Vision and Revision: a guest post by Jacob M. Appel

  Jacob M. Appel is an American author, poet, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Education at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, where he is Director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry. He is also the author of four literary novels, nine short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery, a thriller, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas. 

 

 Vision and Revision

            Once I had the pleasure of chatting with a well-known sculptor whose preferred medium was marble—and I couldn’t resist asking her what happened if she made a mistake.  I had expected her to respond with an earnest observation about the planning required to prevent such a calamity: measuring with calipers, modeling in plaster, etc.  Instead, she laughed and replied, “Why do you think the Venus de Milo is missing her arms?”

Fortunately, writing is far more forgiving.   A loose plot line can always be tightened or a more original rhyme found to end a stanza.  Would-be authors are taught early on that Hemingway wrote forty-seven different endings to A Farewell to Arms and Fitzgerald continued to revise The Great Gatsby even after it had been typeset, that Auden had the audacity to alter “September 1, 1939” after publication and Moore grappled with the text of “Poetry” for five decades.  In contrast, writers publicly (although falsely) believed to eschew revision—Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara—are often derided accordingly.  One can still hear the disdain of Capote’s quip about Kerouac, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

In modern western culture, and particularly in the United States, revision has claimed a hallowed position.  Nearly every writing course I have encountered incorporates an emphasis upon revision, a belief that multiple drafts are essential to the writing process.  Maybe this reflects the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, or the Edisonian notion that genius is 99% perspiration.  Unfortunately, many aspiring writers take the wrong message from these lessons.  It is certainly true that revision has a valuable place in the writing process.   However, that does not mean that vision isn’t also necessary.  Nor does it mean that, just because great works require revision, revision necessarily leads to great works.

Grace Paley frequently observed that she did her best writing in the bathtub.  Her point was not, of course, that she had to worry about getting soap suds on her writing pad.  Rather, she was suggesting that she thought through her stories in depth before she put pen to paper.  Having a sense of where you are going in advance helps you get there—both in life and on the page.  Anyone who has ever planned family vacations with young children surely knows this:  It is far wiser to book a hotel room at Disneyland or Yellowstone prior to departure than to hop into the station wagon and drive until one finds an appealing destination.   For John Wayne and a few inveterate literary explorers, the open road may be alluring.  For many writers, it is the sure path to hours before a blank computer screen.  That is not to say that a writer cannot change paths or make discoveries as she writes—for the creative mind, that is inevitable.   But choosing the Goldilocks moment to transfer words from one’s soul to one’s hand—not too soon, not too late—is one of the skills that separates the skilled writer from the amateur.   And, fortunately, it can be cultivated.

I urge my students to take time to reflect upon what they want to say, and how, long before they consider saying it.  It is easier to erase a sentence in one’s mind than on one’s parchment. (There are a few exceptions, like Dostoevsky, who managed to weave his revisions and even his mistakes seamlessly into his prose without any undoing.)  Either Will Rogers or Head & Shoulders once warned: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  That is as much true regarding the impression you make upon yourself as the impression that you make upon others.  Once you’ve committed yourself to a word or idea in print, you’ve often moored yourself to a particular course.  Needless to say, there are limits to how much one should wait before setting down your internal epics.   As either Aristotle or Voltaire or my Great Aunt Sadie once warned, “Don’t make the perfect an enemy of the good.”  But the good, thought through in advance, can prove the mortal foe of the mediocre.

A photograph of the hardcover of The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M. Appel

Jacob’s novelThe Mask of Sanity

The fetishization of revision often leads writers to forget one of the craft’s most important principles:  Quit while you’re behind.  I firmly believe that anyone with the passion and commitment can write valuable and inspiring poetry or fiction.   Yet that does not mean that every particular poem or story can be transformed into a work of value and inspiration.  Sometimes, the materials themselves don’t cohere:  the author had chosen the wrong structure or genre for this particular idea or the underlying plot simply isn’t compelling; other times, the material is worthwhile but the author is at the wrong point in her journey to share it most effectively.  Knowing whether a story or poem is working is a talent.   But recognizing whether a story or poem can work is a far more crucial skill.

