Monday, May 5, 2014

The Joy of Prosody: The Joy of Revision

By Liz Mastin

Revision – to see again. The process of changing something, especially a piece of writing, in order to improve it by correcting it or including new information or ideas.
Greetings fellow writers. My book of poems is nearly done! --- or so I thought. For, as it happens, completing a collection of poems can take a fairly long time, due to working on revisions. Having laid my poems aside for a time, I now more easily “see” previously “unseen” mistakes, and I am so glad I still have time to improve them further, before anchoring them permanently in a book. In this column, I am consulting articles on revision, written by Tony Morris, author of award winning book Fugue’s End, and literary educators Robert Gambell and MD Lynn, and prize winning poet Sandra Soli.  

According to Morris “The act of revising is probably the most important, and at the same time, the least utilized tool of beginning and veteran poets alike. Nevertheless, that second, third, or even fiftieth look at the poem is at the very heart of becoming a great poet.” He continues: “Poets as varied as T.S. Elliot, Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren, and Mary Oliver are famous for producing poems through the act of multiple revisions. (Oliver has said that she usually revises through forty or fifty drafts of a poem before she begins to feel comfortable with it).”

“Whether the poem was written with ease, or whether it was written with much effort, it is usually still an unfinished piece of work that now needs your most conscious and honest appraisal.”  When you revise a poem, it is best to get away from the poem for awhile. Set it aside and return to it occasionally over the next few days, few weeks or even longer. Try to approach the poem as though you were not the writer, but the reader.

Among the many things one should consider when revising are:
1.       Does the energy of the poem go in the direction the poem wants you to go in? Have you listened to what the poem wants?
2.       Do clichés exist? If so eliminate them. You should be using unique and fresh language and thoughts.
3.       Does the voice of the poem remain consistent?
4.       Does the tone of the poem remain consistent?
5.      Is the poem overly punctuated? “An over abundance of punctuation causes the poem to be choppy and hard to read in any kind of flow.”
6.      Is the poem under punctuated? “Poems with very little or no punctuation makes it difficult to read and makes the reader have to pause while reading.”
7.       Are all of your words spelled correctly?
8.       Does the poem have cadence if it is free verse or if metered, is the meter consistent with the pattern determined for the poem?
9.      Does your poem tell a story of some kind? According to MD Lynn, “Poetry is a story told in verse form. It should have a plot of some sort that we can see. Use irony, metaphors, analogies – tell us a story and give us a good ending to our short word journey.”
10.   Have you chosen words for the poem that fit the emotion you want to convey?
11.   Have you remembered to consider “happiness, humor and fun” as also appropriate emotions for poems? “Good poetry doesn’t have to be esoteric and morose.”
12.   Does your poem make a reader feel something?
13.  Does the poem make sense? “Esoteric poetry is great, as long as the reader can get a sense of what you mean or can connect and find a meaning all their own. A poem that makes no sense and leaves the reader wondering, ‘What was that all about?’ is truly not good poetry”, according to MD Lynn.
14.   Is your diction striking and fresh, or drab and routine?
15.   Have you used active verbs and have you avoided using the passive voice too much?
16.   Have you considered using words with assonance, consonance, alliteration and/or internal rhyming?
17.   It is smart to put strong words at line-endings
18.   Make sure you can justify every adjective and adverb and use active verbs.
19.   Bringing your poem forward into the present tense adds immediacy and impact.
20.   Does your poem give the reader something to think about?
21.  Have you considered having the reader follow you but being careful not to be too predictable.Don’t spoon feed the reader.”
22.  *According to Sandra Soli “Many poems can be improved by rewriting an obvious, easy ending.”
23.   Some poems need amputation if the poet goes on talking after the poem done.
24.   Don’t be afraid to toss out stanzas that do not add to the meaning of the poem. Also it is advisable to keep all of your old revisions, just in case you end up liking an earlier revision better than a later one.

Sandra Soli affirms: “Do not distrust revision.”

Here is a short ballad (I wrote quite quickly) while feeling inspired. Below is the first version and it is followed by a revision. I am not sure, but only hope it is better. I will keep the first version so I can possibly change it back if I should want to or, I could take the best lines from each version and create the poem that way.

Have fun revising!

Ballad of Walt the Wizard
Liz Mastin

Digging in the desert dirt,
With his pick and pan,
Lanky frame, skin fried brown,
Aureate nugget in his hand,

He greets all those who to his claim
Arrive with varying hope
“How are you? I’m Walt the Wizard.
I’ll show you folks the ropes.”

“There’s lots of gold here I am sure:”
He mentions Greece and Rome.
They watch his freighted trammel work;
He looks up from the ground:

“I don’t care if I should dig
And never find a thing!
That’s not the reason, nor only goal,
Just hear those mountains ring!

“If you’ll stand and meditate
You’ll soon see what I see:
Desert’s grandeur, endless skies –
Gold enough for me.”

First Revision
Digging in the desert sun,
Steel pick in his hand;
Lanky frame, skin bronzed brown,
Large nugget in his pan,

He greets all those who to the claim
Arrive with varying hopes:
“How are you? I’m Walt, the Wizard.
I’ll show you folks the ropes.

“There’s lots of gold here. That I know.”
He mentions Greece and Rome.
As they watch his trommel work
He scans the hills around:

“Now I don’t mind if I should dig
Yet never find a thing.
It’s not only for gold I search,
Just hear those mountains sing.

“Stand still now and meditate,
You’ll soon glean what I glean:
Desert grandeur, endless skies,
Gold enough for me.”  

Liz Mastin Bio
Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

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