Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Five: New Redrafting Ideas

image of notebook and marked-up poem through a blue lens
The Poem in Blue by Maria L. Berg 2021

The dVerse Poets Pub prompt for Poetics is Blue Tuesday. Sarah challenges us to write Blue poems which gave me an idea for another redraft, “Put a color on it.” This a great way to think about revising to emotion as well. When you’ve identified the mood and emotion you want your poem to convey, ask yourself what color that is and use that color as a filter for redrafting your poem. The Sherwin-Williams paint colors site is a great tool for exploring color families and color names.

Put a color on it

For this poem, I imagined using a blue lens on my camera and using it to tint my poem. I used some of the draft from the thesaurus game below and made it blue.

Seeing in Blue

An atmospheric perception after the rain
in the steam of warm rain
captures contrary smoky-azurite wings
those wings just can’t agree
pulsating rhythmic reflections in a poll
the rhythm’s inverted beats
in a pool’s still, faded-flaxflower waters

Rapture jammed with glacial conceits
fancy whims chilling beneath
mid-cloudburst like ebbtide in advance
it will advance the tide
of the swimming, sense of falling
falling, falling into this dive
maneuvering eviction from a wondrous whirlpool

The outlook grows lake-water crisp
Ow! It bites, clarity
after a meditative rainstorm’s punctuation
all those taps, droppy drips
untimately leads to discovering the fountain,
finally find, what’s to find
transmitting blissful moonmist

image of rhododendrons through a blue lens
Seeing Blue by Maria L. Berg 2021

I thought of a couple more quick and easy redrafting techniques over the weekend. I am a huge fan of my thesaurus and thought what fun it would be to use my thesaurus to come up with replacements for all of the main nouns and verbs. I’ll call this exercise Thesaurus Game.

Thesaurus Game

Here’s what I came up with using the first stanza of the original short-centered line poem “Indelible Marks” for demonstration:

Permanent Symbols

a perception captures contrary wings
flittering in range of a basin’s elbowroom

jammed with glacial conceits mid-provocation
like ear-ringing in advance of the swimming,
sense of falling, maneuvering eviction from a coil

the outlook grows crisp as if ultimately discovering
the fountain transporting pervading corruption saturation

While reading the Back Draft:John Murillo interview, the two versions of “Mercy, Mercy Me” made me think of another, somewhat simple redraft I can do. I can turn it upside down. I think I will add that to my process at the beginning of redrafting.

Turn It Upside-Down

When I took the full, long lines of the current draft and turned them upside down, I didn’t find a lot of inspiration, but when I took the short, centered lines and turned them upside down, I found some interesting lines. That inspired me to completely reverse the words which also revealed some interesting lines.

Drag center line to the right or left to reveal each poem

This comparison block makes me happy! I liked how Back Draft on Guernica was comparing their first draft and final draft poems using JuxtaposeJS, so I created a Juxtapose on the knightlab site, but the HTML wasn’t working with WordPress. I found a work-around which included downloading a plug-in and writing more HTML, and I was planning on trying it for the final poem reveal, but now I don’t have to. Yay for comparison block. Thank you WordPress.

Thinking about the smell of beautiful mistakes

Today I spent some time finding new poetry resources and sites to follow. I found a lot of prompts for today, but two stood out and I thought I would combine them (as I like to do) and write a poem.

The first is the Sunday Writing Prompt from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The prompt is “Beautiful Mistake.”

The second is PROMPT #333 from Poetic Bloomings which is “Sweet Smell of Success.”

photograph of camellias by the NaPoWriMo poster
a beautiful mistake like this sun glare

A Beautiful Mistake Recognizes the Smell of Success

Beauty asks bubbles on a wire to interrupt
the ugly lips in the oven entertaining
a mistake exudes the middle thumb, wondering
while perfection glues pests to lenses on command
Success smells like powdered teeth complaining
that failure belongs as blinking noise

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Four: More Redrafting

A highlighted poem and a container full of chopped up phrases

Preparing for today’s redrafting

After all my redrafts, I plan to make my final choices and send a draft off for some feedback. I plan to try both Scribophile and Poetry Free for All. Both of these sites expect you to give feedback before you post asking for feedback, so I thought I would get started. The main writing page of Scribophile is mostly novel excerpts and short stories, however, I found active poetry groups, joined, and gave some feedback. I joined Poetry as Craft and Poetry Critique Circle.

I took a look at The Poetry Free-for-all, but I think I’ll see what happens with Scribophile first. I like the inline critique format there.

Quick Review

I started the day by printing all of the drafts so far to get a good look at the choices I’ve made. Through free-writing, mind-mapping, and writing a narrative poem, I was inspired to make some large changes to the first two stanzas.

I played with form. I tried past tense. I played the opposites game to come up with an opposite poem, and I combined the opposite lines with the original. Let’s keep going.

