Discussion #2 Revisiting

This week, many of us have been prompted to revise an old poem and post the results of that exercise. I thought it might be appropriate to talk about some of the aspects of doing revision work.

I don’t particularly like revising my stuff, be it poetry or prose. But, I also know that many of the books I’ve read, teachers I’ve had, and several really good authors, all state that the real writing process is to be found in the task of revision. And that has become the real reason I do it. Someone said, this past week, that she’d rather be writing a new poem than revising an old one.

I agreed with her. Until I stopped and realized that rewriting, re-seeing, revisiting an old poem, is really creating a new one. It’s a phoenix rising from another, different fire of creativity. And, it certainly can’t be denied, that there is a great deal to be learned in doing the work.

Things change, and our perspectives change, on a daily basis. Going back and taking a look at an old piece, with new eyes and new experience to inform us, is like giving ourselves a second chance to do it better, or at least differently. The changes may seem minor: a word or two, a line break, a phrase that didn’t occur in that first writing, but they can and often do make a world of difference.

I work hard at what I put up on my blogs, and am sure that each of you do the same. I check and recheck several times before I finally push that publish button. And each time I go through that checking process, I am more than likely to do some sort of tweaking. And yet, I look at all those pieces of writing as drafts. Final drafts in that current moment.

The only exception to that experience is a daily writing exercise. Whether it is poetry or prose, doing a daily write seems to encourage an almost stream of consciousness type of ramble. Due to the time constraints of coming up with something new each day, I see those pieces as rough drafts only. I still check them over, tweaking them here and there, but not with the fine tooth comb of my other writings.

I chose to do my revision, this past week, on a poem I originally wrote for a poem a day challenge. After the challenge, I went back and reworked all of those thirty pieces. Spent a great deal of time, effort, and energy on all of them. Found new poems, some echoes of the originals, but brand new avenues to explore.

Yet, when I went back and took a look at the original piece, and the reworked result, I found a very different and new poem in what I had previously cut out. I also went into the exercise with lots of “I don’t really want to do this,” attitude. Only to discover that enough time had passed for me to truly re-see what was actually there. Wonderfully nice surprise.

That might constitute a very real factor in all of this. The element of time passing, time that allows our thoughts and eyes to be freshened with new ideas and altered perspectives. I once held on to a poem for ten years. Periodically going back and trying to find a way to make it work to my liking. Then, one night, while working with another poet, showed it to him. And as he read it, immediately knew exactly what to do with it. I’d never been able to come up with a title for the thing, and didn’t realize, until he read it aloud, that the problem was in how I had placed the stanzas on the page. It was as if, letting him see it, finally allowed me to really see it as well. The poem was accepted for publication only two months later.

On the other hand, I’ve read bloggers who say with ease, that they never go back and rework what they have written. It goes on the page, it stays there. And some of those pieces were, what I considered, fairly good writing.

So, where do you stand, or sit, on the issue of revisiting old work and perhaps reviving it, or sometimes, just getting a new idea about the same subject matter? I often go back and read stuff I wrote, in years past, looking for new perspectives. That’s another point in favor of revision work.

I often told my students to just write, get it down on the page. Editing is another process. But, revision may very well be the half-way house between those two activities. And although I am often reluctant to do it, it is a backbone within the writing process that holds much to be sought after, as well as learned from.

The podium is open, lol.


About 1sojournal

Loves words and language. Dances on paper to her own inner music. Loves to share and keeps several blogs to facilitate that. They can be found here: http://1sojournal.wordpress.com/ http://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/ http://claudetteellinger.wordpress.com/
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7 Responses to Discussion #2 Revisiting

  1. Tilly Bud says:

    Viv once said that poems are never finished, and I think she’s right. Years later I can come to a poem and suddenly see that a punctuation mark is needed, the rhythm is out, the title doesn’t work.

    Rarely for me does a poem come fully formed. I think it is a little arrogant for some poets to say they never revise – arrogant, or foolish: how can you improve as a writer if you believe what you have done is already perfect?

  2. pmwanken says:

    I have been writing for too short of a time to feel like I’ve reached a different place in life, to have a new perspective (although, a LOT has changed in my life in the 6 months I’ve been writing) on old poems. (Ha! “Old poems” — that’s like telling someone from England that my 50-year-old cafe table is antique!)

