Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bush as a rodeo clown; tips on editing poetry.

First, political poetry is difficult to write and I think Twitches truly succeeded here: Twitches


I've been sorting poetry files on my computer. Looks like a long job, especially when you have many versions of the same poem spread across a plethora of folders. Then there is the added nuisance of little revisions I sometimes feel impelled to make along the way. The real fun is when I delete a poem forever, the equivalent of throwing it into a fire--a poem that was published. Then I know it was good enough for the editor but not for me. I take a certain pleasure in that.

In this enterprise some things occurred to me that may prove helpful to others in the editing process. Here goes:

1) Always suspect the ending. You may have to strike one or more lines. Watch out for dilution, for over-explication.

2) Suspect the first stanza. Often the first stanza is like starter fluid; it’s only there to get the car started, it’s not really part of the car.

3) Transitions from the first to second and from the penultimate to the ultimate stanzas are frequently muddled. Make sure the substance is clear.

4) The title can almost always be improved. Taking a phrase from the emotional climax of the poem is reliable and works well. To make the title a comment on the poem is also good. To make the poem dependent on the title for its full meaning is very good if you sin neither in obviousness or obscurity.

5) Unless you have a very good editor, time is your most valuable ally. Give a bad poem five months in the drawer and when you take it out again you’ll most likely put it out of its misery. With truly inspired poems it’s tempting to go off trying to get the perfect draft the first night, but that way lies madness and robs a poem of its juice, which is hard to recoup. Remember: with each revision you lose a little more juice. Beware an over-reified poem; it is the mark of too many revisions. Such a poem reads unnaturally, perhaps even stilted; it has been sucked dry. (This made me think of Auden for some reason.) ;-)


Hiking, fishing, writing, gardening in the redwoods, though chronically limited by my back status, I should be ecstatic. I've never had it so good! This is why I know my illness is an illness as real as diabetes. My circumstances rarely have anything to do with my mood.

Those new to this disease will drive themselves crazy trying to figure out what they did or was done to them that it should result in insomnia, anxiety, tearfulness and self-abhorrence. That's a vain search. That's the lie of the rational brain that can't imagine being the cause of its own discomfort.

At 1 kilorat and not really sure on my feet,

Dr. Chaffin

1 comment:

  1. For years I murdered poems by working on them too much upon first writing! It's hard to let one stew awhile, but very helpful. And for years I would not revisit something I'd written earlier; I thought if it hadn't come out right the first time it never would. Thank god someone finally pointed out to me that there was nothing wrong with re-working old poems (and deleting some, too).

    Thanks a bunch for the link!


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