Channeling Donald Hall

Reader, I didn't intend to be quite so wordless since last Wednesday, but I've been in the midst of a Project. I've decided this summer will be the Summer of Revision (doesn't have quite the same ring as Summer of Love, does it?), and I've been culling through hundreds of old poems separating the wheat from the chaff. Here are some findings from my little project:

~I identified many poems, most of which were written between 2004 and now, that I think are worth working on. Of these, I classified a few as "done" (well, as done as a poem ever gets), a few as "close", and most as "needs work."
~There are many, many more that I'm not interested in working on and/or are complete garbage. Reader, I'm deleting them. This is a big step for me, as I am accustomed to keeping every draft of every poem ever attempted. But I think there comes a time when, as a Big Girl Poet, one must say "so long" to the garbage, the stunted little poems that never quite made it, and/or the poems that aren't interesting to the poet anymore. I salvaged a line here and there that I thought I should keep; other than that, it's adios amigos.
~I was interested to see the ways my productivity waxed and waned over the years. This year so far, I have drafted 57 poems (not all of them made the Worth Working On list); in 2005 and 2006 together I wrote only 24 poems. Those were the worst times of my illness, so it wasn't surprising. But it felt good to see how my creative life has expanded as my health has stabilized.

Okay, so now what?

Good question. I have always been rotten about revision. I much prefer the direct download from the Muse, who drops her words out of the air and into my brain, and voila, a poem appears. Revisions come in similar fashion, akin, if you will, to a software patch. Next, to borrow a phrase from a famous retailer: And you're done. Every now and then, this actually happens for me (and, I assume, for most poets), but it's rare and the only way to end up with more than one or two good poems a year is to revise.

Revision is different from editing. It is re-vision: seeing again. Have I mentioned I'm not good at this? So I did a little online research on poetry revision and was surprised to find...... almost nothing. There are lots of articles talking about the need for revision, how important it is, etc., etc. There are very few discussions of actual revision strategies. In my favorite book of writing exercises, there are 221 pages of ideas for generating new work and only 20 pages on revision. I wonder: is this dearth of technical information because most poets wait for the software patch from the Muse, or are the Grown-up Poets hoarding their secrets?

Last night I read an interview with Donald Hall, a famous revisor who, it is said, often spends two to five years working on a poem before it's "done." Donald Hall says, "If the poet wants to be a poet, the poet must force the poet to revise. If the poet doesn't wish to revise, let the poet abandon poetry and take up stamp collecting or real estate."

Since I'm not interested in stamp-collecting or real estate (or any other hobby-type pastime I can think of), I'm bound and determined to become a better revisor by revising this summer. With a little more research and reading, and some good old-fashioned elbow grease, I'm sure I can improve my "seeing-again" skills. Really, it wouldn't take much. I'll let you know how it goes.


Gerry said...

This resonates for me--and gives me a kick in the appropriate body part, too. I used to be a diligent reviser of my own prose and that was a good thing. I've grown lazy. Perhaps this will be a summer of Re-Vision for me, too.

Dunno if it helps, but Daugherty Johnson, crafter of snow sculptures of sled dogs and castles and wolves, described his technique on that last project as "getting rid of what ain't no wolf."

His sculptures, of course, change of their own volition, or perhaps the sun's! Daugherty sometimes re-imagines them as whatever new is emerging, and helps that along. You could do worse than to spend some time on the porch with Daugherty and Judy and the grandchildren, talking about creativity.

Molly said...

Gerry, I'm posting Daugherty Johnson's words above my desk: get rid of what ain't no wolf. It might be the best re-vision advice out there. Happy re-seeing

Ms. WK said...

Adios amigos!!! Let them find the trash and move on. How liberating! (I must find this strength with clutter, too...)

Your writing energy is electric right now! Ride this wave~~~~~~

One way to re-visit may be to share poems with others and ask for reaction. If you're getting reaction from certain lines that you weren't looking for, maybe that's a place to start.