Poem 12 Revised (Sort of)

Another Weary Battle in the Face of Perfection: the Short Poem

I want to clear something up here before getting to any more revisions. As I know these works are sometimes tedious and often there is little changed but a word or two. I wanted to revisit that early post I almost wrote about editing (before I was seduced by old episodes of Futurama and Family Guy…). It should be clear by now the point of this whole madness, but I feel maybe it has been lost in all the commentary.

I believe in the poem as process. This is a unique view as many of my peers are wholeheartedly relieved when a poem is ‘finished.’ From the write up of my first poetry class, back in 2009, I declared that only a poem that has been visited over and over by many stages of the poet can be concluded as finished… and that with those parameters, a poem may never be complete. Like assessing the work of a writer before their death, a greatness may yet be reached.

It’s a hard philosophy to hold, especially when the urge to call a poem finished arises and I have but to take the plunge into permanence. The poem I will be addressing today is one of those well worn poems which I feel is nearing its end. I have been tweaking and tweaking and tweaking this poem… over and over and over… there is one revision needed. Do I call it a day and proclaim this poem a finished work?

The answer is no. But I can let it rest. The poem as a work should not be bound by the author in a ‘what I meant’ kind of way, but is linked to the author in a knotted sort of tree ring way.

Only I, the poet can make changes to my own work. Only I can say whether or not it is finished… with the advice of peers and editors and occasionally my relatives. So letting a poem rest is a better way to imagine a finished poem.

Perhaps I will tire of the facetious title, or the structure of the stanzas, or the idea of repetition in the piece. Maybe I will scribble it out and toss it way. No matter what happens later, there was this version, as the one before, as the one following, A long lineage of versions in the process, a poem over and over and over, no more or less itself, but complete in its process.

Now on to the poem…

This is one of those poems I have editing. Short poems are hard to edit because there isn’t much there to change. This makes shorter poems hard to crack open and easy to pass over when it comes to that hard editing.

I will be honest, this one never got too much editing. It sort of happened, and that is a big NO-NO in my book. Edit Edit Edit, unless you like the poem’s form, shape, cadence, rhythm, content… the list goes on…

I will make the noted edit and another small one with the notion that at a later time I may be brave enough to crack open the piece and try again.

TAKEAWAY

Big takeaway today: treat poem as process. Imagine the drafts as a version of its life, photographs of its growth and maturity. Don’t worry if the work is iffy or complex now, those battles will weed themselves out at you, the poet and revisionary, work out your style. Think of every poem as an opportunity to tackle even a small hang-up while keeping in mind the main concepts of the piece. I promise no one is in danger of being Walt Whitman here and therefore should give their wook a good read through.

At the same time, smaller poems are harder to edit and should be treated with additional caution. Where there is less to work with, there may be larger, overarching issues that go unnoticed for fear of changing the poem too much… know your own editing limits and embrace the poem as a process in which you control the stage…

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Poem 11 Edited

My Ever Complicated Relationship with the Sonnet

I think this might be the first sonnet that’s come up in this editing project, but I can promise you it won’t be the last. Sonnets are a my love hate poetic form. Where often I find my poems are about 14 lines anyway, the idea of making a sonnet from scratch with the correct rules is miserable.

I will remind you again and again that having a form is a crutch, and missing a form is an excuse. When looking at how to edit a poem successfully, keep in mind that molding the shape to fit or transcend a set guideline will allow you to better the piece (even if it just reaffirms that the origional is the best format).

This sonnet was from a sonnet assignment. I might not have tried to tackle a true sonnet had I not been threatened with a grade. The idea of Iambic Pentameter, which makes my skin prickle, and a faint but steady constant rhyme, also on my list of no-thank-you’s, make the Shakespearian Sonnet a nightmare. My version is often a loose but reverent version of the form, without limiting myself too much with the mechanics.

Still, the sonnet has a feeling unlike other poems. Fourteen lines is often the perfect amount to express and idea without being too heavy handed, and the overall effect of a short tight poem is visually pleasant as well as universally approachable. And often, despite my prior hang-ups about the rules, I find myself editing into loose sonnets to make the piece feel more polished.

For this version–which has been edited before for classwork and my thesis–it’s easy to see the errors, but not so simple to revise them. I advise you to read the poem carefully several times before going in and tweaking little things. Getting wrapped up in word after word will leave you unclear about the final message. If sonnets are anything, they are well balanced.

After deciding that the point of the poem (that heroic couplet at the end) is what I want, I can go back and mark (in squares) the sections that I would like to revisit. Often this will take a while, some days you will want to edit something out, others will make perfect sense. Remember that editing is a process and not a product.

TAKEAWAY

Sonnets are a tricky form that can be a good tool for the editing process. Take a poem that isn’t a sonnet and make it fit; take a sonnet and break it away from the form itself. Make the form work for the poem rather than the poem work within the confines of a poem.

If you like the idea of a form but are a little unsure about the rules, remember that there are no rules that say you have to take the poem for exactly as the form describes. Be reckless. Be riveting. Just commit to a few of the mainstays of that form and call it a day.  A poem is only as good as its high points, and a bad sonnet will only be remembered for is inability to master form.

