In 1994, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver published a seminal guide to writing called A Poetry Handbook. It’s a perfectly slender volume, and one of the best collections of advice for poets, aspiring or otherwise. The chapter on revision ends with this paragraph:
It is good also to remember that, now and again, it is simply best to throw a poem away. Some things are unfixable.
I’ve spent some time in this space talking about how the respective processes for writing and knitting are different, but the quote above illuminates one space they have in common. Observe:
This baby sweater was intended as a stash buster. Those two shades of blue looked fine together when I put the skeins side by side, and the beige didn’t disagree with them. Neither did the fourth color, which is happily absent from the above picture (I won’t even tell you what it was, to spare any possibility of torturing you). Even Z, whose color sensibilities are much more finely-grained than mine, thought they’d make a nice set.
Well, everyone was wrong. As soon as that sleeve seam was joined, I knew this sweater was an affront to all things knitted. There’s a fine line between “over the top” and “over the edge, ” and once I realized which side of the line this sweater was on, I stopped seaming. The remaining sleeve (light-blue and dark-blue, striped) and the other half of the front (beige, solid) have rejoined my yarn stash. If knitting was a small western outpost, this sweater would be hung on a spike at the gate as a warning to all yarn criminals.
Not all is lost, though. Mary Oliver’s advice might seem harsh, but that’s only because she leaves it up to us to discover what happens when we have the fortitude to throw out the things that aren’t working: we make room for the things that do.