Friday, September 16, 2011

Revising a Poem

Revision has been on my mind a lot lately. So has poetry. I'm teaching a course at Mount Mary College on writing poetry for children and young adults, and I'm also the guest speaker for the current Institute of Children's Literature Guest Speaker Workshop, "Poetry from the Poet's Side." I went to bed last night not knowing how I would address the topic for today's post. This morning, I decided to put some of my advice into a draft of a poem about the process of revising a poem.

*     *     *

Revising a Poem

First, the big picture:
Does it fit in a snapshot
or require a three-hour movie?

Are the images clear?
Do they support the poem
like a tripod holds up a camera?

Look at language.
Does it whir where it should snap?

Alliteration sometimes strengthens
but sounds silly in an endless stream.

Onomatopoeia? Click! Does its job.

Does the rhythm match the tone?

Make sure your rhyme
rhymes every time.

Do not repeat repeat repeat unnecessary words.

Try not to say
in a roundabout way
what one word or two
could do.

Use a line break for a

Does the poem show
what you want it to show?
Is it fully developed?
Does it show how you care?
Ask a reader you trust.

Then share.

*     *     *

I will consider my own advice as I revise this. I hope it helps you, too!

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at The Poem Farm. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken


  1. Thanks for sharing this draft, JA. I especially like:
    >>Try not to say
    in a roundabout way
    what one word or two
    could do.<<
    That's my goal in novel-writing as well as in poetry-writing. Happy Poetry Friday!

  2. "Listen.
    Does the rhythm match the tone?"

    This is my particular challenge, JoAnn. I haven't mastered the tone and rhythm part.

    Very nice poem. Good luck with your talk!

  3. Thanks, Marti!

    Joyce, I'm glad I'm not alone! The Institute of Children's Literature Guest Speaker Workshop is all online--feel free to join in!

  4. This is a lot of fun while it teaches! And it makes me think about all of the different types of revision I go through. What a great poem for writers young and old. All best with all of your teaching! A.

  5. What fun, to put it all together so crisply. I wish it were that easy, don't you? I too like "Try not to say/in a roundabout way/what one word or two/could do."

  6. I agree with 'teacherdance's comments above about you being able to put everything so crisply. Lovely suggestions - sounds easy but extremely difficult to do.

    Have fun with your teaching and your lecture. Would have loved to attend that one.

    Here are my favorite lines:
    'Look at language.
    Does it whir where it should snap?'

    The electric whirring and the vibrating snaps of poetry. So beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. Thanks, Amy! I tried to think about the different stages of revision from big picture through final details.

    Teacherdance, yes, I sometimes wish it were easier, too--but then I also enjoy a good challenge!

    Myra from GatheringBooks, the ICL workshop is online at I believe the conversation will be archived. I'm glad you enjoyed the poem!

  8. JoAnn, This is SO clever. I swear, this should be on a poster in classrooms and poetry studios everywhere! I love the photography analogy and all the examples woven in. Smart!

  9. Fabulous poem, Joann--chock full of tips that are hard to remember. Merci beaucoup!

  10. Laura, & April, thanks for your comments--I've been out of town & just found them. I hope to get back to this draft & revise it some more!

  11. My favorite part is about the line break. Great stuff!


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