Revising Poetry

Most of my poems make me nervous because the genre feels very flexible.  Almost too flexible. The different forms and paths you can take a poem down sometimes overwhelm me. This is one reason why I love reading the different rewrites of my poems (S/O to Abby, Mya, and Sarah) because it helps me get a better feel for what I stand to gain and lose by altering the form of my poems.

I think my first post on this blog was in regards to my bewilderment at the different choices some of you make for your poems, in terms of form. I think I still largely feel the same way now. There’s so many choices that feel very deliberate and thought out for others’ poetry, and this concerns me, because most of the formal techniques I use in my poems are just sort of instinctual. Some of the feedback I got on that first blog post was that many of you feel similarly, and that form often does come from a place of instinct. However, instinct is sort of the opposite of revision. Revision is where you question every instinct you have and force yourself to justify those instincts.

I haven’t tried to revise my poems yet. I’ve given it some thought, but I don’t quite feel ready to sit down and start hacking them up. Not because I feel overly attached to them, but because poetry feels overly flexible to me. When I revise prose, I usually think in terms of scenes. Which scenes are essential, how they drive the story, etc. Perhaps I just trust my prose instincts more and that’s why poetry feels overwhelming. I feel like I know what my prose pieces want (whether I execute that is another matter), but I find my poems speak in quieter tones. I can’t always hear their desires. That whole concept of knowing what a poem wants, rather than what the author wants, feels very abstract to me anyways.

So, as I head into the process of revising my poems, I want to know how you all go about that process yourself. Do you have any methods you return to when revising your poetry, or does it feel instinctual to you?

One Reply to “Revising Poetry”

  1. Connor,

    I, too, have been struggling with this lately. Poetry is so wide-open it can be sort of terrifying. In conjunction with that, I think, is the feeling that one’s poetry is arbitrary. Given a poem can be literally anything, why should any given poem be what/how it is? That’s poorly articulated, but what I mean is there is no right answer to what any one specific poem should be, not in the same way that there is a right and wrong answer to a math problem. That, for me, is especially terrifying and has been on my mind quite a lot lately. Writing poetry is generally a coping mechanism for me, so then what value does it hold for other people? I suppose it doesn’t much matter. In general, I think that we all, as poets, fall into weird ruts where we question just about everything; I appreciate your insight in this post.

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