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
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
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.
There are two settings in this poem:
- A kitchen, perhaps an old, somewhat unclean, or impossible to clean kitchen
- 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.
- 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
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
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:
- “ideas frozen in mid-irritation”
- “Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry”
- “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.