Cut each line in half. Write a new beginning and/or ending for each line.

I’m going to go ahead and use the final poem from my last post that included the opposite lines for this draft. As I read through, separating each line, I decided to put my arsonist line and its opposite back in to play. I broke some of the longer lines into four parts. I’m using lines and ideas from my narrative poem to fill in some of the lines which I think is working well.

A Fruit Fly-Sized Thought Changes Everything

An impression arrests fruit flies mid-flight, specks in eye corners before the cracked pane
among the pitiful, stained porcelain in kitchen sinks full of ideas frozen mid-irritation
An ignored cry for attention like reddened, sore hands scouring or tinnitis of Meniere’s
recognized or diagnosed frees a cougar from a shower of ineptitude
leaping from empty thought on fire before dizzying vertigo
while in fruitless and futile meditation, I don’t hear the tractor
like hearing you clearly, I step from my spiraling
a voice of truth whispers from miles away
the view becomes clear, his sweat on her behind the bale
as if finally finding the source, the teasing hidden cruelty of wafting, permeating decay
after the ground falls away and I embrace the free-fall
letting my arms, and my dress, fly freely above my head, my pinky-toe the stoicism of a point
a heart slammed closed kills confusion, how small my worries, each a fruit fly in the sink
A solution, so long obscured by chores and basic needs, unlike instantly losing
a copy of each daily exercise toward demise
over the vast, yellowed field of placid, dry existence

Contentment empties the song of passion, the hips of sway
what good is the stick in rubber cement if it leeches the glue of flavor?
time steals the scissors, so sharp and shiny, sheathed in brown leather, treasured
and hides them whenever desperately needed for artistry
Restlessness fills pockets with bland slime, lacking sparkle or elasticity, only a blob with weight
like a stomach full of rocks someone who gifts some screwdrivers of incompetence
but constant irritation and itching desire keep me in motion
juggling the stomach rocks though insatiable hunger remains
creating irregular comfort, making a pet of each stone swallowed
though the scratched, tender throat needs be constantly quenched
with clarity, I drink the elixir truth brings, purple and sweet as grape Kool-Aid
I set the faded flower curtains aflame, a self-fulfilling responsibility
the arsonist of bridges, can’t choose to turn around
with nothing I’ve left, clean of any sticky coating
a fire fighter for chasms needs a very long hose
the charred frame remains absent everything you’ve saved
fleeing obscures the crackling and the smoke
the path ahead holds the divots and clawing roots of many whims
what indelible marks will stay on my raw skin?
which curses will topple to the tongue?
your erasable touches won’t last through the first rain
and I’ll take with me this lesson~stand away from an ass

Refreshment wriggles like worms in the garden
blindly boring among the moles making mountains
under the tent, my temporary shelter of turquoise and lilac, not offering camouflage against the deep forest greens
however, its thin nylon walls offer the illusion of solitude
Thirst sits in the grass picking dandelions and dreaming
so far, I am camping, not homeless
having vacated the house without a plan
knowing there is no way back, but clutching ideas
I left the kitchen sink, the burning curtains, the cracked pane, and him to the fruit flies
refusing to leave a wildness, the definition of me, to putridity
I let go of the nonsense of conformity to expectation
and a singular route with blinders forcing my way
choosing instead the claws in the paws of the freshly showered cougar
the dark, fresh-earth mole tunnels full of worms and beetles and ants and spiders under my tent
filter and aerate the earth like new and curious spaces for contemplation
a beam of light breaks through thick fir canopy revealing a clutch of rabbits in the brush
destroying any old or bored blanks of not thinking
these bunnies crawling, not seeing, as they emerge from an underground nest
inspire me to try varying perspectives, to look from under and from high above,
perspectives that may nourish new understanding
here, walking vision, I face fears to love myself again
this fresh hunger will not feed old stubbornness

-Wow. That was great! So many new and interesting lines. If only a couple work with the poem, that’s gravy. The rest may make their way into other poems. I’m going to print this and start highlighting my favorite lines.

Choose the best lines and free-write. Dig down, find the deeper meaning.

As I went through, I did some quick editing and the lines I chose to explore further are:

  • after the ground falls away and I embrace free-fall, letting my arms and my dress, fly above my head, my pinky-toe the stoical point
  • a heart slammed closed kills confusion
  • but constant irritation and itching desire keep me in motion, juggling stomach rocks, insatiable hunger remains
  • your erasable touches won’t last past the first rain

An excerpt from my free-write:

I think some of the new lines work in the original poem. I now have a kill my darlings dilemma with the first line of the second stanza, they both work, but she’s thinking about her own artistry and skill being wasted, not any passion she once felt for him. So I’ll save songs and hips for something else. I think the lines of the ground falling away and telescoping view go well with vertigo, so I’m going to try them with the first stanza. What about that pinky-toe at a stoical point? That works with the next line, stepping out of the spiral, so it’s the tether that pulls her out.