**You will notice we jumped from Poem 9 to Poem 11. Poem 10 will be edited at a later time in a separate collection. Sorry if that disrupts anyone with OCD. I promise I won’t leave you hanging like an “unfinished quotation mark…

…just kidding”

Poem 107

for the trees

California’s red roots rise up to meet the solstice

Collecting wisdom in mason jars they sprawl soil and knot,
Ringing scaled sun trust of local legend 
Where there once was char new life emerges
Leafy crisp water crescents sprout verbena
So negligible when compared to sturdy legged titans
So many years of growing ahead.
–ECW

Poem 9 Revised

Ode to the Lost Boy

I was afraid of the spaces
You would leave for me
Spaces I would fill with false comroderie
and histrionics. But you knew best of all
That I would fill them
And I have.

I’m sorry leaving us is so simple.
Impossible as it is to forget you.
My memories wander as a compass needle
pointing to paper suitors and poor substitutes.
Had you only known you would
–sallow my soul–

Believe me when I tell you there are holes to fill
Heroes to muster, tears to wipe aside.
Believe me when I say:
The bitter rind of you chills me bones.
You once had bones…
But now there are spaces
Spaces to full without you.
But you know best of all.

–ECW

Poem 9 Edited

There is a whole long list of things that I came up with, a while back when I was writing my undergrad thesis, about what is and is not a poem, what makes or undermines a poet, how to better craft a piece without losing the human touch that defines poetry. On that list, which I won’t bore you with now, is a consideration of saturated emotional connection with a subject, and whether that can be a poem…

For example… is a poem about a teenage breakup really a poem if it is just a means of getting emotions out… are those emotions poetry if they are vague and cliche and singular in their appeal. Is that in the same league as a Rita Dove poem?

Now, some poems are more successful than others… but I found that, often, what was shown as a poem was not really a work or art and rather a work of self.

This poem borderlines on that… as often my grief poems do. With this piece, written shortly after a personal tragedy, I find that the art ideals of the poem are lost to the personal anguish.

Personal poetry becomes an issue when it’s more about the moment than the poem’s overall effect. A poem, while it may or may not need a ‘reader’, must exist outside the poet’s personal experience. We are not writing monologues.

For me, the answer for this poem is a swift, harsh critique of the effective and ineffective elements. Where I ramble or throw in filler words, I need to remove myself from the situation and examine the piece as a work of art rather than a work of mine. 

With that harshness, I can see that a poem for a friend comes off too intimate. That can be rectified easily with some more platonic verbiage. What might have been the intention before appears foolish and simple with a little hindsight.

TAKEAWAY

Write poetry any and every time the moos strikes. But remember that what comes out looking like a poem might not be one. Especially if there is no Truth in it rather than personal truth. Poetry is that special art that needs more than just a jumble of words and sounds to mean something… it needs conviction and greatness. While love, hate, grief or joy can be Truth, they do not guarantee greatness… remember that a poem must be more than what it means personally to the poet.

Poem 8 Revised

Analysis in 368

We are the grey-green men and women:
Dried flowers between pages. Preserved
So that all these young men and women may scribble
Irony in the margins. Circle the two dollar words.

I have an opinion about this conflict,
Have reason to contribute
Because I’ve made similar choices.
These voices are not shades of reality
They sit down to dinners; they raise voices;

They fail. And we fail with them. All
Together like a family. All together bracing
Until the final letters, when the hinged spine
Compresses them to forgetfulness. All together…

Invested like our own brothers and sisters:
Take unfairness across the cheek. I know you
So well, need you so much to define me:
Green-grey archetypes chewed from

Reality. The gum of life becomes the cloth-clothed
Shadows of triumph and turning until we know them
Better than ourselves and we belong to the
Loose leaf love story of a protagonist lost
–ECW

Poem 8 Editing

After that form discussion I hope everyone is a little more in tune with the shape of their work. Shape is really important. Along with the title, it’s your poem’s handshake. I’ll be honest, I’ve passed up dozens of poems during my scholarly and independent reading because they looked like a mess, or the lines were too long, or the poem was 1,000 pages and I wanted to be finished reading it before I got hungry again. These things are important when you consider the changing mental scape of your readers.

In the 21st century, readers are accustomed to flashing advertisements, bite sized stories and ‘snackable’ information (no joke I learned that in a class for my Media major… snackable is a real thing). Your goal is to be more readable at first site… think of this as your poetry’s sex appeal… get their attention and then they’ll want to know your personality. It’s silly but true. The mind has a limited tolerance for condensed literature like poetry. You could read novels all day long but a poem is exhausting. Don’t add to that with a ridiculous structure, unless you’re going with some ee cummings madness and in which case it better be good!

All that said I want to apply some of that forms discussion from Poem 7 to this poem here. In the same sense that a poem may be limited by a form, a stanza-patterned poem might also be weighted down by its weakest link.

By now you have probably guessed I will be trimming from the top. I know that my work needs to be shaved from the beginning because it takes me a while to get going… keep in mind that you might need to crop the end because you ramble, or snip some of the middle because you tend to hit a lull. Knowing your own issues will help you edit more efficiently.

So I’ll cut the first stanza… spruce up the middle and then deal with some racially charged imagery that I didn’t know was there when I first wrote the poem. Sometimes we are limited by our own perspectives, and editing helps with that tremendously…

TAKEAWAY

Each stanza has four lines, each line is of a similar shape and there are even some slant and full rhymes peppered throughout to make the piece feel whole. This has been edited quite a bit, and even so, I am sure I could go through and pick out the weak lines that are depending on that four line structure to carry them through. These lines are dead weight on a piece, just like that first stanza. If it isn’t adding anything unique or profound to the poem, cut it or revise. Like the form, don’t let a pattern limit your greatness.