Saturday, October 17, 2009

Notes on revising poetry

1. Try to find a unifying principle for the poem. Meaning something that makes it feel like it holds together. See the post below on structure for ideas about how poets do this. Many different ways.

2. There are many ways to use the lines and rhythm in relation to the meaning. You can have flat line breaks, and this will work for some poems. However, when you do, there should be a strong sense of suspense or surprise in the words. In most cases, your rhythmic structure will end up to be either regular or a more jagged, deliberate (conscious) structure. It rarely works to have it switch from one to the other.

3. So, about this sense of surprise... When we write a first draft, we are basically using the words that occur to us at the time. However, the language of poetry should always be striking... and every line should hold its own weight in terms of intensity. Increasing this intensity is basically the purpose of revision.

4. How do you do this? I can't tell you, because it's a poem-by-poem thing, but you might try replacing bland language with sensory language. Replace "I walk through a vague forest" with "I swagger into soft-focus trunks, needles, peat..." Dig through the resources of language for striking combinations of words. When you do, you'll lose control of the poem a little; it's meaning will begin to change. That's a good thing.

5. Try to take it to the next level. Poetry is not an art of description of telling little anecdotes. That's why we have Blackberries. Your poem talks about something local as a way of touching on something of universal importance. This is the goal of the revision process: to come up with a focused, continuously intense, poem that digs a deep hole and throws us in it.

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