Q. for the Poet

This question comes from a student at Salem State College. I've edited the question for brevity.

" ... I enjoyed your poems and your readings in class. I never knew that the
revision process
was so intense. I have written many poems and to be honest I've only revised two of them. For some reason I can’t get myself to revise them or change them. I like them the way they are. When I wrote those poems I wrote them just to have fun. ... Maybe someday I will like to write a poem book and include some poems but how will I be able to revise them if I think they are just fine the way they are. Thank you so much for sharing your revision process I know that it’s really going to help me!"

There is no rule that says you have to revise your poems. If you like them, then you should keep them as is. Nothing wrong with that.

But, if you decide to publish a book of poems, you’ll have to be much harder on your work because your publisher will be merciless. Revision is a necessary step in the publication process. And if your poems are good, which I think they are, they will stand up to whatever you do to them. Here are some suggestions for approaching the revision process.
  1. Put your poems away for a while and then look at them with fresh eyes. Are they as good as you once thought? This is your opportunity to make your images accurate and unique, and to cut any extra words that may slow the poem down.
  2. Read your poems out loud—to yourself. That’s a good way of hearing the rhythms in your work. Chances are, if you stumble on a word or phrase, you should look consider revising.
  3. Have another writer read your work. It’s hard to be objective while you’re working so closely on them, so have someone you trust take a look.

Maybe there’s a better word or line break that will open new possibilities to the reader. You’ll never know until you sit down to take a second look at your poems. Hope that helps.

Keep those questions coming!


twitches said…
I agree with your suggestions. I find I need less critique from others because I've done it for so many years I can now hear their critical voices in my head - but it STILL helps. And time away from a poem helps, too.

My problem right now comes from hearing TOO MUCH of my critical voice while trying to compile a manuscript. Suddenly I hate everything I've ever written...
Jessie Carty said…
Terrific tips January! When I was an undergrad writing poems I never revised until a teacher gave us a specific revision exercise. It made all the difference to go back and look at the poem later and to realize that the heart of creating the poem wasn't in the moment of the first line but in the process of spending time with the poem until
it spoke to more than just me.

I'm reading Kay ryan's "the best of it" right now and I'm in awe over how she does so much with so few words :)
Anonymous said…
I would like to say thank you for attend our class at salem state college. And explaining your jonery on getting your book published. i never knew that much work goes in to get a book for poetry publihed. I will be honest , I'm not a big fan about poetry. It just really i don't understand it. One could say poetry is just writing a very very short story. again thank you silver king
evelyn.n.alfred said…
Thanks for sharing this January.
January said…
Thanks for reading, Evelyn. Hope you are well.
January said…
Dear Silver King, don't rule out poetry. You may not be ready for it now. In fact, poetry may find you when you least expect it.

It takes a lot to get a book published. But once it happens, it's easy to see how all the hard work was worth it.
January said…
Jessie, I like the idea of revision-specific exercises. I'm sure you've used those tools even now when you revise your work. Very cool.

Twitches, maybe you need to step away and look at your poems as a manuscript instead of individual pieces. Just a thought. Let me know how it goes.
Anonymous said…
Dear Jan,

Thanks again for coming in,and sharing your work with our class.

It was very interesting to hear about your experience with writing poetry. I was talking with Prof. Jean about books, and I mentioned one she thought would be of interest to you.

The name of the book is Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas. The book is about the busing crisis in Boston taken from the perspective of three families who were directly affected by the issue.

I hope you find this useful for your future work, and thanks again for taking the time out to meet with us.
Andrew Moscone

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