    However, so far I have not been one to spend much time on revising. So, according to Tilly, I would say that makes me “foolish” — I know better than to arrogantly believe my poems are already perfect. So to not take a second (or third or fourth) look at them…is foolish.

    I do wholeheartedly recognize the importance of revising work — I was often heard harping on the matter with my writing students when I worked for a tutoring agency: “Love your work enough to wrap your ‘ARMS’ around it…’Add – Remove – Move – or Start over.'” And I do this throughout the writing process for each poem…I just haven’t gone back to those “old” poems to take a second look.

    Maybe after they’ve become a little more “antique.”

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  4. William Zinnser said it “The essence of writing is rewriting” a book my husband introduced to me. William is a genius. On the poetry circuit I see people say that they don’t edit or rewrite. I find that to be an arrogant/foolish statement.
    I don’t like revision much, though I should do it more. I think there is something to be learnt from revisiting a piece.Like Paula, I haven’t been writing very long, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t learn something new.


  5. anl4 says:

    And yet… there is something about the freshness of what comes in the moment. I heard Brandie Carlile last night on Austin City Limits, so fresh were her songs. I really liked it. I didn’t think when I heard her, that she had a trained voice, but certainly authentic.

  6. 1sojournal says:

    It’s so good to know there are others out there who actually don’t enjoy the rewriting process. I don’t enjoy it, but I do do it. Not with each and every poem, however. And I think that is also an important issue here. I rework poems that I want to see go somewhere, whether that is more cleanly or clearly at the point I was getting at, or to some editor’s desk for hopeful submission.

    I agree with Tilly Bud and Pamela that it is foolish and a bit arrogant to think that everything I write is beyond good. But, I also agree with Paula: how long does one wait, and when do I do that particular activity? I do reread my poetry periodically, and sometimes things jump out at me. That is the time when I’ll take the time to rewrite, tweak, or set out to rework it. And definitely when I am thinking of submitting a specific piece, it gets a fine toothed comb going over.

    And Annell brings up another issue. A poem can be reworked into oblivion, robbing it of any or all authenticity we might care to develop. Poem making is a great deal like painting. Too many strokes will simply obliterate that signiture stroke and end in a muddied mess that loses that sharply delineated image and that element of authenticity. Just as creativity is a deeply individual process, so too is the process by which we move toward that ultimate goal of a poem that resonates within others, as well as our own being.

    I truly believe that there is a balance to be found in all things. As individuals, we must seek whatever balance we are capable of finding. When we do just that, and find it, we know it by that deep sense of satisfaction for a job well done. My most well publicisized poem came in for some harsh criticism after being put into print. It also resonated deeply with many. There is a sense of balance in that as well. And I often remind myself that nothing humanly made is total perfection. What’s more, some imperfection is a definite portion of that signature stroke and authenticity. How could it not be? Lol,


  7. Mr. Walker says:

    It was not until recently that I truly revised a poem. Until relatively recently, I didn’t write that many poems. It wasn’t an arrogance so much as inexperience. I didn’t know how to revise them. I hadn’t let them sit long enough. They weren’t cold yet. And some honestly, were so cold, they weren’t worth reheating.

    However, the process of revising the two poems which I did recently revise and post, was quite an experience. I’m glad I did it. In one case, I think I got a much better poem out of the original. In the other case, I wrote what was essentially a new poem based on the original. I need to leave that one sit a while to see if the two poems work better together, or whether the new one has supplanted the old. I’m not sure yet – and only time will tell.

    When I was finishing my first NaNoWriMo novel, I thought it was done, that it didn’t need anything else. But after I got my proof copy from CreateSpace and started reading it again, after about six months of cooling off, I was surprised at how much more I was adding to it. I cut some stuff, but I added way more than I took out.

    Revising poetry is a very different experience. Some poems just don’t work and aren’t worth revising. Some rare few are pretty much golden as is. But it’s all the ones between those two – the ones that have potential to be better, but just aren’t there yet – that cause all the difficulty. How do I make them better is the question for me. Writing them is relatively easy, often play. Revision is work.


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