~Maria L. Berg’s journal

Use the best line as the beginning of a new poem

I was going to combine this with “Force into a Form” in the next post, but while I was free-writing, it just happened. I really like the line “A heart slammed closed kills confusion,” but it doesn’t really fit with the original poem as is. As I started to write about it here’s what I wrote:

A heart slammed closed kills confusion

-maybe breaks confusion’s tiny bones
breaking the what ifs, grinding the what could bes
to dust, scattering the woulda-couldas to the corners
or into the dark waters, but not collecting them
in an urn, on the mantel, or planting them
among mycelium. No.
This death is final, sealed in a crypt
where the rock can’t be rolled away
on any third day.

Cut up and create a collage poem

I enjoy doing collage poems. For this one, I’m going to cut up everything I printed this morning, put all of the short phrases (two or three words) into a container and start pulling them out randomly. I already have pages set up in a notebook for this and these cool glue pens.

Next Steps

There are two more redrafting exercises I want to explore for the next post. I think we’ve already covered “Expand, write past the ending, and I think I’ll combine “Tighten, to it’s most succinct telling” with “Force into a form.”

Force into a form, or change from formal form to free verse.

Though this poem started in a form, it is a form of my invention, so at this point, it may help to play with some other forms, specifically some rhyming and line repetition forms. For this experiment, I took a look back through my OctPoWriMo 2020 posts and decided on:

Trolaan

Synchronicity

Ottava Rima

Nove Otto

In my post Relax and Process from last October, I tried an exercise called Channeling Emotion. This made me think of something to add to the Review process. Right after moods and themes, we should identify the emotions: both the emotions in the poem and also the emotion you feel when you read it. These are important things to identify during the review because we may want to revise to bring out these emotions.

Emulate another poem or poet

A while ago, I went through all of my copies of the New Yorker and Poets & Writers and picked out my favorite poems.

For this exercise, I chose Dead Stars by Ada Limon, Ode by Jane Huffman, and News by Ben Purkert. Before deciding how I want to emulate these poems, I want to know more about them.

For Dead Stars, there’s an interview in the Poets & Writers issue before the poem. I found this fun “Teach This Poem” post at poets.org which mentions this video:

Jane Huffman is the Editor of Guesthouse Literary Journal. I highly recommend taking a look at the Foreward to Issue 7. It’s full of amazing images and discusses the content of the issue.

This is super-fun! Ben Purkert has a Process page on his website where he links to Back Draft which is an interview series focused on revision he does for Geurnica.

I had no idea that looking into these three poems would open such a vast world before me. I have a lot to do before my next post.

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Three: Redrafting

The poem as I left it last:

She stares out the kitchen window

An impression arrests fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen mid-irritation, like tinnitus of Meniere’s before the dizzying vertigo
stepping out of a spiral, the view becomes clear, as if finally
finding the source of wafting, permeating decay

Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry
but constant irritation and insatiable hunger remain
to this arsonist of bridges with nothing I’ve left
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue?

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
having vacated the house clutching ideas, but left the kitchen sink to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate new and curious spaces for contemplation
where crawling, not seeing, may nourish new understanding

Redraft

Let’s warm-up with some fun and easy changes, and build through our drafts and choices.

Play with Line Length and spacing, the visual look of the poem

I was inspired by a couple of the poems from the dVerse Poetics narrative voice prompt responses, specifically

The Lighthouse Keeper by Evan Schleicher and

Eurydice to Orpheus by Brendan at Oran’s Well

to look at short, centered lines. Let’s see what that looks like:

Indelible Marks

An impression
arrests fruit flies
in kitchen sinks
full of ideas
frozen
mid-irritation,
like tinnitus
of Meniere’s
before
the dizzying
vertigo
stepping out
of a spiral,
the view
becomes clear,
as if finally
finding
the source
of wafting,
permeating
decay

Contentment
empties the glue
of flavor
and steals
the scissors
of artistry
but constant irritation
and insatiable hunger
remain
to this arsonist
of bridges
with nothing
I’ve left, what
indelible marks
will topple
to the tongue?

Refreshment
wriggles among the moles
under the tent
of solitude
having vacated
the house
clutching ideas,
but left
the kitchen sink
to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth
tunnels adumbrate
new and curious spaces
for contemplation
where crawling,
not seeing,
may nourish
new understanding

That is fun. I definitely like that.

Write the poem in different POVs and tenses to find the strongest telling.

The only place in the poem that shows that this poem is written in first person are my new lines in the second stanza, “to this arsonist of bridges with nothing I’ve left.” I think this line, though it’s doing lots of work, isn’t what works with this poem. Is the Janus turn I intended worth it, since I use it in the next stanza as well? Any ideas? Let’s see what I can come up with.

