Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Eight: Revise, Get Feedback, Revise Again

Revise

After looking at all my redrafts, I made a few more changes to my poem and was about to upload it to Scribophile, when I saw that in this version the poem read in couplets. Here is the version I uploaded to Scribophile for critique:

Cleaning All the Dirty Dishes

An impression arrests fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen mid-irritation, like tinnitus introducing dizzying, swirling vertigo

after the ground falls away, my arms and my dress fly above my head
my pinky toe the stoical point, stepping out of the spiral my view telescopes

to his sweat on her body behind the bale
as if finally finding the source of wafting, permeating decay

Contentment empties glue of flavor and steals scissors of artistry
but constant irritation and itching desire keep me in motion

juggling stomach stones, insatiable hunger clacks and clicks
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue?

With nothing I’ve left, clean of any sticky coating
the bridge burner can’t choose to turn around

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
having vacated the house with ideas, but left the kitchen sink to fruit flies

fleeing obscures crackling and smoke, suffering the charred frame
his erasable touches won’t last past the first rain

the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate curious spaces for thought
where scraping, not smoothing, may nourish new understanding

The Feedback

The first two critiques I received said I should work on the punctuation in the poem. Though I disagreed with the example suggestions, I did find the suggestion interesting. So playing with some more punctuation is a note for the next revision.

I was also offered an interesting word replacement. A reader suggested using “inducing” instead of “introducing” vertigo. My original idea was that tinnitus is like the arresting impression because it acts like an announcer, an MC at an event introducing the next act, announcing the star entertainer, Vertigo, hushing, stilling the crowd in expectation and respect. Though I like the word “inducing,” tinnitus doesn’t exactly “induce” vertigo, they are both separate symptoms. Maybe I want to play around with MC Tennitus and capitalize Vertigo, or look for a different word than “introducing” to clarify my idea.

One critique suggested that the flow from the kitchen to the tent of solitude is unclear which opened my eyes to re-arranging stanzas. And another critique mentioned the distance of the point of view at the beginning not drawing the reader in.

Revise Again

Based on the encouraging and constructive feedback I received from readers on Scribophile, my revision plan is:

  1. Read aloud, paying close attention to pauses and breaks thinking about punctuation
  2. weigh each word and ask if there’s a better one
  3. try the stanzas in different orders for narrative flow
  4. Try more intimate, closer opening

The Final Comparison

Original / Final (revised after critique)

Conclusions

This series of posts on revising poetry has been a great experience for me. I finally got my head around meter and its vocabulary after trying many times before. I love the tools and resources I collected and all of the poems and poets I discovered along the way.

Exploring my poetry revision process with you has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities for redrafts. One of the important revision steps after reviewing a poem is to decide which redrafting techniques will most improve the poem.

I found this great article by Suzanne Langlois: Poetry Revision Bingo, and designed a bingo card for myself with my redrafting techniques in the squares.

Next Steps

Inspired by The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics edited by Diane Lockward, I have turned my attention to creating a poetry collection. I hope you will join me on my adventure as I explore my themes, and share what I learn, as I put together and submit a poetry manuscript.

#WriterInMotion: Critique Partners’ Feedback Revision

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Three

This week was exciting. I sent my story to two people and received their stories to critique. Based on their feedback I made revisions, creating this new draft of my story that will now go to a professional editor.

Before talking about the changes, I want to thank Neta of NetaQBlog and Nicole of The Usual Bookspects for the time and consideration they put into critiquing my story.

Because I had to cut so many words out of my original draft, I experimented with some cuts that I thought might be interesting. Turns out they were just awkward. Luckily, my critique partners suggested some other lines I could cut, so I could reword the awkward places and smooth them out. They also pointed out some areas that needed rewording for clarity.

Now the newly revised draft:

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on us.

Who is it, Daddy?” we heard from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day.”

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you, I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile blockade.

What?” he yelled like an axe hitting a trunk.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced social services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. Suddenly, a square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace. He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel and coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a Toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

“Did you hear that Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

“But,” Eugene tried to interject.

“And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

“Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

Josette jumped off the settee, startling the dog, and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned on me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open. I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.” She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

Excavating the Mind Round 2: Taming through Framing

photograph of a raked garden plot

Garden Potential (2020) photo by Maria L. Berg

Yesterday, I missed the live broadcast of Rattle Magazine’s weekly critique video, but I watched it after. It was very informative. I found it fascinating how little of the original draft may be the real poem, the gold nuggets that can then be mined.

I’m going to watch more of the critique videos before I post my poem tomorrow.

This morning, I enjoyed the interview with Charles Harper Webb and his powerful poem “Prayer for the Man Who Mugged My Father, 72.” I also loved his poem, “Down the Bayou,” a raucous adventure of the imagination.

I’m enjoying that many of these poets are also performing musicians.

Thoughts for framing today’s drafts

As I mentioned in my last post, I am reading Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio. In chapter 25 “the poem’s progress” I found some exercises I’m going to try as I’m drafting my poem today. I was especially drawn to the first exercise that asks me to think about some truths I currently hold. Her first example is, “People are inherently good.” An old friend and I recently debated this idea.

The exercise proposes writing three poems based on the truth I currently hold: The first in support of that truth; the second disproving the statements of the first; and the third arguing for and against.

I am also drawn to the sixth exercise in which I open the poem with a specific question and write two poems: one in which I come to a conclusion, and one in which I don’t.

These challenges appeal to me as artistic frames in which to approach this week’s observations. Looks like I have work to do, so many poems to draft.

I hope you will join me tomorrow to read this week’s poem.

Happy Reading and Writing!