This week, I spent a bit of time curating my poems. A few needed minor edits but one in particular needed more work. I thought it might be interesting to share that with you.
I originally wrote I want to write you songs in December 2018.
When I re-read my poems, I generally remember writing them. The ones I most enjoy crystallise a specific moment in time– not just the memory, but the feeling. That feeling might not be related to the subject of the poem. In fact, it’s usually kind of mundane.
It’s like being able to see myself as a stranger. That’s my favourite thing about writing.
When I originally posted the poem, I felt that it had potential.
I wasn’t totally happy with it but, at the time, I didn’t know how to make it work better.
I didn’t think it was bad, but it didn’t hit all the right beats.
It wasn’t unfinished, but I knew it would benefit from more work.
So here are the two versions of the poem side-by-side (you can also find the new version here).
The red text was removed in the re-edit, the blue text was moved or reworded, and the green text was added.
What did I learn?
1. The first version of the poem suffered from too many ideas.
- There were phrases and images that I enjoyed, but I couldn’t make them fit well in this poem. That’s not to say they wouldn’t work in another poem. Equally, they just might not work in which case I can let them go.
- It is possible to explain a thing too much. Being able to extend a metaphor doesn’t mean that you should. Sometimes stating an idea is enough.
- On the plus side, I won’t complain about having too many ideas.
2. Structure is important.
- The original poem is less easy to follow. I move between different metaphors and subjects. I like it when a poem feels like a good conversation. Moving things around in the re-edit helped the logical progression of ideas.
3. Words are hard.
- I like to play with technical language. I find wordplay and double-entendre satisfying. However, in the first version, too much of this can compromise the intent I’m trying to express.
- Simple words can do the job.
- This poem might be written to be read aloud. I’d like to become better at distinguishing spoken word from written word. I’d like to better understand how to exist in that overlap.
Speaking of the spoken word
I record myself reading my poems. Here are the two poems for comparison:
I think the recent version is an improvement. I’d like to say something more insightful but I think it might be a little too close to home.
It still isn’t finished.
I just don’t think the poem is quite there yet, you know?
It’s worth saying that this poem might not ever be done. I don’t think all poems need to feel finished. Some poems, including this one, are a stimulus for other poems.
I think my favourite poems are my most authentic. I guess this poem isn’t true– I don’t really want to write you songs. This poem was more of a writing exercise; me playing with language.
The truth in this poem is that I feel frustrated when lack the capacity to express how I feel with words. Especially feelings that are worth sharing with other people; especially love.
The truth in this poem is accepting that it isn’t always possible to capture my feelings in words.
I have other poems that do a better job of expressing that truth. It might be okay to leave I want to write you songs here.
What do you think?
What changes would you have made? What approaches do you use to edit your work?