Poetry Revision

Poetry, like any written work, needs revision. I suppose there might have been a handful of times when inspiration for a short poem hits and what comes out the first time is good enough. But most times there’s a good bit of thinking, speaking and writing that goes on after the initial words are put to paper.

When I say good enough I mean I’m happy with the way it sounds and I feel I’ve gotten my message across. In other words, good enough is an incredibly subjective measure of a poem’s completion.

Notice that I didn’t say a poem is good enough if half the people who proofread it say it’s OK. No, good enough comes before any eyes but mine have beheld the work. And that makes it incredibly dangerous. Because whether I think my message has been put across or not or whether it sounds good, no one else may see it that way.

That’s why the initial words of a poem’s first draft usually shouldn’t be published. It’s tempting (and I do it more than I should) to just put them out there quickly and see what happens. But that usually results in reading them later and cringing when you realize you let other humans read that slop.

Those initial words are not the poem; not really anyway. Instead, they’re the idea, the inkling of a theme or the exploration of a subject. Usually, when I think I’ve got something good, I’ll walk away from it for a week or more. I come back to it later with fresh eyes and see that it wasn’t very good in the first place. It’s then that the poem begins to be written.

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