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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cut It Out!

Here's a brief report about what happened when I used the scissors revision technique that I mentioned on Saturday.

I had a poem that has been published in an online journal, but after looking over it for inclusion in my new book-length manuscript, I felt it was weak. There were two (well, 1 1/2 really) consecutive lines I never did like very well, but that I had kept because the form of the poem was couplets, and I needed these lines to fill out a stanza, to keep the form regular. Another problem was that I had overused one of the images by citing it several times throughout the poem (as I have a tendency towards repetition).

I had been reluctant to change the form because the poem relied heavily on the imagery of the moon and the tides, and I thought the regularity (or rather predicability) of tides and moon cycles were well represented by the regularity of the stanzas. This inflexibility on my part kept me from fixing the problems in the poem.

So I took my scissors to the poem. Because I am fond of enjambment, I couldn't actually just cut lines, but had to cut sentences or phrases, which went through lines on many occasions. I realized immediately that I could just cast off those 1 1/2 unwanted lines since form had been abandoned--freedom! As I arranged the snipped lines across a page, I ended up (by default rather than design) with staggered lines in a suggestion of back and forth movement but without regularity of lenth or indentation. Looking at the arrangement, I saw waves of various sizes coming in to the beach and receding, and I saw the moon waxing and waning, and suddenly this new shape of the poem better represented the subject than the previous rigid form ever had.

Additionally, by phsycially maneuvering the lines around on the page,  I was able to better space the repeated images throughout the poem so that they were evocative of earlier parts of the poem, rather than heavy-handed. I also found that there was a line that I wanted to put in two different places, so I scrawled an extra copy of it on a strip of paper and then did in fact put it in both places. By having that new repetition, I was able to echo the other repetition (a kind of call and response), and better balance the repeated imagery I'd been worried about. What I mean is, that MORE repetition instead of LESS was the cure to the over-repetition I had worried about. Now the original repetition was balanced by a new one, and it now served another function with respect to the new one, with a playful interaction between the two.

So this exercise was really useful to me. It took a physical act (cutting) to free me from my mental rigidity. Scissors for success--a technique I'll remember and use again.


drew said...

That's a great idea -- and a wonderful lesson of "letting go" and getting better. Thanks for sharing.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

You're welcome, Drew. I'm glad that another poet told me about this process long ago so that when I read about it recently, it seemed to have real possibility for me. I've used it on another poem since this post too!