Eight to Ten Revisions

I will admit that when I’m writing these blog entries, I’m not careful.  I want to hammer the things out, get them out of my way because I have other writing to do.  I’m not a blogger, yet I blog.  Maybe I should classify myself more as a blooger (type-o of inspiration).  Whatever.  The point is that I’m writing these blog posts because I’ve spent years on poetry boards writing critiques, comments, and exercises.  This just seems to be more efficient, albeit static means to collect them together, or work on new first drafts.  At least I have a place where I can come and crib myself, even if these posts are redundant, badly punctuated, rambling messes.  I do occasionally return to clean them up.

2015-05-11 10.18.00This post is in response to my last comment about “poetry is not from the heart.”  A poem is a crafted idea, and when written is an object.  The initial ideas, the thoughts to be expressed might be “heart felt,” “soul shards,” but the act of organizing the thoughts and thinking about their expression creates an artifact we call “a poem.”  When you first capture your ideas down onto paper or the screen, this is called a first draft.  First thoughts are more like field notes than they are a finished product.  This blog entry I’m writing, is the same – more field notes than a professional article.  If I need to, I’ll come back and scrub its face, but that’s not my focus at the moment.  My focus is the act of revising a poem.

I used to write by candlelight because I enjoy the ambiance.  I like the soothing light of tallow or beeswax more than electric.  I write by fountain pen on paper with a specific “grab” to the ink.  The paper is acid free as well, so I keep my rough drafts available until I feel I’m finished.  One New Year’s Eve I burned a trunk full of the work I’d written prior to 2000 because, face it, it was dreck.  I didn’t want to get caught dead with that stuff.

The poem I’m revising was one I started during NaPoWriMo, National Poetry Writing Month.  Writing a poem a day gets to be draining.  I had no inspiration that day, so I went to some of my favorite bookmarks.  David Steinberg’s work is some of the most unusual imagery and has a compassion I love.  His visuals tell stories we don’t often hear and that is what I find inspirational.  He’s a fabulous writer as well as a kind man who took time speaking to me during SEAF this year.  I started this poem without realizing he was going to be there.  His work has inspired a number of my pieces.  The photo above are the very first words of this piece:

Love, Lust, and Sex after Sixty
Inspired by the photography of David Steinberg’s, “Erotic by Nature”, “This Thing We Call Sex: Juliet-Victor

After I got those first few words down, I moved to the computer.  I had to get a draft posted before evening because I had a thing I had to go to.  Sometimes, I find it easier to capture words on the screen than doing it by hand – but not always.  Especially not when I’m working with rhythm and trying to craft a strongly metrical piece.  LL&S has rhythmic qualities, but it isn’t regular, so I felt pretty good moving to the screen.

I also read my work aloud while revising, but not at this stage.  At this stage, I’m just trying to push imagery and word play.

2nd attempt:

The first returns on the Google search are either "fragile uterine walls,"
 or "erectile dysfunction" (which is, of course, shorted to "ED"
 but a woman gets the whole freakin' phrase spelled out for her).
 They never tell you that while your breasts will sag with age,
 your nipples can still grow hard as pearl, or that once you know
 how to take yourself to orgasm, you can come like a train through
 the city. His hands are soft against your belly now and his fingers
 pluck at that nipple with the same interest he had when he was twenty.
 
And you, you love to feel the pump of his blood through his cock,
 especially now after there was that stillness in his forties, and the fright
 he'd never rise to purple again. But his appetite changed and he grew -
 hungry. Now time has passed and you can once again stroke him
 past blush into plum and you're unafraid to use your mouth, or your feet,
 and he is free enough now to use a cock-ring instead of worry. You jack him
 hard, you both end up laughing, glad that you're not twenty any longer.

As you can see from the above, I was trying to figure out how to introduce the topic of aging and sex.  I’d moved from “You only hear of ‘fragile uterine walls,’ or ‘erectile dysfunction.’  For men, they’re at..” to the reference of Google.  Those first few words were nearly completely overwritten by my first foray into typing.  Then while typing I could push the imagery.  I’m also working on line breaks all the time.  I use line breaks sometimes to create an element of suspense within a poem.  I want the last word on the line to be a “strong” word, like a verb or a noun, but also a word which leaves the reader with an image which will give them an expectation that “they know” what the next word on the new line should be.  And while they might be correct about the next word on the new line because those are often conjunctions or prepositions (“weak” / unstressed syllables), I like to pop an unexpected image on that new line – one which they did not expect.  So, yes, part of a successful line break in poetry is playing the untrustworthy narrator.  It’s a bit of bait and switch, but hopefully in a logical, or beautiful way.

I hated that opening, but I was running out of time and so I had to post on the NaPo site to make my daily goal.

First posted Rough Draft

The first returns on a Google search are either  "fragile uterine walls,"
 or "erectile dysfunction" (which is, of course, shorted to "ED" but you,
 as a woman will get the whole freakin' phrase bestowed like a torch
 on a mound of tinder). They never mention, though, that while
 your breasts will sag with age, your nipples can still grow hard as pearls,
 or that once you know the path to your orgasm, you can come like a train
 through the empty plains of the Dakotas.  His hands are soft now against

 your belly now and his fingers pluck at that nipple with the same interest
 he had when he was twenty.  And you, you love to feel the pump of his blood
 through his cock, especially after that stillness in his forties, and the fear
 he'd never rise to purple again.  But his appetite changed - once again -
 and he grew hungry.  Now time has passed and you stroke him past blush
 into plum and you're unafraid to use your mouth, or your feet, and he is free
 now to use a cock-ring instead of worry.  You jack him hard, you both end up
 laughing, glad that you've bested twenty in the forty years you've been together.

