Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Be your best poetry editor. Trust your judgment.

Trusting yourself to know what needs “tweaking” as you revise, admittedly, takes time and practice, but eventually you can become your own best poetry editor. To move this process along and attune your poetic ear:

Learn about poetry terminology and techniques through one of the resources recommended or featured on this webpage.

Read poetry journals, anthologies, and books of poems by established poets.

Write poems – many poems!

Do not edit or revise as you write. Just go with the flow.

Let your poems sit until you’ve forgotten them a bit.

Read your work aloud as you revise.

Listen to the poem.

Notice anything you do or do not like.

Believe yourself!

Trust your judgment.

Since I wanted to talk about the latter, I made an exception in accepting the poem below for an online critique. Usually, the free online critique offered to Followers of The Poetry Editor blog is for a single poem of 25 lines or less, and this went over that. What caught my attention, however, was a personal comment from the poet that I needed to include to show you what I mean about trusting your own judgment.

My Father's plant stand
by Rona Laban

I wonder who's house it's in now
what corner it's relegated to
Is it holding a plant
like intended?
but then It was intended for me
My father so proud of it
telling the story
of how he had acquired it
for her, for my mother
I left it there in the apartment

When i flew down to get him
just bringing back what i could fit
in the empty suitcase
shirts, pants, shorts
the ones with stains left in a pile on the closet floor
I brought him back to the apartment one last time
to make sure i didn't leave anything important behind

He didn't mention the plant stand then
or even look back as we left
even though he must have known
he would never return
There was nothing left, no one
wife number three, the love of his life, dead now too

I might have thought of that plant stand
once or twice before
but today walking through that store
having just found the perfect terracotta pot
for the one remaining plant
someone had sent when he died

I saw it
I saw the small plant table
black, plain wood
not ornately etched beautiful
like the one my father had bought
for my mother
and it hit me
how badly i wanted that plant stand now

(Comment from poet: original last 2 paragraphs that I thought too wordy but for some reason liked how the ending flowed better….)

I might have thought of that plant stand
once or twice before
but today walking through that store
with a ceramic pot for the one remaining plant
that someone had sent when he died
having just found the perfect terracotta, mexican clay pot
tastefully adorned that i would place under the mirror
on the glass table in the dining room

I saw the small plant table
black, plain wood
not ornately etched beautiful
like the one my father had bought
for my mother
and it hit me
how badly i wanted that plant stand now

In discussing this poem, we could talk about the visual effects, the emotional honesty, and the conversational style that make the poem highly accessible to readers, thus giving “reader appeal.” Or we could talk about “negative” aspects, such as consistency. (For instance, use a capital I or not, but either way, be consistent.) We could talk about compression – saying as much as possible in as few words as possible, or we could talk about the difference between possessive case and contractions. (“Who’s” is a contraction of “Who is,” while “whose” denotes ownership.)

Such considerations can help to guide you as you revise, but what I want to emphasize here is how the poet knew which ending she liked best.

As we read our poems aloud, most of us do know what works and what does not. The problem is, we often do not believe ourselves!

Rona, your poetic instincts served you well. The last two verses do have the best flow and yet included the most important aspects of the poem and story.

What I suggest is that you keep the first and last two verses then put the poem aside while you work on something else. When you go back later to revise, read those three verses aloud – first noting how you feel. Then read aloud again, noticing the syntax (sentence structure) or clarity, rhythm or musicality, sound echoes or alliteration, and the overall impression.

With those thoughts in mind now, for example, a revision might go like this:

I wonder whose house it's in now –
what corner it's relegated to.
Is it holding a plant as intended?
But then it was intended for me –
my father so proud of it,
telling me the story
of how he had acquired it for her, my mother.

I left it in the apartment.

I might have thought of that plant stand
once or twice before,
but today, walking through a store, holding
a ceramic pot for the one remaining plant
someone had sent me when he died
and having found the perfect terracotta, Mexican clay pot
tastefully adorned to go below
the glasstop table in the dining room,

I saw it. I saw a small plant table –
black, plain wood,
not ornately etched
or as beautiful as the one
my father had bought for my mother,
and it hit me
how badly I wanted that plant stand now.

That might be the final draft or not, Rona. It’s your poem and up to you, but I like this version, which says a lot in fewer lines. Although it omits some information leading up to your father’s death, readers can fill in the blanks, which makes it more personal, becoming their poem too.

As we identify strengths and weaknesses in our poems, we begin to see how to play them up or down. We begin to accentuate what works and eliminate what does not. It’s as simple as that, but, no, it’s not always easy.




(c) 2010, Mary Sayler, all rights reserved.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks so much Mary!! ouch on that who's and the not capitalized i. had to run & look to see if i caught those in my last edit before i sent it off last week. I was going to send it to you but forgot. I am definitely taking a break from it. Below was my last edit.

    My Father's plant stand

    I wonder whose house
    that table is in now
    what corner it’s relegated to
    does it hold a plant like intended?   
    but then it was intended for me
    my father so proud, telling the story
    of how he had acquired it
    for her, for my mother
    I left it there in the apartment

    I flew down to get him
    bringing back just what could fit
    in the empty suitcase
    shirts, pants, shorts
    I brought him back to the apartment
    one last time
    to make sure I didn't leave anything important behind

    He didn't mention the plant stand then
    or even look back as we left
    though he must have known
    he would never return
    there was nothing left, no one
    wife number three
    dead now too
                                                                                                                             
    I may have thought of that plant stand
    once or twice before
    but today walking through that store
    with a terracotta pot   
    for the one remaining plant
    someone sent when he died

    I saw the small table  
    black, plain wood
    not ornately etched beautiful
    like the one my father had bought
    for her, for my mother
    and it hit me
    how badly I wanted that plant stand now

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're certainly welcome. If the poem comes back, consider sending the shorter version to an editor. God bless.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post, enjoyed it :)
    All the best
    Marinela

    ReplyDelete