Friday, November 7, 2008

The work of writing

Last night, our poetry group met. I took a couple of poems, and one of them fell flat—completely flat. It was a really good opportunity to take a close, detached look and try to see why.

The feedback from my fellow poets centered on the last two stanzas, but I think that the problem starts much earlier. The poem is recapping a story, and there are undertones of personal experience, but they aren't revealed at all, and so the emotional investment on the page is low.

Does every poem have to be emotional? Would that make them all the same?

I don't know, but I do now believe that every poem has to risk something. That belief was reinforced at last weekend's LitFuse workshop.

At the workshop, I also realized that revision isn't just editing or tweaking or even moving things around. A couple of people referred to it as Re-Vision, which sounded perfectly sane and also daunting to me. Then I realized that revision is really just writing. It's the work of writing, just as much as free writing or the euphoria of scrawling out that first inspired draft. It's iterative, a constant starting over, an act of discovery and an act of letting go.

I admit that I'm lazy, or eager to be done, to have something finished. I don't like to start over. But I think that if I can approach it as more writing—approach that first draft as a bundle of notes and clues—I'll be able to go further in my poems.

How do you approach revision? Do you have a checklist? Do you have a set of rules or steps? Do you start over every time, or do you prefer to treat the first draft as a scaffold on which you build? Do you dread or revel in it?

3 comments:

Premium T. said...

Revision is often difficult, especially after the initial "swoon" of the poem has passed. What I find really fascinating, though, is when I go back to a poem two, three or more years after its inception. Then I really look at it with new eyes. Sometimes I ditch most of it and place the remains in a folder labeled "Useful Fragments." And then there are the times, after my writing group, when I just say, "Fuck it. I'm right." It's important, sometimes, to be an arrogant advocate of one's own work.
But knowing when to do this is the tricky part.

Joannie said...

I know that part of my problem is that I'm impatient. I don't want to wait two or three years. Although, just because I consider something done now doesn't mean I won't take another look at it much later.

Sometimes, when the writing group feedback I receive doesn't sit quite right, I try to find the source of that feedback and how that source is fighting with what I'm trying to do or what I think the poem is trying to do and whether that's a big schism in itself. But again, that takes patience.

Premium T. said...

To be fair, I must say that I great fantastic feedback from the poets in my writing group. We've been meeting in various incarnations since 1991. (God I feel old.)

And as for the two-or-three years later thing, it's generally with poems I've abandoned to the slush pile. Sometimes they breathe new life.