Poem 32 Editing

You can tell which poems I started editing on the beach this summer. My mother poked fun at me… saying I want to be a professor so badly I graded my own poems… We all had a good laugh… A for effort I suppose.

This poem is one that comes from a rhythm I felt in me during a tough relationship. The idea of depending on someone so much for a feeling so temporary, as a fish does out of water, was as tangible as any love I had ever known. Daily, it came at a great cost, and I can still feel it in this poem.

I want to talk with you all today about establishing norms in a poem. I am not the best at this, but can make note well enough to make it today’s point. This poem at first did not establish that norm… the last line once read pull instead of yank, there was little mention of bubbles or air, just that pulling motion.

In this piece, I made some small changes to allow for that norm to take place. There is a sense of discomfort, informed by the imagery and evidence of a fish, and set straight with the return to the norm. A norm, in this sense, is a state of being the reader will feel comfortable in. For example, that a fish belongs in water. Once I establish that there is a fish, and that she is in peril, the reader seeks to see that set right.

Here, the snap is that the norm is achieved through so much physical agony. To be released into the water, the norm, the hook must be pulled out with force. That makes this poem memorable.

There are other poets who set up norms that are quite successful, my favorite is Andrea Gibson, who uses the unexpected sense of words to transform meaning. Her poem ‘Blue Blanket’ has a snap at the end where she establishes a norm that was not initially there. Read it, it’s wonderful.

Setting those norms up, allowing the reader to want something outside of the poem’s offered words is a very Modernist concept. Poets like H.D. and her rose garden demonstrated just enough of an image to be seen and felt, but no more. The reader was expected to bring their ideals to the table, or to see only that.

Whether you accept and seek the norm in this poem, or you see only what is offerend in a Modernist sense, the piece offers enough to feel both the relationship and the resolution.


This is a poem about a fish. It wasn’t very good until I established a norm for the reader to favor. Knowing that a reader will understand the broken set of circumstances and prefer for them to be solved is the exact emotion I seek by the last line. Then I can do my shocking with yank and give the reader what they want with a little slice of reality. Once a norm is established, there are 1,000 ways to turn the reader. Lead them with your prefered circumstances and let the poem do the rest.

Poem 32 Revised

Catch and Release

It’s quite a life I live
In this (w)hole
Where you fasten my heart
To your sleeve,
With the balloons you bring
To help me breathe.

I was a fish once;
Twice… For a while if
I remember correctly.
Until the water dried away
And you netted me here
With my scales shellack with air.

Oh this is quite a life
If I may say with my mute lips
Gumming on gratitude
One bubble at a time…
Until the sea comes again
And you yank the hooks out.

Poem 29 Editing

Poetry and the Involved Reader.

I had a poetry professor once, who I loved and who gave me wonderful advice on poems during my time at JMU, who believed that the reader must come more than half way to be part of the poem. By this I mean that a reader who simply reads with the bare minimum interest will miss the point of the poem. This is, of course, a sad thought, since most readers are pretty dissinterested to begin with, so asking them to get up and grab a dictionary or their unabridged version of Shakespeare to check a reference is a tall order.

Her take on footnotes, and their use in a poem (since much of what was read in undergrad was from an anthology, which was saturated with footnotes of all kinds) was that a poem should give enough without an explanation, but have plenty there to delve into if a reader is particularly interested. She gave an example of a poem on boating, where she used a very specific word that only a sailor would know off hand. Without looking it up, the poem is still strong, but with the knowledge of that word, the meaning ripens. Again, it’s a tall order.

But not out of the question. The Nook(R) can look up words on the page you’re reading. I have a suspicion that the Kindle(R) can do the same. Those devices, as well as the digitized dictionaruies and translators we carry around in our pockets to Tweet make learing above and beyond a simple task.

The real question becomes, will a reader be willing to go the extra mile? Can you trust them to take the poem off the page?

This poem, Footnotes, was a poem that depended on the misuse of language to prove a point… all that feminist crap aside, the language without the meanings might illude a reader, or worse, make the wrong point about words and their limitations all together.

So I didn’t make that leap like my professor advised. Trust is a hard thing to give to readers. Giving them the poem would be a declaration of love far beyond my own comfort. The poet can mantain as much control over the poem as they please… the best poets, I have found, give up that control for something greater.


