Guest Author - Angela Saunders
Poetry is such a personal form of writing, that the editing process can often be painful. Thoughts that are jotted down to express personal emotions seem perfect at the time of writing. When our thoughts are critiqued, defenses can go up. Poetry, however, does not always come naturally. Like any other writing, it is a skill that needs to be developed over time by reading good poetry, learning poetic techniques, and writing practice. Part of developing that process is the necessary pain of editing.
In writing classes, we were bombarded with the five step writing process: prewriting, writing, editing, revising, and publishing. The writing process for poetry is much the same. Write down initial feelings and thoughts;
choose a format and begin writing; read and edit; prepare your final draft. The differences in the writing process for stories and poems is in the editing. If you were to write a story, the proofreading would include grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and tense agreement. Additionally, you would take into consideration the flow of thoughts and the details in the story. In poetry, the editing process involves reading for “meter",“tone” , word choice, and style.
Poetry is about capturing powerful thoughts or emotions in a form that is aesthetically pleasing and lyrical in nature. It should transport the reader into the moment while leaving room for the reader to experience the poem in a very personal way which may be different from the author's perspective. In poetry, the goal is to say more with less. Rather than packing a poem full of adjectives, conjunctions, and clauses, one would look at the choice of verbs that would create a stronger visual. For example, rather than stating something like: "My heart was beating fast inside my chest at the sight of my love", the verb "beating" could be replaced with verbs such as: pounding, racing, or throbbing. The reader would assume that your heart is inside your chest, so this phrase could be left out all together and replaced with stronger words to demonstrate the picture such as: "Her presence sent my heart pounding". Notice that both lines state exactly the same thing. By strengthening the verbs and leaving out parts that can be assumed by the reader, the entire tone of the line changes. The first statement is a statement of fact. The second line produces a feeling.
If we were to describe a sunset as a statement of fact, one could say "The sun was sinking rapidly below the horizon. The sky was alive with colors from its fiery rays". The lines are very descriptive, beautiful, and one would get an image from this. The lines would work well in story telling. They could be made stronger in poetic form. Poetic form often makes use of metaphors and similies to create visual comparisons. Using imagery and right brained thinking, a poet would try to find other ways to make the above lines come alive. What could a reader assume? What is the point that these lines are trying to make? The point would be the picture of the sky created by the sunset. Knowing the point you are trying to convey is critical in the editing process. So how would I condense the above lines to paint a picture of what I see. "Dancing flames followed the setting sun", "Colors screamed against the coming of the night", "Candied clouds fading away to stars" . All of these lines make use of strong actions (dancing, screaming, fading). They avoid words that simply make a statement (IE: is, are, was, were, to be). Using metaphors and personification, the picture becomes alive. (colors screaming, flames dancing). Notice the tone of the lines also change. The original lines convery a serene visual. The examples bring life to the statements and an energy. The dancing flames creates a celebretory mood. Colors screaming changes the mood to create intensity. Candied clouds captures a serene feeling. When thinking of words to use, take note of the tone that they suggest. These are some of the elements that you want to look for when editing poetry. Easier said than done, but practice and reading poetry is the key.
Another consideration in writing poetry is the audience that will be reading the poem and the feeling you want to portray. This week, I had the chance to read and edit a poem "The One That Got Away"- a fish tale written for an audience of fishermen. The author provided four different edited versions of the poem, all of which were very well thought out, but the tone didn't feel quite right for the audience that he was presenting the poem to. The question came up about the use of slang and accents within the poem to make it more authentic to the audience. A phenomenal idea! Capturing the tone can also include using accents and phrasing that would be indicative of the poetic style. A group of fishermen talking to one another would sound much different than a gentleman wooing his love. You would want to show this difference in your writing as well.
Lets look at a before and after comparison of this poem:
The one that got away- A Fish Tale
Eased up to my old cypress tree,
hoping the big one was waiting on me.
Hooked one on my very first cast,
taking out line, he was running fast.
Rod was bent, drag was screeching,
Old Mr.Bass was doing the teaching.
He came up top, tried to shake loose
then dove down deep, knew it wasn't no use.
He headed for the timber
and that's the last I remember
about the one that got away.
Not to worry, I'll be back another day.
If we look at the point of the poem, it is a fish tale about the one that got away. The poem describes in detail how he got away, but it is missing the feeling and the tone that descries the disappointment associated with losing the big one. Its like building up a joke, but the punch line is missing. Additionally, the tone is a bit serious.
If we look at the poem and its meaning, we can, as Bill Jenkins, the author of the poem stated- "experiment with words and phrases just as if putting together a jigsaw puzzle." After editing, the same poem became:
Hooked 'em on my very first cast
takin' out line, he was runnin' fast
Ole' Mr. Bass was doin' the teachin'
The rod was bent an' the drag was a-screechin'
A fight did he give as he came up to the top
He shook and then dove, refusin' to stop
To the timber he headed, no more can I say
I'd lost the battle; that one got away
Fear not, I'll return to that ol' Cypress tree
Mr. Bass hasn't see the last of me!
Poetry is a process that is learned through practice. Like any other art form, it is a skill that needs to be practiced to be perfected. Like any other writing, editing and revising is a key element in good poetry. Write down your thoughts. Let it rest for a while and then go back and re-read it. Is your poem a statement of fact? Can it be revised with stronger verbs and images? Are there parts that can be assumed by the reader that can be taken out? Have you experimented with different ways of saying the same thing? Does your poem have a point? Have you expressed that point well? Does the tone match the feeling you are trying to portray? Will your audience understand it? Keep a poetry journal to write down your thoughts and poems that may come to you throughout the day. Go back and revise your poems to make them stronger. Sometimes you can say more with much less.