Revising Poems for Fun and Profit

How many times do you revise a poem (or any piece of writing) before you call it done? Take this handy dandy Quiz and figure out your revision style.

I tend to revise my poems—

  • Never. Every word I jot down is golden. I channel my muse directly.
  • Once. I say what I have to say and move on, but check for potentially embarrassing typos. Just in case my mom reads it.
  • 10 times. Once for content, once for grammar, once for alliteration, etc.
  • 100 times. I’m a bit compulsive-obsessive. Or ADD. Hey, look! An ornithology poem!
  • I am never finished. Poetry by nature is (re)vision.

Most of us fall somewhere between ten times and never finished. The best thing to do after that initial outburst of creative frenzy is to put the poem away. That’s right, you heard me. Drop the poem. Back away. Leave the poor baby gasping in the harsh light of day. How long you leave a poem sit depends on your personal process. As long as I get the kernel of my idea down on paper, I’m happy. I know it will be there waiting for me when I’m ready to revise. Distancing yourself from any piece of writing before revision is a good idea. It gives you a chance to be more objective, and look at the work from a new perspective.

Save, Save, Save

Before you start, save a copy of the poem to a new file. “Original Poems, or Poem Ideas.” Just in case. When you are ready to give your full time and attention to the poem, REVISE. Look for clunky, phrasing, unnecessary adverbs, weak non-descriptive fluff, passive voice, and all the other don’ts listed in good writing books.

As always, remember what your intent for the poem is. If you want to write about a weak, passive person, then maybe weak, passive words are what you want. You can always save cut lines in a file if one strikes you as just perfect- but not perfect for this poem. Aim for clarity.

If you say something is ‘green’, what do you mean? Is it emerald, olive, jade, lime? Is it immature, inexperienced, naïve? Do you mean an area in the city for people to use as a park? Are you speaking of a political party? While you want to avoid the clichéd, “Green as grass” you also want to avoid the obscure. “Green as Verdigris paint” will leave everyone but artists scratching their heads over what color you mean, or cause them to supply their own meaning.

Revision is a form of tightening. Get out the wrenches and go to work. Tighten, back off, tighten, back off. Take a long look at the piece. Is it tight enough? You want the poem to squeak… but not to chafe. Nobody likes chafing.

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