On revision (again)

iceimageI am going to go out on  a limb here and make a blanket statement: Revision should be every writer’s middle name.

I tell this to my Comp-Rhet introduction to academic writing students all the time, but they have difficulty figuring out how to revise effectively. There are good tactics out there, but they do not work for everyone; how a person thinks and learns and processes information varies considerably. Lately, I have been using a strategy I teach to students writing essays to revise my poems. I ask myself: how is this poem organized? Is the structure working with or against the poem? Too predictable, or not predictable enough?

Just as in a well-wrought prose piece, a poem’s obvious and underlying structures matter a great deal in how well it “works” for a reader. It’s also an aspect of writing that people tend to overlook, so analysis of structure in the revision stage can be useful.

Another revision strategy I have been mulling over recently coincides closely with what Grant Clauser describes in this post, The Poem Is the Question. He writes:

I’ll scrounge around in the poem to try to find what it’s asking. If I figure out the question or the motivation in the poem, then I’m better equipped to solve its problems… Sometimes it helps to actually put a question in the poem–either as a crutch that you’ll eventually remove–or as a permanent part of the poem. A question is a pretty interesting part of speech in that it’s one of the few that almost always demands a response from the reader.

I have found myself going back to a draft and asking, “What got me going on this poem? Do I even recall? Is the impetus an interesting one? If not, can I change it?” Clauser suggests a more specific kind of investigation, and it’s one I have been employing today (snow and ice out there and the roads are lousy, so the campus is closed–hooray for a half day of unexpected free time).

Lesley Wheeler has also recently blogged about revising. She observes that the word revision, which places “emphasis on ‘looking anew’ doesn’t entirely capture” the process of late-project revision. She’s listening to her own words aloud as she revises…another approach that has worked for me.

Maybe the month of February calls to us as a quiet time of yin creativity, which is a way of looking at revision as an inwardly-focused energy–as opposed to marvelous bursts of creativity from inspiration or the much-vaunted Muse. The lunisolar calendar used for centuries in Asia calls February the first month of spring (立春  lìchūn)! I had better keep at the revising, therefore. Before I know it, yan energy will return with the start of the gardening season in eastern Pennsylvania.

 

 

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5 comments on “On revision (again)

  1. I like this a lot–and I agree about the season’s inward energies. I phrase the questions you discuss as “what’s at stake?” or “what’s the most urgent message or discovery in this poem?”, and talk to my students about thinking these questions through, too. The tinkering/ tuning stage nearer the end is important, but first comes the big overhaul, a recentering of the poem or essay or whatever it is around what really matters. Hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. marmcc says:

    I like the question idea. That might help my own revision floundering right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. KM Huber says:

    Reading aloud is usually my last act of revision, and I have many, which is not a good thing (but whom I am as a writer). But the idea of inserting a question as a crutch to be later removed is something I have been working with recently and find it quite helpful. I had not thought of question as crutch but that is exactly what it is (for me). Thanks for the reference and the post.

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  4. […] and longer days. It gets me thinking about my perspective on seasons. The lunisolar calendar I mentioned in a previous post seems more appropriate to my experience than the Gregorian, and perhaps the reason is that NongLi […]

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  5. […] consider worth keeping around for further work will move into my revision-worthy pile. For me, the revision process engages creativity in a form very different from the initial draft. Just as an example, few of my […]

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