Revisionary

johnson

Yesterday the topic of revision came up. I resisted the urge to revise that post and instead decided to add a few random addenda here.

  • Ridiculous? Maybe. But often I go back and forth, day by day, on the question of definite vs. indefinite article. “The” becomes “a” becomes “the” becomes “a.”
  • Better yet, I sometimes wonder why I even need articles at all. I delete them altogether. Only to see them rise again, gaudy as Lazarus.
  • Revision time is often consumed with questions regarding stanzas. One day a poem looks good as a single block. The next, it struts its stuff in couplets. Then, like punch lines in jokes, it’s tercets. The lovely quatrain, maybe?
  • Of course, stanzas don’t always cooperate. Some of them are stubborn, refusing to obey orders and “fall in.” Then the revisionist faces the decision on whether to allow a single line at the end or not. Too show-offy? Cheap? Unjustified?
  • Or maybe we just shorten or lengthen lines to make them fit a stanza pattern?
  • Adjectives. Adverbs. Guilty until proven innocent, yes, but oh, how the bleeding-heart reviser wants to find them innocent. I steel myself. Fewer and fewer pass the gate.
  • Word-search function. It’s a great way to hound-dog words that keep popping up in poems like relatives fond of dropping in for dinner or borrowing money.
  • Aloud. Ultimately, all revisions must come before the Supreme Court: my ears.
  • Unusual or unexpected word pairings. Strange but compelling bedfellows. They’re auditioning all the time in the revision process. When they work, they can steal the show.
  • Simile or metaphor? It’s like oil and vinegar for the salad: never 50/50. Metaphors should be predominant, as the word “like” can attract too much attention, especially in close proximity.
  • “No one is indispensable,” we’re often told at work. The same is true of words. How many can safely go? Cutting to the bone is not just the province of butchers and surgeons.
  • Little kids play dress-up by trying on Mom and Dad’s clothes and shoes. Poets do the same by walking into the closet where imagery is kept. Often, the four neglected senses (sound, smell, touch, taste) can take a good poem and make it that much better.
  • All poetic devices are like salt: they add flavor, but too much of any one ruins the dish.
  • What? Your poem has been accepted by a journal? Here come the stages: Elation, followed by, “Could I have marketed this work to a better-known magazine, now that it’s been snapped up by this one?” followed by the arrival of the journal in the mail and a fear of even looking at it because a.) It might suddenly look different — like a changeling has been inserted as a practical joke — and elicit a feeling of embarrassment, b.) there might be maddening errors by the printer, or c.) it might just trigger an urge to… REVISE. Just a little more, is all. Pretty please?
  • Finally, you know you’re a revisionary on a par with Catherine of Avila when you read John Keats, Robert Frost, and Elizabeth Bishop and feel an urge to revise their poems. It occurs to you, for the first time, that there might be a thin line between revision prowess and obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • Poetry proposition: In no other genre does revision play a greater role.
  • And finally, my favorite “click” on a blogging platform, a Word document, or an online comment: EDIT. Hallowed be its name.
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