Other people’s revisions

Revision seems to be the area that most clearly sorts the poets from the play-poets. It’s hard work (oh god, isn’t it just!), and requires you to be able to divorce the editor-self from the poet-self (or “creative-self”, if you prefer). Some days (and some poems) are easier than others. The comforting thing is that this is one place where you can very definitely acquire skills. From trial and error, from consulting other poets, from analysing poems and seeing how other people have addressed certain problems/issues/things. And one of my great delights is books or articles where poet X takes the reader through some of the decisions they made as they went through the process to create/complete poem Y. (Does it sound boring? It’s not. It’s like being backstage at a magic show!)

Poem RevisedI’m wallowing in just such a book right now –Poem, Revised; 54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions, edited by Robert Hartwell Fiske and Laura Cherry (Marion Street Press, 2008). So far it’s really good – some poems shown in multiple drafts, some in only one early plus a final version. But lots of commentary from the poets: why they made this change, why that line didn’t work, what effect they wanted here, how far they ended up from where they expected the poem to be, etc etc. The interesting thing is that I find myself disagreeing with some of the poets about what does and doesn’t constitute an improvement. It’s always good to remember that there is no one “correct” answer I guess, but also really fascinating to see the different ways people interpret things. And how different a poets’ concept of their poem can be from a reader’s. (Always worth remembering.)

Only one problem: reading about revising isn’t actually getting any revision  done …

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