Indelible Marks

An impression
arrests fruit flies
in kitchen sinks
full of ideas
frozen
mid-irritation,
like tinnitus
of Meniere’s
before
the dizzying
vertigo
stepping out
of a spiral,
the view
becomes clear,
as if finally
finding
the source
of wafting,
permeating
decay

Contentment
empties the glue
of flavor
and steals
the scissors
of artistry
but constant irritation
and insatiable hunger
remain
with clarity,
a responsibility
what indelible marks
will topple
to the tongue?

Refreshment
wriggles among the moles
under the tent
of solitude
having vacated
the house
clutching ideas,
but left
the kitchen sink
to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth
tunnels adumbrate
new and curious spaces
for contemplation
where crawling,
not seeing,
may nourish
new understanding

A different form in a different tense:

Curious Spaces for Contemplation

An impression arrested fruit flies
in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen mid-irritation, like tinnitus
of Meniere’s before the dizzying vertigo
stepped out of a spiral, the view
became clear, as if finally finding
the source of wafting, permeating decay

Contentment emptied the glue of flavor
and stole the scissors of artistry
but constant irritation and insatiable hunger
remained with clarity, a self-fulfilling responsibility
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue?

Refreshment wriggled among the moles
under the tent of solitude
vacated the house clutching ideas,
but left the kitchen sink to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrated
new and curious spaces for contemplation
where crawling, not seeing,
could nourish new understanding

For each line, write its opposite. Search for the turn in the poem.

For this exercise, let’s stay with the short lines centered and play with opposites.

Invisible Ink

An ignored cry for attention
frees (what is the opposite of fruit flies) a cougar
from a shower
empty of thought
on fire
while at peace (in meditation)
like hearing you clearly from miles away

after
the still
grounded
stoicism
of a point
the closed
dies fogged,
unlike instantly
losing
a copy
of placid
dry
existence

Restlessness
fills the slime
bland
or gifts
some screwdrivers
of incompetence
and irregular comfort
or constantly quenched
flee
obscured
many whims
the erasable touches
won’t stand
away from an ass?

Thirst
sits in the grass
over non-sheltered
groups of people
refusing to leave
a wildness
letting go of nonsense
or right
a singular idea
from the (what is the opposite of fruit flies?) cougar
a light, destroyed sky
blockades adumbrate
old or bored blanks
of not thinking
here walking
vision
will not feed
old ignorance/stubbornness

Combine the opposites with the original

The Kitchen Sink is Backed Up Again

An impression arrests fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
An ignored cry for attention frees a cougar from a shower
frozen mid-irritation, like tinnitus of Meniere’s before the dizzying vertigo
empty of though,t on fire while in meditation
like hearing you clearly from miles away
stepping out of a spiral, the view becomes clear, as if finally
finding the source of wafting, permeating decay
after the still grounded stoicism of a point
the closed dies fogged, unlike instantly losing
a copy of placid, dry existence

Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry
Restlessness fills with bland slime, or gifts some screwdrivers of incompetence
but constant irritation and insatiable hunger remain
creating irregular comfort constantly quenched
with clarity, a self-fulfilling responsibility
fleeing obscures many whims
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue?
the erasable touches won’t stand away from an ass?

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
Thirst sits in the grass over non-sheltered groups of people
having vacated the house clutching ideas, but left the kitchen sink to the fruit flies
refusing to leave a wildness, letting go of nonsense, or right a singular idea from the cougar
the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate new and curious spaces for contemplation
a light, destroyed sky blockades adumbrate old or bored blanks of not thinking
where crawling, not seeing, may nourish new understanding
here walking vision will not feed old stubbornness

Next Steps

At this point in the process, it looks like I’ve made more of a mangled mess than improvement, but I do like some of the new phrases created by the opposites. I’ll free-write around my favorites in my morning pages and see if they add to the poem. In the next post, I’ll play around with more expansion techniques and then put it all together into a new draft.

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Two: The First Redraft

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth (1948)

Exploring the Narrative Voice

The Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub is a great way to introduce the next step in my revision process. Ingrid challenged us to explore Narrative Voice. One of the first things I did in my poem review was look at the point of view and narrative of the poem. It isn’t very clear. The poem starts with “An impression,” but whose impression? Is it a general impression by the reader, everyone, the universe? Or is it one woman standing at the kitchen sink. While reviewing my poem, I also thought of the Andrew Wyeth painting above. I’m going to write a poem in my imagined woman’s narrative voice and see what that can add to the redraft.

