The Art of Revision

Last Saturday, the Quebec Writers’ Federation hosted a workshop on revising poetry. It was led by Bruce Taylor. The attendees brainstormed a list of revision techniques. I have taken that list, edited and expanded it. My thanks to all involved. Do with it as you will.

  1. Write/read the poem in reverse order, from last line to first
  2. Try writing another poem, or short prose piece, that expresses the opposite or negative of what the poem is trying to say.
  3. Change the form of the poem: If it is free verse, write it in a more structured form, like a sonnet, etc. If it is in a highly structured form, write a free verse version.
  4. Read the work out loud. If possible, have someone else read it out loud to you.
  5. If you are used to revising onscreen, write out and revise on paper. If you are revising on paper, move it onscreen.
  6. Change the title. See if this allows new ideas to emerge.
  7. Force new, possibly random, words into the poem.
  8. Summarize the poem in prose. Then revise the poetic version.
  9. Sleep on it (but be sure to wake up again). See number 13 below.
  10. Storyboard it. Stick it on the wall. This is especially helpful for a series of poems, very long poems, and/or assembling manuscripts. Stand back and look at the poem or poems as a whole, read it/them through, rearrange the order, put whole poems on the sidelines, cut pieces out with scissors and rearrange them, put suspect pieces aside, insert blank pages where you feel something is missing. Of course, this can all be done on a computer, but physically doing it will allow you to see the work in new ways.
  11. Write to a deadline for a contest or magazine submission in order to force yourself to revise.
  12. Consider removing words, lines or sections and putting them in a toolbox for use in future poems. Alternately, look in your Toolbox and see if something in there is appropriate for the poem you are working on.
  13. If you know something has to be fixed, or something is missing, but you don’t have the solution at the moment, highlight it, move on and comeback to it later.
  14. Leap or Transition? Do two separate sections need a connecting transition? Should two currently conjoined sections be separated?
  15. Randomize the poem completely. Change line order, line breaks, word order.
  16. Pass it through multiple language translations on Babelfish or Google Translate, eventually arriving back at English.
  17. If you speak another language, translate it into and then back out of that language.
  18. Convert a piece of prose by another author on the subject you are writing on into a poem and then incorporate that poem, or pieces of it, into the one you are working on.
  19. Read the poem several times and then immediately launch into some automatic writing. Does anything interesting popup?
  20. Keep everything and every new version. You may find an earlier  version was the superior one and want to revert to it. Or, you may find completely new poems in them. If not at the time, possibly at a later date.
  21. Do you have any other suggestions? Write them in the comments below.

One thought on “The Art of Revision

  1. Show the poem to others, both poets and non-poets. Ask what doesn’t work in it for them and why.

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