I am currently in the process of rewriting a poem that someone else wrote, something that is jarring and unsettling in a lot of ways. Even more importantly, this is a poem that I looked at and didn’t see any clichés that needed to be cut out, any formatting that needed to be fixed, or any other egregious issues upon the first reading, the fourth reading, or the forty-second. My task however, is to rewrite it, whether in my opinion this poem needs big fixes or minor tweaks.
The first worry I have is whether I come from this high-and-mighty editor’s chair and totally misinterpret the vision that the poet had. Throughout my academic career, I have learned about literature through the three-headed demon of themes, motifs, and the main idea. Each of these categories imply a limited range of choices, and I have always felt satisfied when I discovered one of those choices. Sometimes I can make as many revisions as I want, but my question is whether any of those revisions are justified in the grand literary vision of the poet. I think everyone would like to think that their point of view on anything, from dining halls to politics to moral frameworks, is valid, otherwise we’re just shouting into the void of an unfamiliar and detached universe. Of course this writing assignment is a blip in the grande scheme of the universe, but I’d still like to think my viewpoint is valid all the same.
I am used to giving annotations and other suggestions for poets, and that part doesn’t faze me. They exist outside the realm of potential text, and exist outside the realm of criticism that later readers might write in the margins. That is, if the poet integrates my re-write into a later draft. This would be beyond flattering, but what if other readers don’t find this rewrite justified? What if my work is subject to the same red pen annotations that I used when critiquing other poet’s work?
If the poet doesn’t integrate my re-write into a later draft, I don’t know that the outcome would be any better either. My writing and my art in general come with a heavy amount of personal investment, no matter how many times I say that I am experimenting or otherwise intellectually curious or detached. That doesn’t mean that I am a sensitive snowflake who can’t take constructive criticism, but having my ideas dismissed without an opportunity to discuss them is something that makes me feel hurt. Of course, the real world doesn’t always work this way, but the writing workshop often creates this environment that makes me believe all of my ideas are heard and understood through discussion and frequent feedback.
These are probably my three biggest anxieties about rewriting, and I only hope my revisions do the poem justice. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything that I need to clarify further, as I do have a tendency to be long-winded in these blog posts!