Staring through the cracked pane

over the vast, yellowed field,
the failed seal has left the view
speckled, impossibly frustrating,
like the black grout and stained porcelain
the ruin of wear and age

somehow my fault
my ineptitude
as if any more scrubbing
would discourage the fruit flies
in the sink more
than my reddened, sore,
cracked hands do me.

These hands that used to capture
the cosmos, fold fantasies,
weave worlds, now swat,
squish and scour,
in fruitless and futile
daily exercise toward demise.

I don’t hear the tractor
Is it behind that bale?
his sweat dripping
on her skin
it was never going to be
the last time
how will the bill’s
get paid with only
that seed sown?

An explosion,
pressure shakes the pane
the noise rings in my ears
stops the world
I step from my spiraling
thoughts and see clearly
how small my worries
each a fruit fly in the sink

A solution, so long obscured
by chores and basic needs
now, in this chilling moment bright
the truth of everything
with underlying cause:
He doesn’t love me
this lack so erosive
I can’t love myself

It’s scary, I shiver
with the knowing
there’s no going back
What hateful words
will escape my lips
forever burning
like the fading flower curtains
around the uncleanable
kitchen window
behind me

The Pep Talk

Don’t be afraid to try every and all ideas. The exciting thing about this process, is none of it is cut in stone. Each and every version of the poem and those it inspires should be saved separately. I recommend creating a folder for the poem and saving after each change with version numbers. That way you can always go back and compare.

Finishing the Review

It has been a busy morning. I’m proud to say, I’m working through each step in the process. I did four mind maps and saw some very interesting overlap. It seems like such a simple task, and it is, but somehow it really works to generate ideas. Then I free-wrote around the best lines, thinking about my character and narrative which really helped me dive into my poem. I concluded that it’s actually better than I originally thought and helped me make some big changes already. The free-write also helped me finish the narrative poem above.

This process of going through revision with you is already helping me revise my process. So fun. While going through the review, I added “identify sensory details.” I’m so glad I did. In my free-write this morning, I explored some sensory details and came upon an idea that needed some research, so I’m going to add “do research” to the review process before redrafting.

Here’s my revised review checklist:

  • Identify POV, tense, form, voice
  • setting, narrative
  • themes, moods
  • create a color key
  • identify sensory details
  • identify best lines
  • mark weak verbs & nouns
  • words to mind map
  • mark areas to expand
  • highlight cliche language
  • make easy cuts
  • choose what to edit to (theme, idea)
  • brainstorm alternate titles
  • make notes to guide re-write
  • do mind maps
  • free-write around best lines, character and narrative
  • do research
  • write a narrative poem

A sample of the free-write

“It’s a snapshot, orienting the reader to someone irritated by fruit flies in the kitchen sink. She’s thinking a million different things when suddenly, something causes everything to stop. What is this trigger? Does it matter for this poem? Like I was thinking yesterday, it could be as tiny as a sparkle in a crow’s beak, or a certain trill in a bird’s song, or it could be as large as a tornado . . . or aliens landing on the lawn. For this poem, what makes the impression doesn’t matter. It happened, it stops everything.”

–Maria L. Berg’s morning pages 5/5/2021

The poem now

After all that work this morning, I have my first redraft. I hadn’t planned to make such large changes before going through the redrafting I already planned, but the mind-maps, free-write, brainstorming sensory detail, research, and narrative poem gave me some ideas. I’ve decided to give each of my revisions one of the alternate titles I brainstormed to try them out.

She stares out the kitchen window

An impression arrests fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen mid-irritation, like tinnitus of Meniere’s before the dizzying vertigo
stepping out of a spiral, the view becomes clear, as if finally
finding the source of wafting, permeating decay

Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry
but constant irritation and insatiable hunger remain
to this arsonist of bridges with nothing I’ve left
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue?

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
having vacated the house with ideas, but left the kitchen sink to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate new and curious spaces for contemplation
where crawling, not seeing, may nourish new understanding

Thoughts?

I had planned to continue to some more redrafting, but I hadn’t imagined the big changes I already made today. What do you think? Is the poem improved? Does it make more sense? I would love to hear your thoughts of the pros and cons of the changes while I let it sit until tomorrow. I hope you’re enjoying the process as much as I am.

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part One: Review

A view of fir trees through a second story window.
An Impression of Flight by Maria L. Berg 2021

The First Read

I printed out my poem in larger than regular font (14pt) and 1.5 spacing. Then I read it aloud while walking around the room.

The poem I’m reviewing is the first poem I wrote during NaPoWriMo last month:

Breeding Fruit Flies with Two Different Eyes

An impression arrests the fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen in mid-irritation, fleeting yet multiplying before your eyes
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue
and adumbrate the growing clutch

Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry
the constant irritation and insatiable hunger
–of those fruit flies, feeding in the sinks–
sketch an impression of furious flight

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
having vacated the house with the ideas, but left the kitchen sink to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate new and curious spaces for contemplation
where crawling, not seeing, may nourish new understanding

Close Reading

Though my review process is not the same as close reading, many of the same concepts apply. If you are not experienced with close reading poetry, there are a myriad of examples at ModPo on Coursera.org. Their close readings are so in-depth it’s quite mind boggling, but you will get the idea.

