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.

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: 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.

Welcome to Experience Writing 2021

Where There Are Tiny Dinosaurs In Trees (2020) bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Attempt at Focus

This year has one main writing focus and that is revision. I will be revising my novels one after the other. I will be revising my short stories and my poems. I will find ways to stay motivated during revision. I will explore revision tools, workbooks and worksheets and find what works and doesn’t work for my process along the way.

There will be events like National Poetry Month in April, OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month) in October and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, but other than that, this site is about revision this year.

If you are an author or poet (or both) who would like to share your revision process, or tips and tricks let me know in the comments, or send an email. We can schedule a guest-post or an interview.

The Revision Experience Begins

Planner Pages

I thought I had given up on my planner pages, but then I wanted to start setting up my revision goals. I took a look at the revised pages I made for December 2019 and thought they would work nicely. After some quick revision, I offer what I’ll be using this month. If you are interested in looking back at my planner for writers project, it started back in February of 2019. Just click on the month in the archives (column to the right).

The file is set up to be used in OpenOffice. I decided to leave the deadlines blank this time, so you can focus on the deadlines that most interest you.

Here are the sites I usually look at when I’m researching deadlines:

I liked the prompts and the format of these planner pages. I also like the more achievable goal of three submissions a week. I look forward to your feedback on the pages and hope you find them useful.

To start my short story revisions, I chose twenty-one of my short stories and put them in one PDF without titles. My goal is to attempt to read through them on my tablet as if it is someone else’s collection and choose my ten favorites for revision.

I purchased Cat Rambo’s short story revision class and look forward to taking the ten stories I choose through her paces.

I’ll talk more about organization and preparation tomorrow. I wanted to get the planner pages out today, so you can start using them.

Revising and Editing Poems

collage poetry

Now that National Poetry Writing Month is over and many of us have thirty fresh poem drafts, it’s time to start thinking about revision. This morning I scoured the internet for revision techniques and found a lot of useful information and some worksheets. We want to approach each poem with fresh eyes, so I recommend starting with the draft you wrote on April first, or practicing up on some older poems to let your new drafts rest a bit. Here are the resources I enjoyed the most:

Blog Posts

The Art of Targeted Revision by Sandra Beasley from Poets & Writers

On revision from Molly Spencer (there are four posts in her revision series)

How to Revise Your Poetry from Poetry Teatime

5 Ways to Revise Poems from Writer’s Digest

13 Ways to Revise a Poem from Freesia McKee

Magma poetry’s 25 Rules for Editing Poems

 

Worksheets

Poetry revision activity

Poetry Self-Evaluation worksheet from Scholastic

Creative Exercises: Revising and Building by John Chapman

 

I like a lot of these ideas. Today, I’m going to start reading through the poetry collages I created last year and play with some of Molly Spencer’s “radical revision” techniques. I hope you find some useful ideas in all these resources that inspire your revision process.

And don’t forget to read a ton of poetry while you’re at it.

Happy Reading and Writing!