Finally Editing Poetry

I am not good at editing poetry.  Give me an essay and I’ll rip out my pen and scrawl across the page, cut words, shift sentences.  Give me a story and I’ll look at characterization and theme, analyze symbols.

Give me poetry and I run into a wall.  I have no idea what I’m doing.

feel my way through poetry, touch on the words, rub them into an emotion, let them become a living entity that exists only in dashes and curves and curled and serifs because I love the classic look of Times New Roman.

But looking at my poetry and figuring out what’s wrong, what needs to be changed?

It’s not because I am an arrogant writer who thinks that my writing is perfect the first time around, that a rough draft is merely an unread final draft.  I know that any work of writing can be improved and a good editor is worth his/her weight in gold.

A couple of days ago, I gave my “Honeycomb Girl” poem to a colleague, asked for her opinion.  I had printed a copy for myself and hacked at it but reserved making changes until I received my colleague’s edits.  Today, she returned it, no writing upon it, and complimented me on my writing, on the beauty of my imagery and how I teased out a theme.

I loved her impressions, but I knew that more could be done.  That the poem wasn’t perfect as it stood.  I knew something more needed to be done.

I asked her what she thought it meant and she replied, “Maturation.”

Well, that’s not quite it.

Honeycomb Girl is about mistakes and learning to accept one’s mistakes.  And when I had edited the poem, I knew that the metaphor wasn’t clear.

So after my colleague asked me to sign the poem (which really meant a lot to me), I went back to my classroom and stared at my edits, stared at the original poem, and stared at my computer screen.

I knew I needed to do something.

I started writing.

Stopped.

Deleted.

Tried again.

Stopped.

At one point, I got out of my desk and walked the floor, talking to myself, sketching out what I wanted the theme to be and what the problems were within the poem.

An obscure metaphor.

A speaker who is saying something different from what the original message was.

And I realized that I had not one but two poems within the one.

Back to the computer, back to the document, back to writing…

Back to editing.

I worked through the lines, wrote in new ideas, tossed in new images and metaphors, and saw a new speaker, a new voice in the poem which became the new poem.

“The Beekeeper.”

I want to write a book of poetry, a small chapbook, a small collection.  I thought about it last year when I was getting ready to hike the AT and now, I finally see my way through some of the poems.

I am working on a sestina, have the first stanza partially done.  And then I walked away from it because formula was dictating creativity and I believed that my creativity couldn’t by shoved into a cookie cutter.  I haven’t given up on my sestina.  This is a challenge I want to conquer.  But I know that I’m not there yet.

But coming behind myself and analyzing my own poetry, seeing where I could edit out words that didn’t contribute to my poem’s meaning, knowing what the meaning is supposed to be and trying to capture it a little more clearly without feeling like I am sacrificing the art….

That was liberating.

I still have “The Honeycomb Girl,” but the companion piece to it is, at this point, “The Beekeeper.”  And the first poem in the collection is one I wrote on the AT titled “What my Mother Told Me.”  That has been one of the most difficult poems I have ever written, even  more difficult than the sestina which is currently incomplete.  Because it is a raw and honest poem that deals with….

Maybe this is why the poem is still in a handwritten manuscript in a journal on my shelf.  I will conquer that poem later.

Editing poetry is not such a mystical event.  I know that I have more to learn.  My friend, Gail, once edited some of my poetry and she talked about different elements that I didn’t know were part of the poetic world.

But I’m willing to learn.

I have asked for two books of reading, analyzing, and understanding poetry for my classroom.  Because, they are also good for teaching how to edit poetry.  And I have books here on editing and creative writing editing.  And I’m going to change from being an owner to being a reader.

For years, I hid away from my talent, convinced myself that I am not that great of a writer.  I am no James Joyce, no Cormac McCarthy, no Tim O’Brien.  But I have a name and I think it would look good on the cover of a book.

And I really don’t want to self-publish, not yet.  I have been rejected seven times and I’m willing and open to being rejected seven times seven more.  But, I really do hope that I will also earn the dreamt of acceptance letter.

I am not writing for the money…although that would be nice.  It would be wonderful to be able to give my son a head start on his education other than the community college route that he is planning on pursuing when he is sixteen.  It would be nice to add to the emergency account.

It would be nice.

But, for now, I am editing my poetry.  I have been reading articles about poets and how they edit.  And I will be emailing the creative writing department chair for information about the MFA program that I want to pursue.

I am going to learn.  One way or another.

And then, I am going to start sending out my babies.  And I will accept the rejection letters that will invariably arrive. Because I know they will.

But I really do think that someone, somewhere is going to say, “Yes.”

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