So how does one know whether a story or poem can work?   One question to ask is whether, as you are writing, you find yourself with too many or too few ingredients.  An analogy I often share with my students is self-assembling an exercise bicycle—inevitably, one of life’s greatest challenges.   If you try multiple times and find yourself with excess parts and wheels that don’t spin, or too few parts and a hollow pole for a seat, you might consider repackaging and returning to the supplier.  The same is true with writing.  Sometimes, the pieces just don’t fit together.  Accept that.  Move on.  Live to fight another day.  I say this as a writer who has spent thousands of hours writing manuscripts that should have been scrapped after fifteen minutes.  Revision is often necessary, but it is rarely sufficient.  No writer wants to be lauded as a “revisionary.”

It has become a trope in creative writing to place original drafts and revisions of famous works side by side to admire the radical changes imposed by the authors between drafts.  That is often a rewarding exercise.   But I exhort students that they should admire the vision of the original as well.  Exceptions do exist:  The Ray Carver-Gordon Lish Complex, for instance.  (Editor Gordon Lish is often credited with line editing Carver’s stories to create the spare, crystalline prose we now know as Carveresque.)  Yet it is usually the magic of the original draft that still enchants in the final form.

Revision, in other words, is an essential tool—but it shouldn’t be a crutch.  I am very wary of writers who plan on revisions at the outset, of students who assure me, “I’ll fix that later.”  To my thinking, that is like planning for a second marriage at your first wedding.  The responsibility of the writer is to get it right the first time.  And then, in the revision, to get it even righter.

Now Back to the Scheduled Program . . . Revision: Using feedback to strategize.

It’s been fun taking this art break, but it’s time to get back to what this blog is all about this year: revision. And at the end of this post I have a special announcement. Ooooh, Aaahhh.

Brainstorming Revision Strategies

Since one of my stories placed in its event in the Writer’s Games, it will be published in the 72 Hours of Insanity anthology later this year. I will soon receive notes from the editors. The main reason I find the Writer’s Games worthwhile is that each story receives feedback from three to five judges. Today, let’s look through my feedback and strategize how to approach revision.

The Feedback

During the Writer’s Games I wrote six stories. These are my generalized notes of feedback from all of the stories.

Character Development

  • physically describe the secondary character
  • clarify MC’s relationship and emotional connection to secondary character
  • how character holds him/herself
  • more description and elaboration of characters important to the climax and end of story
  • character should cling to previous beliefs and behaviors before change

Setting

  • consider how descriptions interact with internal logic
  • smooth transitions

Backstory

  • a delicate balance: too much in one story, not enough in another
  • more backstory through character’s internal thoughts, not dialogue

Foreshadowing

  • needs to be more clear
  • character’s beliefs need to be clear at the beginning

My thoughts

As with most feedback, one judge says one thing, and the next says the opposite, but what I listed above appeared to be a consensus, or was something I agreed with. Saving the feedback and giving it time to sit helped me separate my emotional jerk reactions and find useful information. Now that I’ve identified things to work on, how do I want to approach revision?

Revision Strategies

Character Development

I like to leave most of the physical aspects of my characters up to the reader’s imagination, but it appears the readers sometimes need more. I have a couple of tools I’ve collected but didn’t use while writing these stories. I’ll give them a try before I revise.

Exercise 1: Act out how the character walks, stands, gestures. To do this, I will envision that I am the character and walk around the room for a while. Then I’ll act out some dialogue as the character. I’ll video tape myself doing this and see how my movement and gestures change as I become each character.

Exercise 2: Chart the character relationships. For this exercise I’ll put the main character’s name in the center of a page then put the names of the rest of the characters encircling it, then I’ll draw lines of relationship between the characters and write what those relationships are. I’ll journal about how these relationships formed and changed over time, then I’ll focus on the main character’s perceptions of each of these relationships.

I thought the comment about a character not letting go of his/her previous beliefs so quickly was a very good point. I’ll brainstorm ways that my characters can demonstrate that they don’t want to believe their own eyes, and are struggling to find rational explanations before changing their beliefs.

Setting

I thought the comment about description needing to follow the stories internal logic was good. I do tend to explain things after the fact when I should make sure something is clear to the reader before I describe it, or at least directly after, not later in the story. I will be on the look out for places where the reader needs context.

Backstory

The feedback I received about use of backstory is tricky. There’s a delicate dance here that ties in with the work I need to do to recognize when the reader needs more context. I think I will try a couple of exercises to work on this.

Exercise 1: Read through the story and highlight everything I consider backstory. Are there flashbacks? Highlight flashbacks in another color. Are they necessary? What do they bring to the present narrative? Where does the reader need context for a character’s feelings or actions? What is the character’s most powerful memory that influences that behavior? Will it clear things up for the reader to know that, or will it take them out of the present action?

