Saturday Sunday Jan. 19, 2014 (okay, okay, it’s Monday now, geesh! So I don’t always get around to posting the SAME day I start writing my post <blushing>)
Yikes! Has this whole week already slipped by??? Well, I got revision notes back from my poet friend on one of my newest poems I’ve been working on, and so now on to revising that one (and more!).
This, for me, is the stressful part. And maybe I’m procrastinating not only because it’s hard to find time to work on this, but because revising is harrrrddddd (said in a whiny, nasal teenage voice, because even though I’m NOT a teenager anymore <sigh> I can still whine like the best of ’em). Like, really, really hard (see?!? totes teenager vernacular!). (Okay, sorry for that last one, it was too far! You know, the “totes” part…)
You see (I SEE) the potential for these works, and you KNOW (I KNOW) there’s a way to SAY what you’re REALLY trying to say (or write, but you know what I mean!). But it’s all in the execution of it. Here are some things I look at when revising my poetry:
1) Title: Something catchy, unique, interesting. Something that draws the reader into the poem. Something that acts/functions as part of the poem. Does the title contribute to the meaning of the poem? Does the title merely repeat other information or imagery in the poem (if it does, then something’s got to go! Either the title or the repetitive information within the poem, depending on which is more fitting.)? Does the title read differently before reading the poem than after reading the poem/Does it adopt more meaning once the poem has been read?
2) Theme: Does the poem consistently represent the theme of the poem? Are there any words/language, images, or lines that feel out-of-place thematically? Is there a theme? Also may be referred to as the thread or narrative thread of the poem. Is this thread working? Is it continuous?
3) Summary: Too much narrative? Too much summary instead of showing not telling? (‘Cause you know…you’re supposed to (say it with me…) SHOW don’t TELL. Very good.)
4) Imagery: Are these images the best at representing the topic at hand? Do they feel appropriate for the theme/mood/language of the poem? Are they unique/fresh/interesting/relevant?
5) Go deeper: Are you (Am I???) just scratching the surface of a subject? Is there something more? Is there something I’m afraid of expressing too clearly? An exercise to test this is to write a history of the poem, where you just write a free-write on what the motive for writing the poem was, what you are trying to say in the poem, and any other details surrounding the poem. Then you can go back and highlight or circle anything that should go into the poem for clarity and detail. Often times you can find some real gems in these free writes that could make a huge impact on the poem you’re struggling with revising.
Okay, now back to ACTUALLY revising, rather than writing about how I NEED to revise!
* Okay, okay. If you’re interested I will share my revision notes for this current poem I’m working on: “Thrift Shopping at the Salvation Army” (even though the poem itself is not ready for your critical eyes just yet!).
So, overall, I have a back and forth narrative going on between two different, but related locations. First, there’s the thrift store, then there’s the convalescent home. My first problem occurs when I transition from the thrift store setting to the nursing home, it’s not clear what’s going on, so I need to find a way to transition (which I initially did with related imagery, but it still didn’t quite hit the mark in clarity that there are two distinct places here and they are related both in the timing of the narrative (also unclear until the end of the poem) and subject matter (my “thread”)).
So…transitions! But don’t lose imagery!
And title??? Too long? Does it add to poem? What does it say? My first title was simply “Rubidoux” but then I felt like it wasn’t adding enough to the poem itself, so I replaced it with the current working title “Thrift Shopping at the Salvation Army in Perris” because I felt like the specificity of the title was more interesting and relevant. But, does it relate enough to the sub-setting of the poem—the nursing home? I tried out a new title “Thrift Shopping at the Salvation Army in Perris after visiting Grandpa at the Rubidoux Convalescent Home” but boy was that a long-winded title, and therefore, I reverted back to my second working title, but realize I may need to revisit the title once (or twice) again.
And there are parts of the poem that I love and don’t want to change, the image of coat hangers scratching across the rack at the thrift shop. The people literally locked up in the nursing home. The number of lines in each stanza. The end that feels dissatisfying in some way because that’s the point of the poem—this dissatisfaction in visiting someone you love deeply who doesn’t always recognize you and yet still knows he’s been sent somewhere where he will die (Maybe this part needs to come out in the poem more! I thought it was underlying, but maybe it’s not as clear as I’d thought?).
Now for stanzas…what goes where? I initially used a back and forth strategy of stanza one in the thrift store, stanza two the nursing home, stanza three thrift store, four nursing home, and so on (well, there were 8 stanzas on the last revision). But now, I’m wondering if this disconnect in the poem needs to be resolved by focusing first on the thrift store, and then in later stanzas introduce the nursing home and the mood has already been set by the thrift store, and then return to the thrift store at the end by tying the two locations together by making it clear that the two events were subsequent, as in the speaker visited the thrift store immediately following visiting the grandpa in the nursing home.
As I revise, I now have 5 stanzas, but have eliminated line breaks as I work out some different details and images within the stanzas, and will revisit line breaks once I get some clearer images and concepts for each stanza.
Okay, revisiting the title again. I think “Thrift Shopping” is not necessary in title because it’s obvious in poem. So would that leave the title as “The Salvation Army in Perris”? Or just “The Salvation Army”? Does that really say what I want it to? Does it set up the poem effectively? I think (in this latest revision) that it’s clear in the first stanza that the speaker is thrift shopping, and I don’t think it’s AS important to know the exact store that the speaker is shopping at…so it makes me reconsider the whole title. Other themes in the poem are about truth, reality, dying, denial, entrapment, aging, forgetting…is there a title in there somewhere? What about “How to forget the truth”? Because here, the speaker is using thrift-shopping as a means of coping and dealing (or NOT dealing) with the fact that the Grandpa is dying and has a poor quality of life, much like some of the material items in the store. Or what about “What we do after visiting Grandpa” or “Shopping with Mom”? Or just “Shopping”? Or “Shopping For ?<something clever inserted here>?”?
Oohh, I got it…”Shopping Days”, like Visiting Days at the nursing home. Well, this is it until something better comes along or it grows on me…I don’t like it as much as the long title, but it may be a better fit.
Okay, so going forward, I’m feeling a bit good about the first two stanzas in my revision. And now I’m into the third stanza where there’s a bit of dialogue and it’s something I feel is important to the poem, but I don’t think it’s working the way I’d like it to. So I’m going to rewrite that section, then cut all the unnecessary jargon, check my images, and then work out some line breaks and see how that pans out. THere’s only one more stanza after this, so I will take that into consideration as well while I revise this stanza. It’s been rather uncomfortable and a bit discouraging and depressing revising this poem, but now when I re-read what I’m doing I’m starting to feel confident that all this work is definitely improving the poem, and I can’t give up (you know when you get that revision feeling of like “the poem wasn’t perfect before, but now it’s a real mess” like you’re going backwards in improvements but I’ve realized that much of revision is improvising and then filling in better details later. So, if I have an idea for an image I’d like to put in but I don’t quite know the exact image, it’s okay to use a placeholder/spot-filler/or dare I say…cliche?…just until the “right” image comes to you and then, ta-dah! It’s soooo much better!
Okay, got a decent revision done, okay I’m being modest, it was a kick-ass revision. But alas, it was only one poem. Still, don’t sell myself short. Woh, sorry, talking/typing to myself too much! A successful day of revision, celebrate the small victories, and do it again and again and again! More victories, more celebration. All in all, a good plan.