Friday, October 9, 2009

Rearranging the Furniture of a Poem

The other night, a colleague and I were talking about the need for a Faculty Lounge, and where we might put it. She was great at taking a mental tour of the school and determining how to reconfigure what was there.

I've known for some time that I don't have that skill. Whenever we move, I know that if it's up to me, the furniture will stay wherever we first put it. Someone once asked me if I'd ever considered divorcing my husband, and I snorted. I said, "I can't even rearrange the furniture; I certainly couldn't manage the logistics of divorce divisions."

I think that I'm the same way with poems. I tinker with them as I'm writing them, but it's rare that I return and do massive revisions. A year ago, I was trying to get a few more formalist poems so that I'd have a manuscript to enter in a contest, so I revised about 20 free verse poems into poems that had more form. It was a fascinating experiment. I don't usually rip poems apart and stitch them back together that way.

Often, I'm not sure which version I like better. That's a drawback.

Sometimes, I'll work with a line or a word and come up with something that's stronger. But it's a scattershot approach. More often, I like what I wrote down just fine. And if I change a bit here or there, well, I like that just fine too.

I've noticed a dynamic in fiction writers' groups with which I've been involved. I've had writer friends who tinker and tinker and tinker. And often, the changes they make are lateral changes. They don't make the writing significantly better or worse, just different. And sometimes, not even that different.

Sometimes it's time for a poem to be done. Sometimes more work will help a poem. Alas, I'm not always sure I know in advance how my efforts will go.

1 comment:

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

NEVER throw away any drafts: that way you always have substantial madness to wade through. This is why I never forget deconstruction: only mis-interpretations are possible, and each reading is different, canceling out all previous experiences between words & eyes.