Every morning during the poetry workshop I attended last week at Esalen, one of our three instructors gave us a poetry craft talk. The workshop, called Writing and Knowing and led by Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, and Joseph Millar, gave me a lot of new information about how to write - and revise - poetry. As promised, I'm going to try to relate some of the things this wise trio of poets taught us.
Ellen discussed revision - and this information sounded very much like what I've heard about revising memoirs, novels, and works of non fiction. Revising poems takes a lot of work. As she said, we must work at it. In fact, she said, good poets like to revise. Here are some of her hints:
- Keep original versions so you can go back and compare
- Simply cut out the bad parts - easier said than done
- Distinguish between the essential and non-essential
- Pretend it isn’t your poem when you sit down to revise - I love this idea
- Delete unnecessary opening lines, repetition, explanation, adjectives, adverbs - sound familiar?
- Try rewriting without looking at the original
- Put best line at the top and then start a new poem
- If one line goes to the next page, take one line out - it's always easy to delete a line - right?
- Find what the poem has to have
- And if you're still stuck, get help - by the way, I asked Joseph Millar to help me with my poetry manuscript a few years back. He helped a lot.
- Deeper revision: reshape the entire poem and then do major surgery on it - that's right, murder those babies.
Right now I'm just sitting with this list and taking it all in. It looks like a lot of work. Of course that's what revision is all about - doing the hard work.
Poetry books by Ellen Bass