REVISING YOUR POETRY

 


It's impossible to tell anyone how to write a good poem in one page of a website ... but here

are some tips on how to look back at your poem and get those revisions just right.

These words of wisdom come from Sarah Law, one of our poetry editors.



‘a poem is never finished, only abandoned’ (Auden)

Points to consider when revising
‘when you feel you’ve got a draft that seems finished, it’s time for the ‘frisk draft’. Think of how international air travellers are frisked before they board the plane to see whether they’re carrying anything that might be detrimental to the flight’ (Matthew Sweeney/John Hartley Williams)

Adjectival infestation

be aware of over-use of adjectives. Too many qualifiers can weaken rather than intensify. If you are unsure, go through your draft underlining each adjective and present participle (those ‘-ing’ words). If you are underlining once or twice in every line, it’s time to cut back.

Waffle

is there too much padding in the poem? Good poetry is often a case of ‘less is more’. Don’t repeat or sum up what you have already said, unless you are using repetition and refrain as a specific device.

Stale language or clichés

avoid archaic phrases, or dead metaphors, unless you are deliberately subverting them. If you are sounding pompous or wordy, then you will lose your reader – you are a 21st century writer, it’s no good sounding like Tennyson or Wordsworth!

Vagueness

be as specific as you can. It will give your poem an edge. A narrative fragment about a specific person or incident will hook your reader much more successfully than a generalised statement about ‘them’ or ‘us’.

Abstractions

Try not to generalise. ‘Go in fear of abstractions’ (Ezra Pound). Let the big themes – Love, Loss, etc, haunt your poem rather than be explicit.

Syntax and rhythm

Word order and rhythm shouldn’t sound false. The challenge is to make the language sound natural, even when you are writing a formal poem. It’s also a good idea to make sure you are using verbs and nouns in a strong way. Lines that are merely descriptive with no verbs will sound weak.

Layout

If you are not writing to a specific form, like a sonnet (or, in some cases, even if you are), consider experimenting with the layout on the page. Should you indent some lines, or fragment others? Rearranging can enhance the impact of the poem.

Leave it in a drawer!

For a week or two, and then look at your poem with fresh eyes.

Read aloud

even if only to yourself.

Ending

‘A good ending should flash a light back up a poem so the reader starts it again’ (Matthew Sweeney/John Hartley Williams)

 

 

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