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How to Revise Poems Before Submitting

How to Revise Poems Before Submitting

 

This isn’t an article written specifically for Etched Press. I wrote it as a general article for another website, but I thought it was important to share here. At some point, every poet considers new approaches for how to revise poems. Revision is a significant part of the writing process. It’s where the well of an idea is dug deeper. It’s when images are made sharper. It’s how an argument is made most sound. This article provides five strategies for how to revise poems. Determining the best way to revise a poem is a decision based on your own aesthetic. You may focus on tidying your blind spots or making your strengths more evident. These strategies are the basis for how to revise poems.

How to Revise Poems #1: Give Texture to Your Verbs

 

It’s as simple as that. You want your language to be evocative of a real experience or a surreal feeling. It’s difficult when the actions in your poem are flat or generic. Compare “he walks along hedgerow” to “she saunters along hedgerow.” This doesn’t mean visit a thesaurus. Saunter gives character to the stride. It creates mood and expectation. You can even use that mood or expectation to create conflict. Imagine “she saunters in flower fields with a machine gun.” The mood of her walk is at odds with her action. It gives a sense of character and suggests a history.

 

Revision Exercise #1:

One of the easiest opportunities to add texture to verbs is to locate all of your copular (to be) verbs such as “is,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “been,” “being” and replace them with verbs that suggest a mood or character. While you’re at it, underline all of the verbs in your poem and interrogate them. What texture does the verb “cut” suggest as opposed to “tear?” What about “stumble” versus “trip?”

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Aiming the machine gun

How to Revise Poems #2: Focus on Line Integrity

 

This is a bit of a “word nerd” approach for how to revise poems. Most contemporary poetry is heavy on enjambment versus end-stopped lines. In other words, the thoughts may run over several lines. You can use enjambment as a musical device. You can also use it to create tension in syntax (order of the words). You can create interesting double meanings or even contradict your own statements using this strategy. Geoffrey Hill, a contemporary English poet, is a master of this. Consider the opening lines of his poem “September Song:”

Undesirable you may have been, untouchable

you were not. Not forgotten

or passed over at the proper time.

“Untouchable” in the first line serves as a hinge. it punctuates the end of the line and serves as a link to suggest two thoughts independent of each other Much like a “kireji” in Japanese haiku. When taken as two separate lines, “untouchable” serves as a texture for “undesirable” in the first line. The rest of the sentence contradicts that earlier thought and assures that the subject was not “untouchable.” The second line introduces dark humor to create tension when the integrity is read on its own. Hill uses the rhetorical trope litotes, an emphasis of deliberate understatement, to suggest that the subject wasn’t remembered. It contradicts the reality that there is a memorial to the person. It also asks us to question the personhood of the subject considering her treatment. What made up her personality wasn’t remembered. It has passed with time (and through the mass murder of those she loved by Nazis).

 

Simply put: have each of your lines make sense on its own if you want to add a level of tension or conflict. If your poem’s subject lacks tension, have a line’s individual integrity contradict the full (syntactical) meaning of the sentence. Read more examples in the selected poems of Geoffrey Hill, Lorine Niedecker, and the haiku masters Basho and Issa.

 

Revision Exercise #2:

Read your poem backwards from the last line up to the first line. Does each line make some level of sense? Do they contain an interesting piece of a thought or image? Can you find any interesting double meanings or is there any tension? Add just five interesting double meanings and a moment of tension to the syntax.

 

How to Revise Poems #3: Imitate a Proven Structure

 

There are only about (insert arbitrary number here) types of poems. Your poem fits within a tradition. It might be by form: epistolary (letter), bar narrative, dramatic monologue, epic, etc. It might be by technique: surrealist tradition, language school, imagist, etc. It might be connected by subject: confessional, cultural identity, love, pastoral, etc. Determine your tradition and find poems within that tradition that you like. You can do this by googling “poems about __________,” then visiting the results or going to http://poetryfoundation.com and using their “Poems & Poets” search tool. Now examine the strategies that your favorite poem within that tradition uses. Where is it set? Who is the speaker? How does the poem begin and end? Does it use questions? Structure your own poem around the techniques used, but make it wholly your own. Update the location to a specific place that you know. Have your own character be the speaker. Begin and end the poem in ways opposite than your beloved poem. If it uses questions, ask your own or perhaps answer the questions as statements in your poem.

 

Revision Exercise #3:

The easiest way to imitate a poem is to simply substitute its major parts of speech to learn the structure. Simply substituting its parts can give you a better sense of how the poet chose the moods. Pay specific attention to how the transitions are made. Listen to Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese,” then fill out your own version in this Poetry Madlib. Note what the structure gives to the poem. Finally, without using the exact words, use only the location of the transitions in your own poem. Pay attention to lines 4, 8, 13, and 16.

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Whoever you are, no matter how lonely

How to Revise Poems #4: Converse with a Sacred Text

 

Dana Gioia asked in a 1991 essay, “Can Poetry Matter?” He suggested that American poetry was a subculture and had become inessential. Sometimes you don’t understand what your poem is lacking, but you wonder if it matters. If it does matter, then who does it matter to? One way to combat this is by connecting to the “universal.” That doesn’t mean throw in loads of abstractions or large philosophical statements. It means approach what many people connect to. Go read a sacred text. Become familiar with a large, human question that you can relate to. Find a lesson that illustrates it within a sacred text.  it doesn’t matter if it’s from one of the Holy Bibles, the Torah, Book of the Dead, Qur’an, Popol Vuh, Dianetics, Tao Te Ching, or anything. Pick a text you’re unfamiliar with. Find a parable or aphorism that relates to the subject of your poem and insert texts using assemblage as a part of the technique. Revise your poem so it makes sense for this second voice to enter into the poem. How can the sacred text best fit your poetic context?