Here are some informative articles on close reading:

How to Read a Poem from Adacemy of American Poets

Poetry: Close Reading from Purdue OWL

Some Hints to Help You with “Close Reading” from UPenn

Review

This poem has been sitting for a month with many poems written since, so it should be well rested. I pretended someone else wrote it and I’m reading it for the first time. I asked myself:

What do I like about it? I like the rich imagery and metaphor

What don’t I like about it? It feels cluttered. There’s too much that isn’t clear. I want to know more of the story, the character, motivations, and conflict.

Now, let’s get really specific. Let’s go step by step through my review checklist:

Identify POV, tense, form, voice

The poem begins with “an impression,” but whose impression? In the second line “before your eyes” would make me think this poem is written in the point of view of the writer addressing the reader. It is written in present tense.

The form of the poem is “Jar and Janus” a form I invented and I am developing as discussed in the Draft section of my last post.

The voice of the poem is somewhat flat, like the monotone of someone trying to hold it together as everything crashes down around her. The third stanza shows that the narrator has left everything behind looking for new contemplative spaces to get away from all the buzzing idea-eaters. The flatness of the voice, however may be because the poem is so compact, it doesn’t leave room for breath.

setting, narrative

There are two settings in this poem:

  1. A kitchen, perhaps an old, somewhat unclean, or impossible to clean kitchen
  2. Dark tunnels under a tent, at a forest campsite perhaps.

The narrative tells the story of a frustrated, disillusioned person (artist, house wife?) who in an instant sees the futility of her situation and leaves it behind to find herself in the unknown and uncomfortable.

themes, moods

Themes:

  • The creative mind can’t be tamed.
  • Some people can’t be domesticated.
  • freezing a moment, may reveal a truth/ an answer

Mood: Stopped, Frozen in time, Longing, Disillusionment

Photograph of highlighted and marked-up poems on a table with vases full of slips of paper and forget-me-nots in small green vase.
The Poet at Work by Maria L. Berg 2021


create a color key

After printing out the poem, I grabbed my highlighter pens and made a color key. For this poem I chose orange for abstract nouns, pink for concrete nouns and yellow for verbs. This colored most of my poem. I think I’ll go ahead and use green for adjectives.

identify sensory details

sight: fruit flies, kitchen sinks, a sketch of an impression, dark
sound: ?
smell: ?
taste: indelible marks on the tongue, glue flavor,
touch: crawling in fresh-earth tunnels

other: arrests/frozen, contentment, refreshment, constant irritation, insatiable hunger, solitude

identify the best lines

For reviewing this poem, I was lucky that April 1st was also open link night at dVerse Poets Pub. The poets from the pub are so generous with their feedback. Thanks to the comments made on my post, I already have some direction as to which lines readers like the best in this draft. And they happen to be my favorite as well.

I like the imagery created by “arrests the fruit flies in kitchen sinks”

The three favorite lines from the comments are:

  1. “ideas frozen in mid-irritation”
  2. “Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry”
  3. “wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude”

mark weak verbs & nouns

Though “adumbrate” is not a weak verb, it is, sadly, out of place and should be replaced. My other Janus word “left” is also relatively weak compared to the other verbs, and “not seeing” could be stronger.

The abstract nouns that begin each stanza need grounding in the narrative.

words to mind map

Here’s a printable for mind-mapping I created:

For this poem I’ll do some quick mind maps of some of my abstract nouns: “impression,” “contentment,” and “refreshment” are the first ones that stand out. Then

mark areas to expand

There may be areas to expand, create some breath throughout the poem, but the main area to look at will be between the second and third stanza. The jump from the kitchen to under the tent of solitude could want some connection.

highlight cliche language

The end of the second line, “multiplying before your eyes,” feels cliche.

make easy cuts

I found two easy cuts, both in the second line. I think “ideas frozen mid-irritation” works better than “in mid-irritation. And an easy fix to the cliche language is to cut it, leaving the second line as “frozen mid-irritation, fleeting yet multiplying.”

choose what to edit to (theme, idea)

I want to edit to character and narrative. I want the reader to see a person recognizing a personal crisis, and finding a solution.

brainstorm alternate titles

Maybe I want to use the title to orient the reader:

  • She stares out the kitchen window
  • Staring through the cracked pane
  • She stares through the cracked pane

Or use phrases from the poem as a title:

  • Curious Spaces for Contemplation
  • An Impression of Furious Flight
  • Indelible Marks

Or a combination of both:

  • She Dreams a Tent of Solitude
  • A Tiny Frozen Idea Changes Everything
  • A Fruit Fly-Sized Thought Changes Everything
  • The Arrested Impression
  • In Need of Refreshment

Or something completely different:

  • The Kitchen Sink is Backed Up Again

make notes to guide re-write

The main notes I have for the re-write are:

  • make the narrative clearer
  • create more space and breath
  • find the turn in the poem
  • use all the senses

So there we have it. I have a lot to work with and think about for redrafting this poem. In my morning pages, I will free-write around my three best lines, explore the character, her motives, the conflict, the stakes, the narrative and more sensory detail, especially sounds, smells, and tastes.

