I've spent the day trying to collect and read every scrap of poetry I've written over the last 30-odd years. A few things exist only in North Carolina in a file cabinet, but I started putting poems in electronic format back in the early 80s, and I've assiduously transferred every thing from one machine to the next as computer replaced computer: some of the files on my G4 iMac were originally written on a TRS Model 100. I've found 142 different finished poems and nearly that many drafts of things that never went anywhere.
Many of them exist in multiple formats, and even the "finished" poems often exist in more than one version. Amazingly, I can still read all the files, mostly because I no longer save things in proprietary formats. ASCII, and lately .rtf, and soon Unicode are all I've used since I had to type everything in from printed copies after switching from a long ago version of Microsoft Word to Nisus Writer because my first wife got the machine with the Word license. What will happen to our drafts and unpublished poems when they exist only on obsolete machines? Could a present-day Blake or Dickinson be "discovered" fifty years from now? Will Google save those of us who blog? Even if Google's got us, will the exabytes of text leave any way out but accident?
Here is what I think is the oldest poem I've kept:
This Dance Lasts All Night
Once control is lost, the curve
Deteriorates, asymptotically approaches
The zero, accelerates infinitely —
Harmony is lost. The fatal swerve
Once connected, once reeling from the blow
Of events, the moments pass too quickly —
Loss, loss. At last, the nerves
Fail, the skull shrinks, the eyes grow
Too large, the nose loses definition
And the blood slows — the days now years.
At last, the heartbeat is too long,
The eyeflick, at last, an eternity.
This is the death longed for
By mathematicians. Imagine old
Einstein singing in rhymed tercets —
His eyes closed, lost in his chair,
Two silver balls held still and only
The field, the mathematical unity
Of a starbent and whistling universe
Moving, dancing in his hair grown
White and wild, dancing in the rhythm
Of his voice, the song more sure
With every heartbeat. The far, cold
Galaxies dance and swirl to bright infinity.
(Published, with the title "No Dance Lasts All Night," in The Louisville Review #4, Spring 1978)