Poetry workshop: Revising a poem

wordsRevising a poem is a patient process. You can rework the poem over a period of days or weeks or even months, and still not feel like you’ve “nailed” it. But here is a list of elements and questions to use as a guide.

  1. Is this the best title? Now you have written the poem and know what it’s about, look hard at your title again. Does it suggest another layer? Is it too long? Will it catch the reader’s attention? Look at my post on titles and apply what’s there (in fact, use all of the workshop posts as extra revision tools).
  2. Are your first and last lines strong? Are they doing their job? Take them out of the poem and write them out together. How are they working that way? Is there a connection of some kind? Should there be? Rework them and then put them back into the poem.
  3. Line breaks – are they working for or against the poem? What jobs are they doing for the reader? Try writing your poem out as a paragraph of prose, and then write it out as a poem again, experimenting with the line breaks. Try the poem with long lines, then with short lines. You are experimenting to see what changes. Do the same for stanza breaks.
  4. Look at every noun, verb, adjective and adverb individually. What is it doing? Is it adding to the poem or weakening it? How can you make them stronger?
  5. Look at your similes, metaphors and imagery. Use a different coloured highlighter for each. How many do you have? Do they add depth to the poem? Do they work together? (The cliché mixed metaphors is a cliché for a reason!)
  6. Read the poem aloud three times. How does it sound? If you aren’t sure, read it and record yourself.
  7. Let the poem sit for a few days. Come back to it and try to see it with fresh eyes. Revise again.

Now you are ready to workshop it, or perhaps to send it out.

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  1. Nice resource! A great way to help with that patient process of revising a poem. I love craft lists. Poets need more resources like this. Line breaks are so important in poetry. It’s one of the key elements that separate poems from prose (prose poems aside). And the title is so undervalued in terms of the direction it can take a poem. It is the firs thing we see. So helpful. There’s a piece on the Etched Press blog, complete with writing exercises, on another five revision strategies to consider before sending work out into the world. I highly recommend that as well: http://etchedpress.com/blog/how-to-revise-poems/

    Thank you!

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