Thursday, August 09, 2007

As most of you know I have been working with Carolyn for 4 years and two weeks ago I was able to take a class with her at the University of Minnesota. It was amazing. She is amazing. I am posting below some of her tips for revision b/c I know so many people who are working on books right now and reading this blog, or slightly skimming it and seeing if I will ever say anything interesting;) and then going back to writing their wonderful manuscripts.

Key points: please remember that syntax is god and there’s no right way to do anything. Also submit to judges you respect and presses you adore…..

Revision suggestions: ( all credit below goes to Carolyn Forche who you should buy a glass of wine if you ever meet her in person b/c she is a wonderful teacher and brilliant being)

1. Read each line of the poem separately, to be sure that it is interesting by itself. Cut words from the end of the line or add words from the beginning of the next line if you think it would improve the inherent meaning of the line.

2. Look at each word in the poem, and see if you can substitute a more interesting, specific word. Tree might become sycamore. River might become the Shenandoah. Bird might become gull, cardinal, finch, vulture.

3. Eliminate unnecessary commentary and description. If you have the word “snow,” then you already imply (and can eliminate sometimes) “winter,” “cold,” “icy” etc.

4. Be careful not to eliminate important articles (a, the, an) or conjunctions (and, but).Or you your poem will read like a newspaper headline.

5. Check to see if the opening lines and closing lines are necessary. Sometimes the true poem begins most interestingly with the third line, and ends with the third from the last.

6. Check to see if all the stanzas or strophes are necessary. Sometimes you can cut the whole stanza, and strengthen the poem.

7. If the poem is in stanzas, sections, or parts, cut them into individual pieces and play with their arrangement. Sometimes the poem is better if arranged a different way (while keeping all the sections). Sometimes this is how you discover whether any can be cut.

8. Subject all adverbs to intense scrutiny (as to whether they are necessary) “ran quickly” might be better expressed as “hurried.”

9. Subject all adjectives to strong scrutiny (as to whether they are necessary) “white snow” is redundant. “Snow” would suffice all by itself. (“Black wind” , however, is interesting, because unusual, unexpected...)

10. Read the poem aloud several times, and mark with a highlighter pen those places which were more difficult to read (tongue-twisters). Examine them and see if you can improve them.

11. If you are not certain whether your poem is in proper syntax and is grammatical, type the poem out as prose and check the sentences for completion and proper usage, then re-line.

12. Check to see that the sentences within the poem (which might go on for several lines), are, in fact, complete sentences (or have a good reason why not).

13. Try writing the poem in a different “person”— switch from “he” to “I” or vice versa.

14. Check the verb tenses to see whether they are consistent and/or correct.

15. See if compound verbs can become simple verbs (for compression) “I would run” might be able to become “I ran”, etc.

16. Check for spelling errors.

17. Check for consistency in spacing between lines.

18. Check to see whether the poem is well placed on the page.

19. In sending poems out to be published, always send clean, correct versions.

20. Break any of the above rules except #19 if you think it is necessary to the poem.


tom said...

good tips

i remember briefly meeting Carolyn at the Split Rock program in Duluth in 1990 or 91. I was taking a class with Linda Hogan on nature writing (if i don't have my summers mixed up)

early hours of sky said...

Yes, she was there and a few people in my class went that year also.

Wendy Wisner said...

Well, that's a very comprehensive list! I wish I'd had that when I first started writing.

early hours of sky said...

Hi Wendy, I miss you and hope you are well.