Revising Poetry: Creating a process

A photograph of seed packets and loose seeds on a poetry notebook.

A Seed of Hope

The seed yet planted
has potential
it may be the one
to burst into sprout
the tiny green hope
watched by the discerning eye
not ignored as the yellow
flowers in the garden,
the kale gone to seed
soon composted
to clear the way

That quadrille (a poem of 44 words) in response to today’s dVerse Poets Pub prompt, feels like a great way to start this week’s adventure in revision. Merril’s prompt “seed” is also a fun tie-in, because it’s a Janus word.

Now that the April challenges have ended and I have over thirty new poems drafted, it’s time to think about revision. Last year in May, I had the same idea. I read a lot of posts and books and started charting my revision process in my poetry notebook. I’m going to attempt to approach each draft as a seed, full of potential.

The Process

Here’s what I have come up with thus far:

Review

After letting a poem rest a while, come back to it as if reading someone else’s poem for the first time. What do I like about it? What don’t I like about it?

Here is my review checklist:

  • Identify POV, tense, form, voice
  • setting, narrative
  • themes, moods
  • words to mind map
  • alternate titles
  • highlight the best lines
  • mark weak verbs & nouns
  • mark areas to expand
  • highlight cliche language
  • choose what to edit to (theme, idea)
  • make notes to guide re-write

Redraft

Here are some ideas to try while redrafting a poem:

  • Choose the best lines and freewrite. Dig down, find the deeper meaning.
  • Use the best line as the beginning of a new poem.
  • For each line, write its opposite. Search for the turn in the poem.
  • Cut each line in half. Write a new beginning and/or ending for each line.
  • Write the poem in different POVs and tenses to find the strongest telling.
  • Expand, write past the ending. Tighten, to it’s most succinct telling.
  • Force into a form, or change from formal form to free verse.

Revise

Read the poem aloud. Feel the words in your mouth. Sing it to your favorite songs. Walk to it. Dance to it. Feel the rhythm. Have the computer read it aloud. Highlight anything that doesn’t flow, that doesn’t sound right, anything that feels forced or doesn’t fit.

Feedback

When you feel ready for some feedback, you might want to try Poetry Free-For-All, an online poetry workshop for poets to exchange critiques. There is a lot of useful information in the forums including A Workshop for One. 

I like that poets giving critiques are called critters. It makes me think of the campy horror movies. It’s fun to imagine getting poetry feedback from balls of fur with sharp teeth.

Learn from other poets

The forums of Poetry Free-For-All also include an extensive Recommended Reading list.

You may want to check out the videos at Sounds of Poetry with Bill Moyers.

Revise Again

Take the useful feedback and things you’ve liked from reading and listening to other poets talking about their work and come to your poem again with a fresh, critical eye. Read it aloud until it feels good in your mouth and body while clearly expressing your intended meaning.

A Demonstration

I thought it would be fun and useful to take the first poem I wrote this April, since it has had a good rest, and demonstrate each step through the entire process as a series of posts this week.

The poem I wrote on April First was:

Breeding Fruit Flies with Two Different Eyes

An impression arrests the fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen in mid-irritation, fleeting yet multiplying before your eyes
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue
and adumbrate the growing clutch

Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry
the constant irritation and insatiable hunger
–of those fruit flies, feeding in the sinks–
sketch an impression of furious flight

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
having vacated the house with the ideas, but left the kitchen sink to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate new and curious spaces for contemplation
where crawling, not seeing, may nourish new understanding

The Draft

This poem draft follows a form I created myself that for now I call the Jar and Janus form. I started collecting words in vases last year when I enjoyed the Coursera course Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop with Douglas Kearney for the second time. While working with abstract and concrete nouns, I decided to create vases full of each, to make random connections to spark ideas.

For each stanza of this poem, the form (followed loosely) is:

  1. Abstract noun+verb+concrete noun+concrete noun+abstract noun
  2. response to that phrase/idea
  3. expand on the response in line two including a Janus word
  4. Use the Janus word to say the opposite, or create a second thought, or point of view
  5. Repeat for as many stanzas as you like

Now that the draft is created, the form isn’t particularly important, except to remember the Janus words and think about their opposite meanings.

