Saturday, August 17, 2013

Poetry revision is no different than revising our other writing

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

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