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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cleaning Up

In January I gave myself the project to look over all 20 of the poems in my manuscript that hadn't yet found homes in journals, and to decide if they needed revision, needed to be cut from the manuscript entirely, or just needed a different location in the manuscript. I gave myself 20 days, planning to do one per day, which is pretty much how it worked out, though one weekend day I did two, which was great because later there was a day I couldn't get anything done poetry-wise.

I expected this project to be quite painful, but in fact it wasn't so bad. There were a few poems that got major revisions, and two got new titles, but in general I just tightened up sloppy lines, lazy jumps in logic, uninspired line breaks, cases of over-explaining, and poor word choices. And even when the changes amounted to only a few words, I felt in all cases like the poems came more into focus and were sharper and stronger.

I ended up not cutting any poems. And in the case of a poem that I had meant to be a companion poem but had not ever gotten around to writing the companion piece, instead of cutting that poem I wrote the companion piece. And felt very good about it too. And I moved a few poems to new locations in the manuscript.

Then I decided to send out many of these new versions of my poems to journals. Some I decided didn't work out of context of the manuscript, which is telling a story after all, but the others I packaged up and sent out, and within a few days, four of those poems were accepted at three different literary magazines. These are poems I had been sending out without success for some months, but they also weren't those poems--they were the revised versions.

Such small revisions in many cases too. But it's all a testament to how much every word counts, how fine-tuning a poem can make it so much better. And in all cases I knew what the problem was with the poem as soon as I read it last month--had always known it wasn't really finished but hadn't wanted to know that in the past. I could feel my shoulders tense when I approached the lines that I knew had problems--it wasn't news to me; I just had wanted to be done with these poems too early, and now I was ready to admit my haste.

How great it is to put poems aside and to revise them later, after the emotional attachment has waned. Then you can be honest with yourself about the poem's weaknesses, and it doesn't hurt the way it does when that particular thing is the last thing you've written and your ego is tied up in its success.

It was a very useful project, so I wanted to share my experience.


Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

it is a very good reminder on the importance of spending more time with the poems and giving them full attention.

Looking forward for that manuscript to show up..

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thanks, utopianfragments. Full attention can be so hard to give; time really helps, doesn't it?

Terry Everett said...

Good news. I look forward all the more to finding poems of yours and to getting your next book in my hands.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thanks, Terry. Here's hoping I have some good luck on the long road to finding a publisher.