Kill Your Darlings: The X. J. Kennedy Edition

With the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference underway, 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? Read on to find out what they had to say.

Guest post by X. J. Kennedy

the-owlstone-crownIn writing the first draft of a poem and then paring it down, I murder little darlings all the time. None is especially memorable, nor is it any loss. But I once went through the agony of killing a beloved piece of prose some 20,000 words long. In writing a first novel for children, I was throwing in every idea I had, resulting in a manuscript of cumbersome length. The editor, Margaret McElderry, saw that it would gain from removing several chapters in which the protagonists, a boy and his sister, pilot a blimp to an island inhabited by a bunch of practical jokers. I loved that section fiercely, but recognized the wisdom of making the cut. The outcome was The Owlstone Crown, which Margaret published under her imprint at Atheneum in 1983 (still in print, by the way, as a Front Street paperback). And the deleted darling? It became the center of a sequel, in which it grew a new head and a tail: The Eagle as Wide as the World (McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster, 1997).

kennedy.prominentAward-winning author X. J. Kennedy has written poetry, children’s verse, and fiction, as well as textbooks on writing and literature. Three volumes of his poetry, Dark Horses, The Lords of Misrule, and In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus, are available for perusal and purchase throughout the AWP at the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars / Hopkins Review booth (#2805).

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Kill Your Darlings: The X. J. Kennedy Edition

  1. I agree with Mr. Kennedy’s comment concerning poetry. You could almost say that one arrives at a finished poem by a complex process of killing darlings (and not-so-darlings), more or less as a sculptor may do away with all the stone not essential to the final figure. The Anthology is another form where jettisoning overly cherished items is pretty common. I edited an anthology of travel writing once, and the editor, Anton Mueller then at Grove Press, took the politest of pains over lunch one day to ask me to slim down my selections so that they only came to 500+ pages, rather than the initial 900. So it goes.
    Michael Wolfe, JHUP author, “Cut These Words into My Stone,” Ancient Greek epitaphs (2013).

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