Confucius is famous for his aphorisms; Oscar Wilde — infamous for his whip-smart quips. But they were working in the realm of that unit: the quote. I’m not working in that unit. It’s a matter of scale and venue. To be quotable (or diceable, or modular, or granular) was not my goal. It’s hard to be upset about it, but it was not my goal. A good line is a good line.

A good line well placed is an experience. That was the goal: an experience, a larger unit, enough space to move, to hold propulsions, to let the intentionally unsaid things shimmer in the highly charged spaces between the lines. I crafted poems — units made out of lines placed in a specific order — and the poems have disappeared. My loveseats have been broken into chairs, into matchsticks.

So how do we respect an original work while we aggregate around it? I was speaking with a friend the other night, and she said her favorite line of mine was “I couldn’t get the boy to kill me, but I wore his sweater for the longest time.” But that’s not the line. I wrote the word jacket, not sweater. A very different connotation — and connotation is important in poetry — because jacket can be considered as a thicker skin (among other things) in a way that sweater cannot. She was being sloppy, but still — words matter or they don’t. If they matter, don’t change them. If they don’t, then why bother praising the line?

Each modification dilutes. Each distortion cheapens the work, cripples it, erases it. Whether it’s done in sloppiness, or out of a desire to claim and internalize the work, or with intentional malice, it still amounts to a falsification. We have to be careful, when we build around an existing work, that we don’t ruin it.

–Richard Siken, quoted in The Poet Laureate of Fan Fiction