Monday, February 20, 2017

Example of Poetry: How to incorporate workshop feedback

The past few weeks I’ve talked a lot about workshops and the value of peer review in revising a draft of writing. This week I want to show you how I take advice from peer reviewers and edit a poem I wrote for a class.

I wrote a draft of a poem for the imagery unit of the course, following the prompt to make a title using the form “The (Image) of (Abstration)”. Drawing from a place I loved as a kid, I called my poem “The Park of Imagination” and wrote about this play park I frequently went to when I was 6/7 years old or so.

For the sake of brevity, I’m just going to go over the first two stanzas:

For the Original Poem-
Flat swatches of brown and green  
Kicking up the dust and grime 
Of a time, once, when you held hands 
Spinning through the old haunt 
But time has not been kind to your old spot. 

The termites gnawed through the heartstrings, 
The sweat slid between you 
A barrier to repel the connection 
And spin you apart in different directions 
As you build momentum and grasp tighter.

I had not thought very deeply about the subject of this poem – but my peer reviewers did.

Unfortunately, I failed to copy direct comments form those reviews and I can’t share those here (went to look for them online and the segment of the course is closed because the course ended, oops).

But- some major notes that shifted my thinking about the poem:

  • Many fluff words and conjuctions that aren’t needed in this poem.
  • The use of “you” is strange. Maybe try using “us” instead.
  • The first line of stanza 2, about the termintes and heartstrings, was really powerful.

At first, I just decided to try the suggested changes and see how I felt. I removed the conjunctions and reread the poem.

It was tighter and made the emotions pop out more vividly.

Then I decided to change every “you” to “us” and read it again.

Holy wow!

Suddenly the poem was not about a place or a distant memory of when I was 6.

Suddenly the poem was very obviously (to me) about an old friend who I had lost touch with. These two memories didn’t even take place at the same time in my life.

The park was from age 6. The person I met when I was 12.

But the images of gnawed on heartstrings, the dynamic of pulling apart and falling into disrepair, was clearly about an old friendship.

Without the input of an impartial reader outside my own head, I may have never made that connection. I think the resulting poem was a lot more personal and important to me.

Was it better?

I think so, but I really think that can be up to you.

Here’s the first two stanzas again. Also, I changed the title to “Tornado Memories”:

Dust swirls above flat browns and greens
Kicked up memories in dust and grime
Of a time, once, when we held hands.
Spinning wildly in forest decay
Leaving snail tracks in our wake.
Time is not kind to wistful minds.

The termites gnawed through heartstrings.
The sweat slid between us 
Two like magnets repulsed by connection 
Spinning us apart in different directions
You, swept in the dancing arms of love. 
Me, windswept, clawing to grasp tighter.

I really like the second version!

Basically, I wanted to use this post to show how, even innocuous comments like suggesting a change of pronouns can impact how you, as the writer, see the poem.

Such a small suggestion, but a big change!

Now you don’t have to take all the advice you are given.

But I like to try out some simple changes like this just to see if I like it.

You can always change it back, after all.

Any comments and suggestions? 

Want to share a poem and get feedback? That sounds fun! Wanna try it? Leave a bit of poetry in the comments and see what feedback you get.

Next week I’m going to do something similar with a fiction piece I had workshopped, so stay tuned if you prefer fiction/prose. I’m getting to that!

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