Exercise 2: Print out 5 short stories I like and highlight every use of backstory and flashbacks. When and how was backstory used.

Foreshadowing

Using chiastic outlines ( This article “The Strength of a Symmetrical Plot” does a good job of explaining it and has a great example created by Susan Raab using the story of Beauty and the Beast) has really helped me think about foreshadowing. However, from the feedback I received, it looks like I still have a ways to go. I think both of the exercises I set up to work on backstory will also apply to foreshadowing.

Reading aloud

I have found in the past that having the computer read my story to me has helped with final edits, especially typos. Recently, however, while I was recording myself reading my poems for the pathways project, I found that knowing I was going to record it led to important revisions. I haven’t tried that with a short story yet, so for this revision, I will try recording myself reading it aloud and see what the process of recording myself reading it does for short story revision.

And here’s the Special Announcement!

One of my favorite short story writers, Jacob M. Appel, has taken time out of his incredibly busy schedule to write a guest post about revision for Experience Writing. If you haven’t read his work yet, he has something for everyone. He has published novels, story collections, a poetry collection, essays, and medical articles; he contributes to Writer’s Digest, and so much more. There’s a documentary about him on Amazon Prime Video called Jacob.

Here’s his bio from his website:

Jacob M. Appel’s first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award in 2012. His short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and was published by Black Lawrence in November 2013. He is the author of seven other collections of short stories: The Magic Laundry, The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, Einstein’s Beach House, Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana, Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, Amazing Things Are Happening Here, The Amazing Mr. Morality, The Liars’ Asylum and Winter Honeymoon; an essay collection, Phoning Home; a poetry collection, The Cynic in Extremis; four other novels novel: The Biology of Luck, The Mask of Sanity, Surrendering Appomattox, and Millard Salter’s Last Day; and a collection of ethical dilemmas, Who Says You’re Dead?

Jacob has published short fiction in more than two hundred literary journals including Agni, Alaska Quarterly Review, Conjunctions, Colorado Review, Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, StoryQuarterly, Subtropics, Threepenny Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and West Branch. He has won the New Millennium Writings contest four times, the Writer’s Digest “grand prize” twice, and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom competition in both fiction and creative nonfiction. He has also won annual contests sponsored by Boston Review, Missouri Review, Arts & Letters, Bellingham Review, Briar Cliff Review, North American Review, Sycamore Review, Writers’ Voice, the Dana Awards, the Salem Center for Women Writers, and Washington Square. His work has been short listed for the O. Henry Award (2001), Best American Short Stories (2007, 2008), Best American Essays (2011, 2012), and received “special mention” for the Pushcart Prize in 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013.

Jacob holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University, an M.A. and an M.Phil. from Columbia University, an M.S. in bioethics from the Alden March Bioethics Institute of Albany Medical College, an M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, an M.F.A. in playwriting from Queens College, an M.P.H. from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He has most recently taught at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was honored with the Undergraduate Council of Students Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003, and at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. He also publishes in the field of bioethics and contributes to such publications as the Journal of Clinical Ethics, the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, the Hastings Center Report, and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Times, The Providence Journal and many regional newspapers.

Jacob has been admitted to the practice of law in New York State and Rhode Island, and is a licensed New York City sightseeing guide.

I think you can see why I’m excited. I hope you will stop by Experience Writing this Thursday, September 2nd, to read Jacob’s insights on revision. See you there!

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.

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Seven: Emulate another poem or poet

Emulate another poem or poet

I picked up a copy of The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics by Diane Lockward. In the Craft Tip #3 Poem and Prompt section, she talks about “Variation on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop” by John Murillo. This poem is based on “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. Take a look at both poems side by side.

both poems from Poetry Foundation
move the center line to the right or left

I really enjoyed this example of emulating another poem. John Murillo took the idea of learning to lose and made it his own. Lockward points out that Murillo does more than keep the theme. He uses repetition as Bishop does, repeating the many forms of “lose,” using many words that start with L, and like Bishop, he writes in imperatives as if giving directions.

So one way to emulate a poem is to write to the theme. Another is to make a list of techniques employed by the poet.

My redrafts emulating three different poems

Back in Part Four of this demonstration I announced which poems I had chosen and did some research into the poets. For this exercise, I chose Dead Stars by Ada Limón, Ode by Jane Huffman, and News by Ben Purkert.

