Sunday, May 11, 2014

Revisiting Revision

Whenever I start a new poem, I’m in the moment, happy to be putting fresh ideas on paper. However, after that first feverish outpouring, I put the poem away to look at later. Sometimes a poem is complete, but often it needs more work. This is where the hard task of revision comes in.

When I cover revising in my English classes, I have my students notice that the root of the word is “vision” or to see; therefore, revision means to take a second look. I ask them to revisit their original drafts with fresh eyes. In like fashion, poets often need to revisit their creations.

I will often wait weeks, even months to revise my poems. Sometimes I’m in the middle of my busy family/work life and don’t have the quiet time to work with older poems. Sometimes I think a poem is finished until I go back for a second look. Other times, I take a new poem to workshop and have fellow poets critique my work.

At present, I have five to ten manila folders with workshopped poems with notes and suggestions from my peers. My goal this summer is to work through each poem and make revisions as I go along. Some changes will be minor: take out unnecessary words or articles, change the order of stanzas or take out lines that don’t work. In some cases, I may do more extensive revisions so I’m really creating a new poem.

As an example, I brought a poem entitled “Floral Brigade” to workshop recently and had a varied response. Last summer the flowers were so brilliant and prolific, that they were an assault on my senses, so I used war imagery to introduce my subject. In the first stanza, many readers objected to this line: (hydrangeas) “miniature bombs waiting to go off.” Since this poem was written shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, readers didn’t like the reference to bombing here. In my revision, I will take out that line. By taking out this one line, I will then use three line stanzas rather than four line stanzas.

Revision can have a cascading effect. Change one thing and I’m forced to change a host of other things. In the second stanza, I wrote: “Summer’s riches pile up, spill over,/as if we could keep the plunder,/have it last through winter.” In order to minimize the war imagery, I might rewrite it this way: “Summer’s treasures pile up, spill over,/ as if we could keep these riches/ have them last through winter.”

Many poets didn’t like my last two lines: “The long siege has begun --/Another day flowers and expands.” If I take their advice, I might end my poem with “I want to grab the elegant lilies,/find a tower and spill them/over the edge, watch them drift/down, to land on some unsuspecting head, a bombardment from the universe.”

So, this poem is a work-in-progress that demands a closer look. I find revision interesting work. It challenges me in unexpected ways. My advice – don’t be afraid to revise. It might make your poem stronger. 


  1. I seem to be revising all the time. hmmm...
    The blog looks great.

  2. I'm so glad you like the new look! Devin helped me tweak my blog.

  3. I love the idea of re-vision. As a young writer (many moons ago) I thought the first draft was the only draft I needed. But now as a seasoned (ie older) writer I'm just the opposite--I can't wait to finish a first draft so I can start revising and fleshing out my story.

  4. I agree with you! The revision process takes your first draft to another level, deepening and honing what has already been written.