There is a trust element with poetry. It takes great trust to believe that the listener will care as much as the poet to the verse and the lines, and the way the words fit together. It mean much more the poet now, but again, think of the readers in levels of interest and appeal to all degrees of audiences. Make it would lovely, make it ignite emotion, make it sound compelling, and make it richer with more investigation. Finally, let go of the reins so that they can do some leg work.

My professor told us, the best poems are the ones which require some investment on the reader’s part. By taking part they can claim the secret knowledge as their own.

Poem 29 Revised

Untwist Your Tongue

Someone holds the qi to my ether
Someone has melted the loc closed

Will I suffer much longer for my waes(t)
Is there a mislaid trail-blazed for my sol?

You take me
You take and break
And make me
Your own.
Beaten against the mold
Until I splinter. Brittle
Opposed the thrust I am broken.
You break me.

Who guides the pin to our compass
The legend lost in hair filled ears?
Who marks the true path,
will wok it free of fears?

I am burning, burning inside
The part with the sol lives;
Forgive me, for I grow weary
lost meek leery:
An upturned pebble in the rust.

Not today.
But someday
My feet will be bound enough
To wear heels comfortably.
My willful waist wrapped enough
To mimic the device you most wish to master.
Oh! Conquistador:
Take charge,
So that I may be freed of life’s burdens.

I am not. Not yet.
But someday I will be a lady
Stay very still or they will mistake you
For climbing the latter. With spikes
they hope to deter the climbing…

But built a glass ceiling, just in case.

Poem 27 Edited; Retired

Let It Be

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is an example of a poem that needs a little more work, a little more time, or an all expense paid trip to the verse junk yard.

I am never a fan of decomposing a poem that has potential. I believe that a piece of art is always greater than the sum of its parts, but in the rare occation that the overall idea isn’t met by the lines, and there is just as much bad as there is good, it might be time to take it apart.

For this one, the lines about the sky reflecting, as well as the divots line may be the only real salvage from this wreck. I hate to put Poem 27 to rest. The greatness of a poem should be given the respect and space to grow. However, when it’s time to decompose, have the forsight to do so in a timely and concise manner.

As a poet, you have the power to retire a poem. If you don’t make that decision, there might be a poem in your collecton that doesn’t belong. It seems foolish now, but there will be a time when yu are no longer around to make that decision. Now not all of us are going to be world class poet wonder-dogs, but there is no telling what might happen to a collection posthumously… just look at Emily Dickenson, Keats, Poe all the rest of the world’s poets who had no idea they would be so popular. Their collections fell into the hands of others, people who intended the best, to be anthologized and memorialized.

It seems a bit pretentious. I hardly count myself among those greats, but would remind everyone that there is no telling with the cannon, that things and people come in and out of fashion way after death, and taking that control now is the best way to taylor your collection. Take control, so your children or lover or great neice Matilda doesn’t have to stumble through your work and decide for you.

I will retire this poem; I will be harsh and critical and remove it from my collection. There’s nothing that can be done without making this piece a small fraction of what it was, and it would be much better to just take those lines and use them elsewhere.


If you’re not harsh, someone else will be. Look at your work as critically and lethally as possible. When it’s time to let a poem lie, don’t take too much remorse to heart. Cut now or give that poewer to someone else when it’s too late to make changes. Think of your collection as a living will, revise as often as possible and leave the truest form of yourself at all times. You never know what might be left to interpertation when you’re gone; you never know what will be favored by the cannon. Poetry is as much about beauty and truth as it is about control, so control your words, your lines and your collection to the best of your talents.

Poem 26 Editing

Tiptoe, In Slippers, and Don’t Say a Word

This poem came from a bit of bitterness in being accepted into college as a freshman and needing to take an assessment to demonstrate knowledge. There is something so wrong about that. 

The poem was origionally a little matrix-y… with all the machines and men and father business. I took things a little heavy handed with this one and wanted to make it a little more subtle. It was a lesson I learned from Wallace Stevens and his beautifully light messaged poetry. The ideas are big and broad and dangerous, but he holds them lie string attached to a derigible. I always strive for that, though it may not be so successful. 
On Assessments is a good example of saying too much about a subject that speaks for itself. With any kind of activism poetry, be it about war, abuse, or just schooling practices, the idea is to empower the reader to get there on their own. 
Present them with a scene, a truth, a sequence, and let them come to those conclusions on their own. Allow your readers to take their own stand (whish of course is your stand) but don’t tell them how to feel or why they should feel it. That subtle hint of opinon should be enough, if your cause is worth bothering over. If not, it’s not a big enough issue, or you need to present it another way. 
I feel that this second version is much more approachable. Much better for the reader, and easier to communicate through as the poet. 
Remember that the poem is a vessel of communication, not a megaphone. The idea of your poem should be an object of the reader’s mind and not a bolded line in the second stanza. Make the poem a moment to choose a side over. There, the reader will take the reins and come to their own decisions, making a stronger impression in their own minds rather than walk away feeling lectured. As poets, we deliver circumstances, truths and of course beauty. Anything else is just weight… consider how heavy your poem and if there is anywhere you could trim to make room for the reader in your conversation…

Poem 26 Revised

On Assessments

We are the children
Of the second pen
Numbere’d Two
Selecting symmetrical
Alphabetical replies.

