Revising your poetry will help you ensure that there are no mistakes in the poem and that the work is something you can really feel proud of when you read it again at a later date.
Revising your poetry will also help you improve your craft, as you will develop a keen eye for clichés, superfluous text, and other common mistakes. Your poetry will dramatically improve in quality and you will produce concise work that is more likely to connect with the reader.
What are the primary goals of revising a poem?
Artistic revision is about taking a look at your work with “new eyes”. It will help you determine if your work stands up to close scrutiny from a person viewing it for the first time.
However, the poetry revision process isn’t just about ensuring the work meets various technical standards. It will also help you improve the poem, making it a more powerful, concise, and interesting work for the reader to enjoy.
Revising your poetry
Take a break
Ideally, you shouldn’t poetry immediately after writing it. Spending some time away from your poem will help you view it with fresh eyes. Ideally, you should let the poem sit for a day or two before coming back to it. In the mean time, you can make a start on other poems or read other poets for inspiration.
Start by reading the poem again
Begin by reading the poem once or twice at a slow speed. You will probably notice a few errors, don’t worry about those just yet. This initial reading is for checking the quality of your first draft and how the poem makes you feel. Does the poem trigger any emotions in you as you read it? Are those emotions what you wanted the poem to convey when you first wrote it? Treat these readings as a refresher on the poem and the revisions that you need to make.
Fix any obvious errors
Next, do a quick scan through your poem and fix any small errors including spelling mistakes, missing words, and grammatical problems. If you used abbreviations when you wrote the poem, write out the full word.
Look for superfluous text
Read the poem again line-by-line. Look for sections of text that don’t contribute much to the overall meaning or impact of the poem. You might have entire stanzas which no longer read well or add anything of value to your work. By removing these unnecessary sections, you will have a poem that is clearer and more concise. Look for unnecessary adverbs, prepositions, and adjectives. Additionally, look for any lines that were added to “explain” the poem to the reader — they might not be needed.
Look for better words
Good poetry always uses the most appropriate words for the emotion or idea that is being conveyed. Look for any words in the poem that don’t quite match your intention and replace them with better words. If you are writing a poem about anger, don’t use the word “cranky” when “furious” is more appropriate. Use a thesaurus to find words that succinctly convey the true meaning of your poem.
Avoid using words adverbs like “very” in your work. Robin Williams summed it up well in the movie Dead Poet’s Society —
Avoid using the word “very”, because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavour, laziness will not do.
Remove any clichés
Nothing will compel a reader to put down your poem faster than a cliché! When it comes to poetry, there are many forms of cliches to watch out for, including:
- Often-repeated idioms
Idioms like over the moon, gazing into my eyes, and a heart full of sorrow have found their way into thousands of poems over the years. Always use idioms with care in your poetry.
- Clichéd rhyming
Avoid using ABAB rhyming schemes that is often used in children’s poems. Learn more about rhyming schemes.
- Clichéd scenarios
Avoid clichéd scenarios in your poem. Avoid talking about Autumn leaves, long walks on the beach, or holding the hand of a dying loved one. These scenarios have been used so many times that they have become clichés which most readers will not enjoy.
- One word titles
Even the title of a poem can be a cliché! Avoid using one-word titles like “Anger”, “Death” (that often go on to talk about anger or death) are quite boring. Think of a title that is more interesting and nuanced.
Check the form of the poem
Now that you have made the poem more concise and effective at conveying meaning, check it’s form. Poetic form refers to the physical structure of the poem (how it looks and sounds). This includes elements like line lengths, number of syllables per lines, rhyme scheme, and rhythm.
Look for long lines that need to be split into two lines or words that don’t quite work in the context of the poem’s form. Count the syllables on each line and write them next to the line to see how well it will flow during a reading. Look for words that need to be swapped out to improve the rhythm of your poem.
Read through again
Once you have made these revisions to your poem, read it through again out loud. Do you feel it carries more emotional impact now? Did you notice any other problems with the poem during the read through?
If you are relatively happy with the current state of the poem, consider sharing it with people you are close to like your friends or family. Ask them for feedback and consider making additional changes based upon that feedback.
Poems can be revised dozens of times. You may find that you need to revise a poem four or 5 times before you are completely happy with it. Take your time and you will end up with a poem that you can be proud of.
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