Sometimes when you write a poem, you work and work and work on that first draft and realize pretty far in that you’re just spinning your wheels. The spin is important, though. Terrible first drafts matter, and it’s good to embrace them so they — or the fear of them — don’t paralyze you.
One of my poetry professors in college assigned us to write fairy tale poems. I chose “The Frog Prince, or Iron Heinrich” because that story was one of my favorites when I was a child — no doubt in part because I had the recording of The Muppets version, where Kermit narrated, Robin was the prince, Sweetums was the ogre, and the princess was a young lady named Mellora. (Incidentally, I loved her name so much that I used it as the name of the protagonist in my first novel, although she and my character bear almost no resemblance to each other in any other way.)
My professor had given us a week to write these fairy tale poems. I threw everything I had at it for five days and ended up with what was arguably a funny prose-poem splashed across five pages. It was long. Very little white space. The night before the poem was due, I had to come to grips with the fact that the draft was terrible. I threw it all away and wrote this instead.
Golden ball like a prophet,
predict for the princess her fate:
a frog lapping wine from her cup,
digesting the food from her plate,
his eager tongue tickling her belly,
his sticky feet crawling along her…
in the morning a man in her bed,
a quick arranged marriage by Father.
Golden ball, keep your playmate:
warn her not to whine for help,
but her freedom to keep a bit longer
and to fetch you for herself.