Endless Revision

As the due date for the inevitable portfolio (which I’m sure we’ve all been avoiding thinking about all semester) approaches, I can’t help but question the revision process. Looking at the poems I’ve written throughout the semester and revising them until they’re “finished” is quite a daunting task. I mean, when will they ever really be finished? It’s intimidating enough to submit a piece for workshop, but at least then I know people are aware that the poem is a work in progress. Sure, I can take my classmates’ and professor’s advice and improve the poem, but I feel like there’s always more to be done. In fact, I bet we could spend one whole semester of this class each only writing one poem and revising it more and more each week. Even then, we still probably wouldn’t feel that the work is done! Maybe it’s just me, but I never get that “okay, NOW this poem is completely finished and perfect” feeling. I honestly don’t know how published poets do it, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that one of my poems is good/finished enough to submit for publishing–this class’ portfolio is intimidating enough! Does anyone else feel this way or am I just crazy?

5 Replies to “Endless Revision”

  1. No, you are not crazy! I feel the exact same way. I’ve never gotten the “okay, NOW this poem is completely finished and perfect” feeling either. I always find something wrong in my poems. I’m not sure how published poets so it either, but I’m pretty sure that after a certain period of time they just say “fuck it.” And to be honest, I would say “fuck it” too because I don’t want to be consumed by revisions, but it could also just be me being lazy. Anyway, we’re all crazy.

    db pena

  2. You’re not crazy, I assure you; as Diego has mentioned, I’ve never gotten that “done” feeling from a piece. Not permanently, at least. Sometimes, it drives me wild knowing that no matter how much time and effort I put into a piece, I’ve yet to find one that I can call “finished.” I think that’s part of the process, though; as we grow and change in our own poetic voices, we’re able to look back on old pieces and see things we want to change, and then make those changes. Or not: sometimes it’s just as important to leave those old poems as they are (no matter how embarrassed we may now be to slap our names on them). They are markers of progress and change in poetic voice. I know I have a handful of poems that, at the time of writing them, I was in love with (from my “love poems as map imagery on the body” phase during Creative Writing). Are there things in them that I would change now? Holy god, yes. But I won’t, because those poems are important markers of the poet I was at that point in my life. Poetry is as much about the process as it is about the “final” product for me, so although it frustrates me during times like this where I have a LOT of revision to get done, I’ve come to accept–and almost love–that some of my poems won’t ever be done.

  3. Hey Margot,

    A poet friend of mine has told me many times that a poem is never really finished. I can relate with what you, Diego, and Sarah have mentioned that this “unfinished” quality that is inherent in creative works can be frustrating as all hell. At the same time, however…I love it. Maybe I’m just a masochist, maybe it’s because each new revision brings a piece new life and reflects the progress I have made as a writer.

    For me, the writing process is something along the lines of: write down the complete thought, change and expand and clarify upon the thought, tweak and play with the words, forget about the poem for a month or two, then remember the poem exists while wondering what the hell I was ever thinking and start the process over again. With each cycle, I think it becomes more purposeful, and that much I hope is evident. Whether it gets more complete, well…

  4. Yes, I second everything that was said above. A small anecdote: I submitted a creative non-fiction piece to Gandy Dancer last semester and left myself minimal time to revise it before submitting. I took it to Professor Gentry basically crying because I knew I wanted to submit it, but I knew it wasn’t “done” (what ever that means), and I knew it wouldn’t be “done” by the time I submitted it. She reminded me, though, that even after a piece has been published, you can still revise it! Just because it as been published or deemed “finished” by the powers that be (a final portfolio for a class, publication in a journal, etc.), doesn’t mean it has to be finished for you. So I guess my advice, which I need to take myself, would be not to stress so much about the poems being finished when you submit them in the portfolio. It isn’t final. Of course, you should be happy with what you submit, and know that it reflects you as a poet, but also keep in mind that after that portfolio has been submitted, the poem still exists, so do you, and so does the opportunity to make endless revisions as you wish.

  5. Kind of along the lines of what Chloe said, I also submitted a piece to Gandy Dancer that I wasn’t sure exactly how much more to revise. Personally, I revise a ton before I even upload exercises or submit them to workshop. I guess because I agonize over every single word and line break before I even let other eyes look at my pieces, I move from states of “being finished”, but none of them are ever absolute. I deconstruct my poems when revising, take them apart, put them back together in multiple ways, try different line breaks, swap out words and images. And eventually I come to a point where I am no longer making progress with the revision, I start going in circles, and that’s when I normally submit things.

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