictory.  The reactions varied from “incredible” to “confusing” – so I went back and completely rewrote it, paring it down by 50%, removing what I thought were the problem areas, and even going through a half-dozen different titles. After all, it’s a fine line between poetic ambiguity and utter befuddlement, and I wanted to make sure I was not engaging in the latter,

I then showed both poems to a completely different group of equally astute people, who resoundingly preferred the original.


That’s why I say, feedback is great, but ultimately it’s the poet’s poem – and eventually you need to just stand by your convictions and hope for the best. Having said that, I hope you like it! The first version is the original, which I prefer, and the second is the revision. I do thank ALL the folks who read it and provided their thoughts – even if I didn’t use their suggestions, their feedback was valuable to me.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts.  And for all of today’s Poetry Friday offerings, make sure you stop by Teacher Dance and say hi to Linda Baie!

“After the Harvest”

Past cornstalk stumps and pumpkin patch
and corners unexplored,
they plowed through hedges, crops, and grass
to reap a fine reward.
Tender treasures offered up
were quickly snatched away
‘til soon the field could yield no more
and night turned into day.

Then hastily, they disappeared
on fleeting, little feet
to feast upon the fortunes gained –
their plunder now complete.
The only things they left behind,
those swift and hungry souls,
were rows and rows where nothing grows
and empty candy bowls.


Past cornstalk stumps and pumpkin patch
they plowed through hedges door by door,
for tender treasures offered up
until the field could yield no more.
Then all at once they disappeared,
those swift and hungry little souls
who left behind a barren stretch
of rows of empty candy bowls.

– both poems © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine


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28 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “After the Harvest”

    1. You are right when you say, “It’s the poet’s poem,” Matt. If you prefer the first version then trust your instincts. What you gain in compression you may lose in ease of narrative. It’s a matter of personal style and taste. It all comes down to choice, and since each reader will respond differently at different moments, you get to choose the end result.

      If you do revisit the revision, you might reconsider the line “those swift and hungry little souls,” which feels padded to me.

      But again, that’s my taste, and it’s your poem.

      Nice work!

      Steven Withrow


      1. Steven, I appreciate your feedback on all of this poor poem’s incarnations – it’s nice to be able to bounce things off of someone who is so adept at wordplay and lyricism. Interestingly, I like that line because it lends itself to interpretation as to who the souls are – kids or critters. As you said, ultimately it comes down to personal style and taste – and folks like Frost, Poe, Dickinson, and Plath managed to eke out some pretty decent careers without critique groups!


      1. Differing crowd reactions are unavoidable once you’re ready to abandon a finished poem to readers. But until then, I’d say it’s better to share your drafts with as few critiquing partners (for critiquing is a kind of partnership) as possible.



  1. margaretsmn

    Sometimes critique can be totally transforming and helps me create a better poem. But I have to agree that your first version has a better rhythm. I like the repetition in rows and rows. I even prefer the first title. Scavengers sound menacing and the second poem follows this theme.
    I like hearing about your process and getting affirmation that not all critique is valid. You’ve got to go with your poetic gut.


    1. Thank you both! Critiques are wonderful things because even if you don’t agree with them, they still raise awareness as to how readers are reacting. The problems come about when you start trying to make every change that every person suggested!


  2. “Feedback is great, but ultimately it’s the poet’s poem.”
    You nailed it, Matt. I do like getting feedback, but I’ve learned to “stick to my guns” on words and phrases that reflect my original vision.
    I prefer the first one 🙂


  3. I have a critique group, too, and they are helpful, but sometimes they jump on a line that is a favorite, and I’m totally surprised. Then I have to decide, as you have, and as others have said, it’s your poem! I like the first one best because it tells more, keeps the story in it. And thanks for telling about the process, love hearing you respond to that!


    1. Thanks, folks…I really do appreciate it! I mentioned to one person that I wanted to create a familiarity with the words and imagery, but did not want to sound cliché – I’m not if I succeeded or not, but there it is.


  4. Hi Matt! I lurve this poem! In the Garage, I think comments are geared at making poems more understandable to children. But I think this is for a slightly older audience that can handle poems being interpretive. Great job!


  5. Sometimes I think critiquing (the give and the take) is as much of an art as the writing itself. Like you said, it’s not always about being able to take in the advice, sometimes it’s about knowing when to let advice go by the wayside. For the record, I, too, prefer the original version.


  6. Thanks for showing the poems side by side with the back story on the critiquing/revision process. I, too, prefer the original poem and find it comforting that ultimately you went with your own poetic instincts. =)


  7. Ditto what Mary Lee said! I didn’t critique this in the Garage, but I prefer the first version, too. And BJ is right – the Garage critiques often skew younger, and you and I tend to write a bit older, so I just listen to the feedback that make sense for my poem and my intended reader and go from there.


  8. Hi, Matt. I like the cleanness of the second poem, but I’ve been reading submissions to the lit mag and am probably in adult mode. Which brings me to a question: who is your audience for the poem? The voice of the first is looser and feels younger. The second poem is more controlled and feels a bit more nostalgic and adult.


  9. Lots of great thoughts here! You know I almost always go for shorter options, BUT I do prefer the first one of these two. Like Margaret, I love those “rows and rows.” Critique groups are great, but it’s important to keep your own voice in the process. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thank you all for your thoughts! In answer to the question of who I am writing to, I usually gear most of my writing to upper-middle grade; that is, I picture my young self as a 6th or 7th-grader – maybe 8th – as a potential reader. And Laura, it’s interesting that you feel the 2nd poem is more nostalgic and adult, as I’ve had similar responses to the first poem! (I suppose this is why there’s more than one editor in the world!)


  10. Pingback: Guest Post: An Introduction to Poetry Friday by Tabatha Yeatts

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