Monday, May 01, 2006

Good Line Drawer

Writing a poem is relatively easy compared to the revision process. That's what separates the poems from the drafts, or as I like to call them, the collection of random lines that never really connect.

Which reminds me of something Toi Derricotte once told me. She said that usually your favorite line or phrase in a poem is probably the weakest. At the time, Toi had what she called a "good line drawer," where she (metaphorically) put those good lines that just don't work. Here are a few of my favorite troubled lines in the good line drawer:
  • I'll give you the bologna, you make the sandwich
  • ...born in the year of the cock (referring to the Chinese year of the rooster)
  • I'm a Virginia ham sweetened with molasses
  • The Twinkle Dealers (a potential poem title)
  • Why don't poets have action figures

I do believe poets should have their own action figures. And I'm going to use the year-of-the-cock line--it's too good to pass up. Just you wait!

When I revise, I take out my favorite line(s) to see if the piece still works. Every line has to work for me. It has to work harder than ordinary language. And if I have a piece with no end in sight, I'll stop it a few lines before, because at that point the poem has run out of steam.

So I'll take a look at my April poems to see which ones need minor revisions and major surgery. Hmmm ... maybe I'll create a poem about my good line drawer.


Amasa said...

That is a really striking idea, that the good lines are usually the weakest. Looking over an early manuscript I came upon a joke that I love ... and it just doesn't read. I believe I'll be paying more attention to those good lines in the future.

And I think a poem about your good line drawer would be fascinating - please write it!

January said...

Well, now you have to post that joke!

I've found that sometimes the line you try to hold onto the most is the one holding your piece back. It's the one you conform all the other lines around to make work, when in reality it's the pink elephant in the poem/paragraph/story.


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