 

Revision Exercise #4:

Flip through the Old Testament and find the Book of Proverbs. Select a statement, such as from Chapter 1:7, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and make it the title of your poem whether it makes sense or not. Now find only a part of another verse on a similar subject, such as from Chapter 3:20, “By his knowledge the depths are broken up” and begin the second stanza of your poem with it. If you didn’t have a second stanza, you have one now. Now create a linking tissue between the verse fragment and the rest of your poem. Add as many additional verse fragments as you like.

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Consult the Book of Armaments!

How to Revise Poems #5: Break your Intentions

 

Word removal, a search for form, analysis of rhythm, and maximizing concrete detail are logical things we do when considering how to revise poems. Sometimes the logical thing, deducing “what’s wrong,” isn’t the best solution. Sometimes you can best improve your work by approaching it from the side and disrupting your own intentions. The construction of a poem may get in the way of the poem. Try a technique from the Workshop of Potential Literature (OULIPO), N+7, lipograms, and perverbs are often used. Consider adopting an Oblique Strategy, “humanize something free of error” is one of my favorites. You can even visit the Lateral Revision Web App for a poetry-focused version of these strategies. Find one of these techniques or forms and use it your own way.

 

Revision Exercise #5:

Visit the Lateral Revision Web App, click the info button, then read the “How to Use” section. Revise your poem using a line from the app.

 

*Note: This article on how to revise poems uses a few terms borrowed from rhetoric and linguistics (and concisely defined) only because I believe they may be useful as part of a poet’s lexicon when considering poetics. It’s not an attempt to be academic. Trust me. It started with the choice of copular verbs mostly because of its similarity to copulate. That it’s the proper term is only secondary.

Summer Submissions Update

Hi All,

I hope all is well in your worlds. I’ve been in communication with many writers individually, but thought that I’d write a public update. We’ve been making our way through spring/summer submissions. All of the submission manager flags should at the very least read “in progress.” We’ve sent out all of the first round rejections from summer submissions and all of the first and second round rejections from the spring submissions. Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to send out some acceptances. If you haven’t received a response, that could be a good sign. As of late, I’ve been personally responding to many submissions because I want writers to have an idea of why their manuscript might not have been chosen. I even make some craft comments or comments on the general direction of the manuscript if I think that I have something useful to offer. I do this because I’m sometimes on the other side of the submission wall, and I really appreciate it when an editor takes the time to offer that to me. It does mean that the responses will come a bit more slowly.

As for the chapbooks scheduled for 2015 release, we’re getting back on track. The end of September will see the publication of two new Etched Press titles: The Girl with the Green Violin by Kirby Wright and The Singing Is My Favorite Part by Susan Elliott Brown. Both are coming along nicely. October will see the publication of two more collections: Watching the Detectives by Erren Kelly and This Frayed Universe by Sarah Grodzinski. In November, Josef Krebs’ Apart from Concrete Existence and Michelle Villanueva’s Postscript: Lions will be published. One Lover, Four Sinners, and Three Time Travelers by Ana Prundaru will be published in December, possibly along with a yet to be determined chapbook that I have in mind. This is an update on the previous update as a few titles shifted in order.

A special thank you to everyone who submitted to the Etched Press Poetry Series contest. There are some terrific manuscripts that came in. The winner of the contest will be announced in the holiday season and made public on New Year’s Day. The winner will receive publication in 2016 and a $100 prize. Speaking of 2016, here’s a tease: there will *hopefully* be a small collection of translations from Spanish-language poems/poets published next year in a few bilingual chapbooks.

Thank you for your patience and support. I especially thank anyone who has ordered chapbooks from Etched Press. We’ve been behind on getting orders out, but rest assured, your order will soon be/is already on its way.

Stay Golden,

 

Kevin Dublin

Etched Press Editor

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Now Offering Chapbook Bundles

One of my favorite things to do is collect chapbooks. They’re short, elegant chapbook-bundles(and occasionally inelegant) collections of poems that I can read in one sitting. I get them at festivals, directly from poets, and online from small presses. I even publish them. One of my favorite ways to acquire chapbooks is through chapbook bundles. I thought it was about time that Etched Press joined a group of small/micro presses that also offer them. Our catalog might not be as extensive, but it is ever-growing.

 

Introducing Chapbook Bundles

Etched Press now offers a collection of four different chapbooks at one discounted price as chapbook bundles. The selected chapbooks will be shipped in one package. You can access the chapbook bundles in the Shop section of the website just like any other item.

Which titles are available in Chapbook Bundles?

 

Check back every season as more titles will be available soon.

 

 

New Titles in 2015

UPDATED

Six new titles coming soon:

Catherine Kyle (Flotsam) – Released February 2015
Kirby Wright (The Girl with the Green Violin) – September 2015
Erren Kelly (Watching the Detectives) – September 2015
Josef Krebs (Apart from Concrete Existence) – September 2015
Sarah Grodzinski (This Frayed Universe) – October 2015
Susan Elliot Brown (The Singing Is My Favorite Part) – October 2015
Michelle Villanueva (Postscript: Lions) – October 2015

Etched Press seeks two (2) more titles to publish in 2015. Please visit our submissions page for details on how to submit your chapbook manuscript!