Perfectly dense questions:
Decorate cross stitch cascades
Weave mindfull the morass.
Prove knowing through clear
Fair reasoning–one, two, three.

I have always know how to hold a pencil.
Bubble my name in backwards.
A truth on cardstock, a number
A name, a value, a vessle,
A system of symmetry, a timer is sounding.
Place your pencils down.

Now get a job, make a living,
Learn by doing, earn by knowing,
Accumulate senority, build a career.

Tell them to study; encourage rote.
Hand them a pencil: the next gen-
accumulating milestones, learning,
omitting, passing…

…arbitrarily onto what awaits.

Poem 24 Editing

It has occured to me that I’m doing this all backwards. I’ve been writing these editing posts first and trying to make the following poem match my predictions, when I should have been fixing the poem and then writing about what changed… wow, sorry about the weirdness.

This poem is about Kate Chopin and her novel The Awakening which was origionally called The Solitary Soul… which is a better title in my opinion, but no one asked me, as I was not yet alive and had therefore not read the book…

I wrote a paper about how she is not a bird, she is a fish, I’ll post it if I can ever find the final copy. I presented at a conference and everything, it was a rather novel idea. This poem, like my relationship with the novel, has taken a similar turn. From being about birds in the handwritten version to being about sailing in the revised. This is a perfect example of how editing and time can really affect the final work.

The poem will do what it needs to come to grips with what th ideas are. As I was still in a tumultuous time when this was first written, I was looking at summer and later birds, when I should have followed my gut.

The whole metaphor changes drastically, but the message of following an ideal and trusting a voice you cannot meet is made all the more clear. And though I often warn about poems with too little lines to really edit, this is an example of how a complete face life can be better than a point-solve editing tactic.

We get the same ideas, we get the same subject, but I feel more complete with the final line, and the feminism is subtle but present. And though sailing, like novels, tended to be a mainly manculine, the signs are there for a gender neutrality that Chopin suggests with her refusal of roles in her work.

The allusions are subtle but require a little pulling. In this case, you’re not really in on the bigger picture unless you know a thing or two about the novel and the ideas that surround it.

Also, I’ve again fallen on fish as my symbol for success and freedom… this will happen over and over in my work. I am not so worried about a crutch here as a pattern that I need to mantain with the upmost integrity. When I get lazy, then I will worry about the fish as a fall back. Here I believe it works.


Edit twice, three times. As the poem changes, you may see the ideas present themselves. As a writer, you have complex and deep ideas that may manafest in your work that hide in early drafts. Work them to the surface, or lose a poem to its first sloppy draft. As a reader we analyze what might be there, form our own ideas, as a poet we must present the clearest, richest work for others to pick apart. Do you want to be part of the cannon or not?

Haha, that’s a trick question, you wouldn’t know if you got in the cannon until you’re dead.

Poem 24 Revised

A Fish, All Along


I am no solitary soul. 
But I am awake now; 
I’ve read your words over
And over, they court me
As the prickling chill of port air
sweeping in vessles of promise.
I am no solitary soul
But I hear the sea calling, 
A wing wrapped in wind, 
My mind, an eye above 
The north star–a certanty. 
Guide as sails do, I will follow, now 
With sea-legs, now double breasted
Now, with the horizon infinate, 
The shore lost at sea. 

Poem 22 Revised

What may have been A shark in the water
was truly a beast in the eye–
–with the bay collected in buckets
my mind was broader than the see and deeper

than doubt. The water lapp’d neatly at my chin and collar;
the shadow of a cloud elipsing reason. A shark,
that certain blur beneath the surface. A shark,
there, wave-line paleness reflecting sunrays.

With a moment less than knowing, I slipped below
and beat the water into froth, feeling all along a fin
against me — A shark turning over and over —
Dare I look back into the sea, know for certain he was there?