Poet Anders Carlson-Wee once told me that he revises his poems for at least a year before he sets them loose into that sea of chance we call poetry markets. A year!
When I first heard this, I marveled and considered it almost eccentrically-disciplined. Here we have a poet stoic for the ages, I thought, with endurance that no other writer would bother to attempt.
Over time, however, I’ve begun to revise my opinion. Unlike Carlson-Wee, I am the impatient sort, which is not to say that my poems are released the day after they are written. It was not unusual, however, to see them off to the races mere weeks after their first gasp of oxygen.
The problem? Though I sent them out, I continued to indulge in a compulsion to tinker with them, and before long, I was not happy with the versions that were sitting three to six months in poetry journal green rooms waiting for interviews.
So why send them so quickly?
A very good question. Requiring a very sensible strategy. I’ve now separated my poems without homes into two categories: those that have been living on the ranch for at least six months, and those that haven’t. The Have-Nots are no longer game for marketing.
Furthermore, I am avoiding my old habit of always trying to create at least one new poem each week. Instead, on a daily basis, I read and reread old ones that are still in swaddling clothes. Cut a word here. Add a word there. Delete a line here. Add a stanza there. Punctuation, even. Yes, no, maybe so. New poetry? It gets written when an idea can no longer wait.
With this reset, I’ve amazed myself in small ways: namely how different the poems can look just by rereading them aloud every morning before going to work, and how much they slowly evolve when given this amount of scrutiny.
Meaning, I hope Anders will hear my one-year-policy footsteps approaching from behind some day soon. I’ve begun to see the wisdom of his marathon ways. For a writer, his is not an extraordinary practice, I’ve decided, but a practical one.