Rasma Says

Musings, deliberations, flashes of unaccounted for brilliance…

Poem, Revised

It’s about time I plugged this book, as it is cropping up on websites all over and one of them even quotes me.

Google kindly alerted me to this. Then I discovered that if I google my name, WordPress is the first hit! Well, I am pleased with what Marie Gauthier says, and I would like to elaborate on it a bit. Revision is a controversial topic, particularly among poets. I was part of a poetry manuscript group for over a decade, and we got really good at killing our babies and throwing away beautifully architectured scaffolding. Yet, what I find particularly interesting in Poem, Revised is that a friend of mine who has appeared alongside me other anthologies has written an essay describing how she chose to ignore the comments of our very manuscript group. Yet she does talk about how she carefully considered them, and in doing so found herself in deep disagreement. My essay in Poem, Revised includes my handwritten notations of our manuscript group’s comments and what I chose to do with them.

The key to revision for both me and Judy, and all of us in our group (save the woman who quit, saying, I don’t want you to SAY anything about my poem! I just want to read it to you!) is that we learned not to listen to each other, but to listen to our writing. To ask, What does the poem want to say? If that sounds trite and silly, then you haven’t experienced the awe of poetry. And many of us eager writers are more preoccupied with our own cleverness than with listening to the integrity of the poem in our hands.

That is why Poem, Revised (Marion Street Press, 2008) is a great book for anyone interested in the creative process. There is not the right and wrong way to revise, but it seems to me there is a common foundation to all revision: writer, get out of the way.

Another beautiful book on this topic is The Hand of the Poet, (Rizzoli 1997) which showcases drafts and revisions made by an array of poets from John Donne to Philip Levine. However, it is manuscript based, and lacks the most valuable aspect of Poem, Revised , which is the poets themselves reflecting on what they did. This kind of “talking about” the editing of a poem can only happen after the fact, you can’t really map it out ahead of time. But reading how others have done it gives you a closer sense of how you might want to do it next time.

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