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.

#WriterinMotion Week Two: revision plan

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Two

For once, I overwrote. I have a story that needs to be told in less than half as many words, so I thought I’d spend a little time and create a plan for this first revision.

This Week’s Revision Plan

First steps:

  1. print out the story
  2. read aloud
  3. highlight best lines/parts
  4. cross out parts I don’t like
  5. ask questions to get to the core of the story
  6. write logline/ elevator pitch/ summary
  7. increase conflict
  8. explore possibilities
  9. re-write

Questions to get to core of story:

  • Who is this story really about?
  • What does that person want more than anything?
  • What is in the way of getting that desire?
  • How will she overcome the conflict?
  • Was the desire, once achieved, really what she needed?
  • How has the ordeal changed her?
  • Why is this story important?
  • Why do I want to tell it?

Next steps:

  1. Repeat first steps 1-4
  2. focus on opening line: try at least ten other possibilities. Have I drawn the reader in with a whisper of everything to come?
  3. focus on ending: try cutting last line, last paragraph, try adding a paragraph or two to find real ending. Have I left the reader wanting more; feeling something, thinking?
  4. focus on dialogue: are the voices unique? dialogue as tight as possible?
  5. focus on setting: does every description do double duty (mood, symbolism, character development)? Is every object there for a reason? Have I described for the reader what I see in my head, really put it on the page?
  6. focus on characters: play with unique, concise descriptors (think pessimistic moustache). Does each character jump off the page? Can the reader relate to them, empathize with them?
  7. focus on the senses: have I created vivid experiences using all five senses? Are there sounds, smells, textures, tastes as well as sights? What associations am I trying to elicit in the reader with these choices?
  8. focus on sentence variance, sound and rhythm
  9. focus on sentence clarity: am I really saying what I mean to say?
  10. focus on word choice: strong verbs, specific nouns
  11. hunt for and remove over-used words
  12. hunt for and remove clichés
  13. print out and read aloud as a final spell-check, specifically for homonyms and other small errors computers don’t catch.

 

Looks like an overwhelming amount of work, but I have a week and many of the next steps will be revisited over the next few weeks of revisions as well. I’ll probably add to this list as I work. I hope you find it helpful. If you have revision checklists or processes that you would like to share, feel free to add a link in the comments.

Happy Reading and Writing!