Polishing poetry

For many people, poetry hits the page in a rush of emotion and/or inspiration. Developing it beyond that point can feel a tad sacrilegious, and I remember it took me quite some time both to learn how to do it, and to be willing to do it. I’ve tried writing the kind of poetry that is tinkered out in a calmer and more intellectual way and I can’t honestly say I like the results. As writing poetry is something I do for myself, I don’t have to be workish about it, I can wait for the lightning bolt to strike.

My usual method (other methods no doubt exist and are just as valid) is to write in the heat of the moment, and then put the piece aside for a day or two. When I come back, I’ll read through and see how I feel about it. I then get in there line by line, and look hard at what I’ve created to see if it has any flaws that need fixing, or if it’s going in a direction and needs developing. I am rather prone to accidentally writing things that are almost sonnets, which may become actual sonnets on the second draft.

I look for word repetitions, and either swap new words in, or decide to take the repetition and make a feature of it. I check the line length and I take out any words that don’t need to be there, and I change any words that disrupt the flow of reading. If I’ve settled on a structure, I rework so that the poem fits the structure. I make sure that the rhythms don’t make it sound clunky and obvious. I look for opportunities to play with alliteration, and rhymes that aren’t at the ends of lines. I try and make sure it makes sense, not only to me, but to someone who has no idea what I was thinking and feeling when I wrote it.

I’ll look for clichés, mixed metaphors, weak similes. I’ll look at the tone and my language choices to make sure they align fairly well. That’s a particularly subjective process, I think. The mood of an individual word and the mood created by a set of words doesn’t always come across as you intend. I’ve found this repeatedly with a poet friend of mine whose heartfelt anger always reads like cool cynicism to me.

I may read it out loud, because this is a really good way of spotting anything that doesn’t have a good ring to it. I may read it to someone else to test it for sense and impact. I’ll look at the layout on the page and consider whether that supports the mood, readability, coherence, and I’ll move things round to try and help that. My final sweep is usually to sort out the punctuation, which I put down as a guide to how I want it read out loud.

Writing a poem is only ever half of a process, and the other half happens when you share it. No matter what you do to try and control the impact of the poem, there will always be ways people can interpret it that you didn’t intend. Even if you avoid metaphors and similes and try for the clearest communication you can, people understand different words in different ways. For me, this is part of the joy of the thing. What I mean, and what someone else hears will never perfectly align, because language is an imperfect form of communication. I’m aiming for the closest alignment I can get, relaxed about the inevitability of people hearing things, or reading things, I did not intend them to find.

Advertisements

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Polishing poetry

  • Ayotunde

    Thanks for the exposition Nimue. It was sure helpful

  • jonathanscottgriffin

    I think your advice of just writing it and then putting it away for a day or two is sound advice. I think we can overthink things into indecision to start out with if we’re not careful. As an author I have that problem.

  • Andrew Merton

    I find my poetry itch flares-up most after having read poetry for a while. My main resource of poetry is the school classic “Norton’s Anthology” and after having read a few from there, my brain has switched to poetry-mode and I spontaneously form phrases in meter. So for me it can sometimes have very little to do with emotion but rather ‘infusion’…

  • lornasmithers

    I seem to have two types of poem – the rare ones that come fully formed and the ones that take AGES… like weeks… months… even years. I follow a similar practical process. One of the best words of advice I had from a tutor was to find the ‘nub’ of the poem – what it’s about, what’s the point, what makes it poetic? It’s also important for me it has a heartbeat and my heart’s in it. Yes, it’s intriguing how that shift from writing and reading alone to sharing with an audience (in public or on the page) can bring about a perspective shift. Some poems read well in particular places and some don’t.

  • jrose88

    Reblogged this on at Milliways with a pen and commented:
    I’m not much of a poet myself, but these are some really helpful guidelines for good poeming.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: