conversations in poetry

currently, in the louderARTS project, we are tryin to have a conversation about various aspects of poetry. here are some of the questions lynne is throwing around and my responses…

(a) do you revise? do you edit? do you think that there’s a difference between the two?
yes to both.
i edit on the page and revise on the stage. for good or bad (and i think its leaning more towards the bad), any poem i write that i think has a half-decent chance to survive gets some mic time. when said poem does get read out loud, i try to notice my natural pauses (to eventually use as line/stanza breaks) and what words fit well in my mouth. sometimes i get to “smart” on the page and use nice SAT words that turn to mush when i have to use them in my poems– these words end up on the recycle bin.

editing involves much more of a butcher knife and usually happens before i hit the stage. it also involves a lot when it comes to the chronological delivery of my poems since i tend to write a lot in narrative.

(b) what do you look for in your revision process?
clarity, first and foremost. i’ve usually worked the poem (or some specific lines) quite a bit in my head before i even actually write it down. when revising the poems, i want to make sure that i am getting to the crux of the poem in as few words as possible.

side note- this can lead me to removing so many words that i start to strip the poem of any soul it may originally have had. when this happens, i know i have to back off and let the “mistakes” of the poem sit for a bit before i can return to editing it. these “mistakes” sometimes end up being the actual magic of the poem more often than not.
“There is no such thing as the flawless diamond, just the diamond with the fewest flaws.”

(c) when you hand your poems off to another writer or an editor for comments, what are you looking for? i know that this varies by poem in some ways, but you know yourself as a writer, you know your flaws and your foibles, so what are the pitfalls that you’re hoping to be pulled out of in asking for critique?

i know that i definitely want the other writer to tell me that it’s good but really only if it’s good because what the hell good does it do for me if you lie?

about 0.00025 seconds after that, i want them to tell me about what they see, what they don’t see, what absolutely doesn’t work, whether or not anything works, what balance i’ve struck between what works and what doesn’t. i tend to find that i treat first and even second draft as sketches for what the poem could be, testing grounds for an approach or a perspective. when i hand it off, i’m expecting some idea of how my ‘thing’ is working or not working. i’m prone to being far too clean in my choices so i’m looking for input that pushes me to break something messy over the head of the poem. in my own revision process, the one that goes on before, during and after I send a poem out hoping for comments, i sit around with the poem, reading it out loud, cutting it up into pieces (literally), looking at it in different fonts, reading sections of it as if they don’t have a whole poem on either end of them and i try to find out what poem might be doing (good or bad) that i’m not seeing or hearing. one of my goals with alot of my work is to have the chunks of the poem (stanzas or combinations thereof) stand independently and tell disticnt stories. sometimes i’m struggling with the metaphor of the poem which to my mind must tie to the idea or engine of the poem. i try to look at the metaphor, make sure that i’ve handled it delicately enough that people don’t look at it and go, ‘oh, you know that broken window poem, the one with glass breaking in every stanza and then the shattered shard falling from the opened window at the end’ and i try to pare it down a whole lot then i try to give it very specifically sculpted muscles. sometimes of course i suck at editing my own stuff but if i’ve really looked at it hard, by the time i get back a set of comments, I can accept them with an open mind and begin the harder work of actually making or remaking the poem.

some serious brutality. i need to hear more about what doesnt work than what does work. the people that i most trust are the ones that can say “ok, that was just you being lazy… take care of that” it doesnt have to be said in a cruel manner, cuz that will just get ya popped in the mouth, it just needs to be said as matter of factly as possible.

i tend to put a lot of value in the opinion of people that dont know my stage persona and are just goin by what the poem says. too often i find people edit more for what they feel the person can do with the words on the mic than with whats on the page.

the pitfall i keep avoiding is my simple bob-n-weave of my personal truths in my poetry. i’ve been gettin better over time but i still have the hardest time in the world saying simple things and personal things instead choosing to wrap those things up in the stories of others. it has helped me write some good narrative and some clever metaphors but i know its time to get more honest in my work. people that can spot these points in my poetry get extra bonus points from me.

and there you have it… not the most controversial talk on the planet, i know… i am sure it is more interesting to hate on whoever did whatever on the open mic last week but i am tryin to elevate from that… i want to start hatin on PUBLISHED poets… LOL

love ya like micheal jackson loves a sympathetic jury

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