Motivations

Before we dive into revision, it’s a good idea to focus intention. Why do I want to revise this poem? I want to improve it, of course, but why? And why this poem?

I want to revise this poem because:

  • It’s one of the first examples of a form I invented and I want to continue to explore the form.
  • I want to take one of April’s poems through revision to work through my revision process. This poem has had the most time to rest.
  • I think it’s a good example of my unique poetic voice that I want to continue to develop.
  • Though I will be publishing the revised poem here, so it won’t be eligible for journal publication, if I love the results, I may want to include it in a collection.
  • Since I plan on developing this form further, what I learn from this revision could be very useful for future poems.
  • My main motivation is to learn by doing and share the experience to inform others.

Next Steps

I hope you will join me this week taking a poem through all of the steps of my revision process. In my next post we’ll go through the Review and plan some re-writes.

Reflecting on the use of Janus words in my April poems

Today is reflection post day for the A to Z Challenge. I enjoyed their theme and posts about games this year. Though I did not remember to do the scavenger hunt, I really liked the idea, and if anyone is still looking for a post for “bear”, I wrote a poem called Black Bear’s Branch. I also did a questions post.

Though I made it through the alphabet with Janus words (also known as contronyms, antagonyms, or auto-antonyms), exploring their uses in my poems, I didn’t find them to be as useful in turning the poem as I thought they would. Without holding both meanings of the word in mind, it’s too easy to glance over the words less familiar, or less contextual meaning, which takes the power from the twist the Janus intends.

I wish adumbrate was a more common word because it’s a great Janus, meaning both to disclose and obscure. My post that got the most likes was a puente form poem called Overwhelming Possibilities which used the Janus phrase “wind up.” My post that got the most views included my poem Put Out by Perch which was selected as a featured poem on NaPoWriMo.org. It was an amusing rant using the Janus phrase “put out.” I think my favorite Janus used was “overlook” in my poem He is a Selfish Moon. My other favorite outcome of the challenge was discovering “Popcorn-can Coveer by Lorine Niedecker and attempting to emulate her form. In one of these concise poems I used the Janus word “terrible.”

At the end of the first week, on my birthday, I found out a friend died. That messed up my motivation and put me in a bit of a funk. Writing poems was more difficult and reading and commenting was also more challenging. Definitely my least favorite part of the challenge, but not something that could be learned from really, unless it informs me to prepare for the unexpected. I’m not sure how I would do that.

I know that many A to Z bloggers prepare their posts in advance, but I don’t have a way of doing that and combining the challenge with NaPoWriMo. I guess I could prepare alternate, off-prompt poems for each day, just in case life gets in the way–in case of emergency posts for the whole month? Writing through it, was probably a good thing. Something to think about.

Overall, April (for me) came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. I hope May will leave me focused on revision.

Just for fun, I found this song called Janus Stair by Contronym

I want to thank J Lenni Dorner for bringing my attention to the film The Professor and the Madman today. It’s an interesting story about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary based on the book by Simon Winchester.

Happy May Day

collage of photos of flowers in a woven-paper basket
Flower Basket (2020) multi-media collage by Maria L. Berg

I did it! I made it through April with over thirty new poems posted, inspired by NaPoWriMo and the Poem-a-Day Challenge. Congratulations to everyone who met these challenges. It was very fun to see the winners posted for last November’s Poem-a-Day Chapbook challenge. Congratulations De Jackson!

A to Z challenge winner badge

At the A to Z Challenge there’s an after-challenge survey. I enjoyed using the challenge to explore Janus words and phrases in my poetry.

I also enjoyed discovering art, craft and design sites I hadn’t visited before along with other writing sites.

This challenge isn’t quite finished. There will be a reflections post sign-up on May 3 and a blog road trip starting May 10th.

It’s time to get back to revision. This week I’ll be posting about my poetry revision process. I hope you’ll join me and share your tips and tricks for poetry revision.

The Final Destination

Today’s final NaPoWriMo prompt is to write directions describing how a person should get to a particular place.

The final PAD prompt is a goodbye poem.

Over at the A to Z Challenge they have a word scramble. The Janus word for today is zip which can mean energy, vim, or nothing, nada, zero

fisheye view of trees and sun

Time To Go

Goodbye. It’s time
for me to be
on my way

If only I knew
where I wanted to be

I would zip up the stairs
and burst out the door
climb into the car
and back down the drive

I could turn right or left
and loop directly back here
somehow climbing uphill
both ways

with water always at my right hand
an eagle soaring overhead

and if I venture further
past the pentacostals and jehova’s witnesses
the elementary school or the gas station
speed down the hill or up
the road will bring me here again

larger loops radiating
as if a stone dropped in the lake
on a still day
I might as well stay