So here’s my process for emulating a poem so far:

  • read lots of poems
  • pick a few poems I like
  • research the poets, learn about their process
  • learn about the poem

What’s next? I need to decide how emulating this poem will improve the poem I’m working on. I’m going to ask myself some questions as I read the poem again.

  • Why did I choose this poem?
  • What do I like about it?
  • What technique(s) do I want to try?
  • How will this improve my poem?


Dead Stars by Ada Limón

Ada Limón gives us a clue into her intent and feelings about “Dead Stars” in this video

Why did I choose this poem? I chose this poem because I enjoy the creative combinations of imagery. I was drawn to the mundane becoming philosophical and daring.

What do I like about it? I like the spoken words in italics (not quotes) used twice. I like the questions and what ifs that are somewhat random but make sense because we are all part of the big band, the dead stars.

What technique(s) do I want to try? She uses questions, speech, and of the senses in her details. She creates some interesting double turns/twists in the set up with: It’s almost romantic . . . until you say . . . And it’s true.

How will this improve my poem? I think this twisting language could help improve my poem. My narrator is in a dizzying, swirling, vertigo of facing facts that lead to sudden and life-changing reality, so her language dealing with it could be more twisty. Some dialogue in italics is worth giving a try as well.

Dirty Dishes

In kitchen sinks full of ideas, there’s an impression that even arrests fruit flies
Summer’s sandpaper tongue down our throats
jealousy, worry, rage all frozen mid-irritation
like tinnitus so acute it becomes a wasp nesting in your ear

I am a woodpile of ants in heat: a carpenter of denial

My view telescopes through the broken pane
to his sweat on her body behind the bale

I almost believed him as he twisted his favorite cap
until he said, A man has needs, but she’s not you

Which is true, but doesn’t mean he didn’t lie
when he said it was the last time

The dropped dish shatters like we all do

its pieces, still holdable, I toss into the trash

with my colors, light, hopes and ambition
because the glue has lost its flavor and the scissors
their artistry

Though broken, I still hunger and itch

the clicking, clacking pieces find junction. How

will I survive without? After indelible
marks topple to the tongue?

What if I can ignore and forget? What
if he says Stay. Please stay, and I cave.

I didn’t burn the curtains and the bridge?

What would happen if I left with nothing
opened, bare, clean of sticky coating

with hope of refreshment in bonding
earth nutrients growing, bonding

if I find new understanding wriggling
among the moles under the tent of solitude

will I be scraped as a plate after a feast?

Ode by Jane Huffman

Why did I choose this poem? I like the repetition and how it builds movement.

What do I like about it? The subtle changes and double meanings of words in repetitions.

What technique(s) do I want to try? The repetition of words in slight rearrangement creates the idea of smaller and larger circles while also talking about small and large circles.

How will this improve my poem? Because my poem talks about swirling and vertigo. I think I can use some of this style of repetition to get some of the spin my narrator is going through to come to life.

Chores

An impression arrests fruit flies. The fruit
flies are arrested in kitchen sinks full of
ideas. The ideas, frozen in mid-irritation
are like tinnitus introducing vertigo. I am
dizzy with vertigo. I hear buzzing. I am
spinning, spiraling, falling. I am falling.
The ground falls away and I am dropping,
my arms and my dress fly above my head
as I plummet, my pinky toe the stoical point.
The pinky toe somehow holds on. Like a pin
holding strings connecting to what got me
here, to a truth, or many truths long forgotten.
That pinky toe pointed, curled and maimed
from point-shoes leads the other toes and the
foot stepping from the spiral and though dizzy,
dizzy and disoriented I see clearly, my view
telescopes to his sweat on her body, not hidden
by the bale, the dry wasted bale that should
have sold, should have fed. I see the clarity
distorted in his drops of sweat on her younger
body as if finally finding the source of wafting,
wind-blown odor of putrid, rotting decay.
The putrid decay of our love that had swirled,
dizzyingly around until arrested by an impression,
here, now, as I stand at the kitchen sink.

News by Ben Purkert

Why did I choose this poem? I related to the wind talking and asking my to see.

What do I like about it? I like the juxtapositions creating a different, broader meaning

What technique(s) do I want to try? Again, the spoken words in italics. This time using italics as a shape the wind turns the grass into as well as speech. It’s a great idea. In two quick lines, he turns a believable news fact about sardines into a derogatory accusation.

