Thursday, July 8, 2010

or suffer sucky poems


In the interest of partial disclosure, I have decided to give you a taste of my revision process. Call it a mini-workshop performed upon myself--an annoying necessity since graduating from a writing program and, to be honest, one not nearly stringent enough to produce the sort of quality I am aiming for. Nonetheless, here is an example. I will be using the poem from my last post, so if you have yet to read it, do so now. (Unless, of course, there are rats' asses elsewhere more worthy of your attention, then by all means . . . and don't let the browser hit you on your way out.) I will wait here . . .


still waiting so you might as well go read the silly thing . . .


OK, so you've either read it now or had read it before or, most likely, I'm sure, you have exercised your right to simply read on because you are not to be bullied by a sniveling poet who is obviously just cross-referencing his blogs to increase exposure. Whatevs or whichevs . . . here we go.


First in its entirety:


At the Mirror Each Time


Thia Grace made out like a bandit

Selling quarter lemonade to uncles

With only paper bills. Jesse lit three-

Foot rods from the sputtering

Citronella candle and twirled

In a spangle of sparks. We all swatted

Gnats and suffered the bough-sieved

Rain to watch the amateur display

Of rockets and mortars.


But earlier, before the burgers

And gumbo, while kids splatted

Water-balloons and pranced in the blow-

Up princess pool, Annalyn and I—

My newest niece, her wretched uncle—

Trolled the house on doldrums.

And at the mirror each time, we paused

To gurgle and grin—our reflections

So grotesque and magnificent.


And this thought . . .

What should I tell her now? Now that Earth

Is as good as flat? Now in the moments

Before she naps? Maybe—

We have done a great thing,

You and I, tight-roping the gamut,

You poised, me palled, we gnarled

In this two-hearted body.

Or just nothing. Just sway, whistle

Through teeth a tinny lullaby.

Swallow the words and hum.

Guard against explosions.

Gurgle and grin.


***


Now with commentary:



At the Mirror Each Time


[here you'll notice I omitted the word "and" from the title. for some reason, I like the conjunction without precedent--the propulsion and amidst-ness of it, but here it just did nothing for the poem.]


Thia Grace made out like a bandit

Selling quarter lemonade to uncles

With only paper bills. Jesse lit three-

Foot rods from the sputtering

Citronella candle and twirled

In a spangle of sparks. We all swatted

Gnats and suffered the bough-sieved

Rain to watch the amateur display

Of rockets and mortars.


[ when I decided to divvy the stanzas to be more consistent with narrative structure, it became necessary to jettison some phrases. The last one in this first stanza, you'll notice, is gone. It was an actual occurrence--the mosquito discussion--and therefore not entirely worthless; but it was the heaviest/ prosiest part of the stanza, so it was a likely candidate. I am happy with the result. I should note here that it is always difficult to get rid of lines--it's like a slap in the face to an earlier self that thought it was lovely in the first place. But you get over it or suffer sucky poems--and sucky poems suck so that's no good. Get over it, then.]


But earlier, before the burgers

And gumbo, while kids splatted

Water-balloons and pranced in the blow-

Up princess pool, Annalyn and I—

My newest niece, her wretched uncle—

Trolled the house on doldrums.

And at the mirror each time, we paused

To gurgle and grin—our reflections

So grotesque and magnificent.


[ here, again, I have lopped off the last line. So it seems I have a tendency to be extraneous towards the end of thoughts and phrases. It's like I just have shove those two or three more words in to prove my vocabulary is such to suggest that I could go on and on if need be only let this much be a lesson to ye. It's a bad habit--one that I am especially addicted to in my prose fiction. Never fear, I am exorcising the demon now as I mention it--it doesn't stand a chance in the open air! So the last two adjectives were less tuneful than the first two, therefore they had to go.]


[this stanza break was added to signal a change in voice and style. The poem is about to leave the concrete world where the images are of real stuff and of actual events and enter an abstract realm of rhetoric and wonderment. It calls for its own space in this poem. Which is not to say that every such shift requires its own stanza because often the effect is more effective as physically juxtaposed to the original tone. In this case, though, the speaker (only coincidentally me and of little significance at that) , on one of his pauses at the mirror, has a vision of his connection to the child that differs from his sensational experiences up to that point. It is a shift into sentiment and reverie that I have chosen to distinguish in an obvious fashion--not as an insult to the intelligence of the audience but as device to render the poem more simple and sensible. I am not one for incomprehensibility in my poetry--I am far less modern than that!]



And this thought . . .

What should I tell her now? Now that Earth

Is as good as flat? Now in the moments

Before she naps? Maybe—

We have done a great thing,

You and I, tight-roping the gamut,

You poised, me palled, we gnarled

In this two-hearted body.

Or just nothing. Just sway, whistle

Through teeth a tinny lullaby.

Swallow the words and hum.

Guard against explosions.

Gurgle and grin.


[This last stanza has been tightened. Most of the "nothing"s and all of the "except"s have been removed. The "nothing"s for their repetitiveness, the "except"s for their plain old ugliness as words. I believe the result is much better--lighter on the eyes, easier on the ears.]


Well, now, there you go. A transformation made known. A poem made less sucky. A poet made less mysterious. And if you made this far, you are either a gracious reader, a writer at least moderately interested in craft and process, or a skipper-to-the-end-to-see-where-he's-going-with-this-er-er.


Whatevs or whichevs. Thanks for stopping by. Ignore the hysterical crows on your way out. They love to see me all confessional and erroneous.



2 comments:

  1. Hey, just wanted you to know that the before/after, sucky/non-sucky, fat/thin version of the poem, along with commentary, was very very cool. Next time we lift a bud heavy together I shall pepper you with questions. JB

    ReplyDelete