How will this improve my poem? My poem already has some interesting juxtapositions. What could I cut to make the mind jump? Is there a “news” fact that would paint a picture juxtaposed against an unfounded judgement that would bring the reader to make interesting connections?

The Recall

An impression of fruit flies in furious flight
sketches the words, Think. Can you imagine?
contentment empties glue of flavor
and steals scissors of sharp
cuts. Today, Ms. Winters, the Mayor of Little Town
was recalled for having a litter in her office
Her predecessor was quoted as saying, I told
you she could never do the job as well as a man.

She wouldn’t stop licking the blood
from their heads: blind and mewling
in the box. Think. Can you imagine?
The hunger says this is dying season and–
What indelible marks will topple to the tongue?
Like a bridge burner
who can’t turn around
Maybe refreshment is nothing but
moles digging holes under the tent of solitude
I will get there, won’t I?
To the dark fresh-earth tunnels
where scraping, not smoothing, may nourish understanding

Summing up redrafting

There are so many options for redrafting a poem. I’m excited to try some new things when I revise my next poem. For this demonstration, however, we’ve covered a lot. I think the most important thing for redrafting are the questions I asked myself at the beginning:

  1. What are my motivations for redrafting this poem?
  2. What do I like about it?
  3. What don’t I like about it?

If you recall from Part One of this demonstration, I said, “It feels cluttered. There’s too much that isn’t clear. I want to know more of the story, the character, motivations, and conflict.” Toward that end, I think writing the narrative poem was a great first redraft. The opposites game draft, combined with the original then split lines, were the next most helpful generative drafts.

The new redrafting techniques: Thesaurus game and Put a color on it, didn’t influence this poem very much, but they were enormously helpful with some other poems I was revising.

I’m very excited about the new digital tools I found: Poemage and Scandroid. I imagine I’ll have a lot of fun with them as I continue revising my poems.

Now that my redrafting toolbox is overflowing, an important part of the Review process will be choosing the correct tools for an efficient and effective redraft.

Next Steps

I will read over all of my redrafts and let them inform me as I make some decisions about changes to my original poem. Then I will post it to Scribophile for critique.

While I wait for some feedback, I will continue to learn from other poets. I realized, while writing the post about meter, that I haven’t focused as much on listening to poetry as I have reading poetry. I will work on that through the How Writers Write Poetry MOOCs, YouTube videos, listening to the audio on Poets.org, and exploring some poetry Podcasts.

I enjoyed this video of Naomi Shihab Nye talking about revision.

I also liked some of the things that Juan Felipe Herrera said during this talk. He said once you’ve thrown the words on the page, anything else is a new poem. “If you revise a poem long enough, you have a whole book.”

Using the revision process I’ve been demonstrating, I find his statement is so true. This one short poem, the first one of thirty from NaPoWriMo, has already generated thirty new poems! Think of it: if I took each of the new drafts through the entire process so far, I would have 900 poems and then if I redrafted those . . . One of them would have to be good, right? 😉

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Six: Redrafting for rhythm and rhyme

Looking over my favorite lines from my two upside-down poems in the last post, I started noticing some interesting, slightly altered repetition. But before we jump into the next round of drafts which will get us looking at rhythm and rhyme, I want to share something fun I found.

Poemage

Poemage is a visual close-reading tool developed at the University of Utah for exploring the interaction of sonic patterns in poetry. I downloaded the free beta version, saved my poem draft as a .txt file and put it in the program’s poems file. Here is the Poemage analysis of my draft as it is now.

Having only begun to play with this tool, I can see how it will be useful during redrafting. Here’s the analysis of the vowel slant rhymes in my poem.

I started looking at the purple “EY” words and enjoy how they sound together:

embrace decay,
vacated frame remains,
erasable spaces may flavor irritation.

That’s a poem right there. Let’s look at light green “EH”:

stepping where
refreshment telescopes
impression
let dress arrest empty heads
tent indelible contentment

Not as easily a poem, but I can imagine those words in some interesting rhymes.

Force into form

At the end of demonstration four I talked about the four forms I chose for this demonstration: Trolaan, Synchronicity, Ottava Rima, and Nove Otto. I like using RhymeZone to explore my rhyming options. Let’s get started.

Trolaan This form is made of four quatrains (stanza of four lines) with an abab rhyme scheme. There is also a rule about the first letter of each line of each stanza. I’m going to play with the slant rhymes I identified above instead of exact rhymes for this one.

Body Wriggles an Empty Head

An impression arrests
all fruit flies in frame
after dizzying dress
a spiral of space

No contentment embraces
nor kitchen sinks emptied
nourish erasable remains or
navigate pinky-toe stepping

Obscured by crackling and smoke
over the permeating decay
onward desire in motion
opening curious spaces vacated

Beneath the tent of solitude
body wriggles an empty head
bone bending, not breaking, ensued
both imagination and flavor fed

Synchronicity This form has eight three line stanzas with the syllable count 8/8/2. It is written in first person and has a “twist” in the last two stanzas.

Flavorless Glue and Lost Scissors

cracked, speckled, broken window pane
a sudden impression alerts
arrests

kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen in mid-irritation
stillness

like tinnitus introducing
dizzying, swirling vertigo
I fall

my view telescopes to his sweat
on her body behind the bale
the source

flavorless glue and lost scissors
leave me hungry, full of desire
stagnant

juggled stomach stones clack and click
what marks will topple to my tongue?
undone

~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~~

clean of any sticky coating
the bridge burner can’t turn around
no choice

under the tent of solitude
refreshment wriggles in the dark
tunnels

Ottava Rima This form has both rhyme and syllable rules. It is written in 8 line octives. Each line has 10 or 11 syllables and follows the rhyme scheme abababcc

Before stuck by pins

An impression arrests the fruit flies in
kitchen sinks full of imagination
frozen in mid-irritation we spin
insatiable hunger sketches impressions
of furious flight before stuck by pins
curious spaces for contemplation
what indelible marks will come tumbling
to the tongue when the stomach is rumbling?

Contentment empties the glue of flavor
and steals the lost scissors of sharp-edged blades
leaping from dizzy existence, I waver
with nothing I’ve left, clean of sticky trades
refreshment wriggles under the tent savored
where scraping, not smoothing, may nourish new shades
having abandoned the house to fruit flies
in dark fresh-earth tunnels I find thought alive

Nove Otto This form also has both rhyme and syllable rules. It is a nine line poem. Each line has 8 syllables. The rhyme scheme is aacbbcddc

It all happened so fast

cracked, speckled, broken window pane
fruit flies frozen over the drain
what marks will topple to my tongue
who knows what hateful things I’ll say
now seeing through our loves decay
the vertigo of years undone
obscured by fire’s crackle and smoke
his touch erased by rains first soak
to dreams of solitude I run

Revise for Meter

I found more great resources and tools that led me to some more redrafting ideas. First, there are two free poetry MOOC Packs from The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program: How Writers Write Poetry and How Writers Write Poetry II. In Class 5 of How Writers Write Poetry, poets Richard Kenney and Bill Trowbridge present Meter, Prosody, and Scansion in fun and interesting ways. I like how Mr. Trowbridge demonstrates how different types of feet are used to emphasize an image, a metaphor and/or an emotion.

Here’s a chart of the different poetic feet

Poetic Meter (from Wikipedia)

This led me to another redrafting idea. In the book The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry (Yes, the British comedian), Stephen really breaks down poetic meter with tons of examples, starting with the iamb, of course. I took up his challenge to write lines of iambic pentameter and gave a redraft of my poem in iambic pentameter a try. Here’s what I came up with.

She dreams a tent of solitude tonight
a thought arrests the flies in dirty sinks
I let my arms and dress fly overhead
my pinky toe the point to hold the ground
my view becomes his hands behind the bale
a source of wafting filth, our love’s decay

content I stale, my life has lost all taste
he steals my time, my art has gone to waste
desire’s the buzz and itch to make me move
a rumble sounds, my constant hunger stays
the tongue now free, what hateful words to say
the bridges burn, can’t choose to turn around

Scandroid

Then I found something very fun. Charles Hartman at Connecticut College created a program called Scandroid. I downloaded the free program and typed my attempt at iambic pentameter above into it. Here are the results:

The Scandroid results of my attempt at iambic pentameter
My first Scandroid analysis 5-15-2021

How fun is that!!

Next Steps

This post alone opens a world of never-ending re-drafting possibilities. I can see that part of the revision plan during the review will include picking and choosing which redrafting techniques might work best for a certain poem. However, for this exploration of my process, I can see the effect of every step. The next, and final, step I’ll take in the redrafting phase of this poem’s revision is to emulate poems and poets, but I’ll save that for the next post.

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.

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.