Needless to say the feedback was light.  That opening is atrocious, but I do like the nipples / pearls bit and capturing the use of the feet in the sex.  I love the word, “jack,” and the basic idea has a stronger middle and end than opening.  I was also gratified that Steinberg’s photograph captured the use of the cock ring on a rampantly sexual old man.  That has to be addressed and when the idea of moving from worrying about keeping an erection to the freedom to use a cockring hit, I was happy with that image.  Reading the draft aloud, I liked the line length.  I read line breaks with a breath, but that’s not necessarily the way all lines in poetry should be read.  There are many heated discussions about that very topic, and they exhaust me.  To me, it’s like counting the number of angels on the head of a pin.  There is no fuckin’ right answer or people would die reading Whitman.  Some pieces yes, some others no, so get over it.  This poem, I read the line breaks with my breath, so I didn’t run out.  ‘nuf said.

So, I showed Steinberg this embarrassing draft because he kindly asked me to show him pieces of work which his inspired and this one was top o’ the stack.  When I read the opening, I cringed, but there was nothing for it, but try to find another piece.  ugh.  Anyways, I put the piece down until I had some time in May to dink around with it.  I didn’t for long, knocking out only two more drafts which stayed on my hard drive:

Aging either "fragile uterine walls,"
or "erectile dysfunction" (which is, of course, shorted to "ED" but you,
as a woman will get the whole freakin' phrase bestowed like a torch
on a mound of tinder).
 
Before sex, aging was all wisdom, experience,
It is as though aging has been defined by "fragile uterine walls" and "erectile dysfunction." They 
never mention, though, that while
your breasts will sag with age, your nipples can still grow hard as pearls,
or that once you know the path to your orgasm, you can come like a train
through the empty plains of the Dakotas. His hands are soft now against

your belly now and his fingers pluck at that nipple with the same interest
he had when he was twenty. And you, you love to feel the pump of his blood
through his cock, especially after that stillness in his forties, and the fear
he'd never rise to purple again. But his appetite changed - once again -
and he grew hungry. Now time has passed and you stroke him past blush
into plum and you're unafraid to use your mouth, or your feet, and he is free
now to use a cock-ring instead of worry. You jack him hard, you both end up
laughing, glad that you've bested twenty in the forty years you've been together.

moved to:

She was "fragile uterine walls" and he was "erectile dysfunction." 

Before sex, aging was all wisdom, experience,
It is as though aging has been defined by "fragile uterine walls" and "erectile dysfunction." They never mention, though, that while
your breasts will sag with age, your nipples can still grow hard as pearls,
or that once you know the path to your orgasm, you can come like a train
through the empty plains of the Dakotas. His hands are soft now against

your belly now and his fingers pluck at that nipple with the same interest
he had when he was twenty. And you, you love to feel the pump of his blood
through his cock, especially after that stillness in his forties, and the fear
he'd never rise to purple again. But his appetite changed - once again -
and he grew hungry. Now time has passed and you stroke him past blush
into plum and you're unafraid to use your mouth, or your feet, and he is free
now to use a cock-ring instead of worry. You jack him hard, you both end up
laughing, glad that you've bested twenty in the forty years you've been together.

You can see that I like playing with the imagery denoting women and men as their biological tags.  I’m still struggling with the opening, “Before sex…” This work is still a response piece to Steinberg’s photographs, I still want to keep that imagery.  I’m playing with the strophe break, I want the “hands” bit to separate the “idea” portion from the “physical” portion of the poem.  I’m also beginning to work with repetition (“Now”, “past / passed”), some sonic values such as consonance and alliteration (“nipples” / “pearls” / “path”, “plains” / “train” (rhyme), “sag” / “age” / “orgasm”).

img006Then comes May 10th, a Sunday and that’s when the ERWA storytime list allows poetry to be posted.  This would be a good time to sit down with my poem and focus on it.  I start out warming up with writing drafts by hand.  I refocus by writing out the draft again by long hand.  Notice, I date my work.  I repeat the lines I want to work with.  I use most of the paper.  The underscore on the syllables is where I’m looking at syllabic stress, I’m checking for regularity.  The big forward slashes ( / ) are where I’m checking metrical feet.  I’m asking myself questions about whether or not I want to go full boar metrical to this piece.  I’m searching for new words, introducing “Peyronie’s Disease” from research.  I’m still holding to the denotations, but I’m loving the iambic rhythm of the “She was…” bit.

I still don’t like the introduction though.  It sounds like a story opening, so I am still searching.  By the next page though, I decide to echo Steinberg’s title with the variance of replacing “sex” with “aging,” because my piece is a response to his img005work.  You see this call & response type thing happen in titles as well as first or last lines.  One of the most famous pairs is Marlowe’s, “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” (1599) and Sir Walter Raleigh’s response (1600), “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.”  In my case, the title for his book, This Thing We Call Sex had phrasing which concisely summarized the struggle I was having while writing about aging and sex.  His inspirational portraits were about sex and aging.  I reversed that phrase as a conscious echo of his portraits because it fit rhythmically as well as concisely summarized the theme of the poem.

I’m still playing around with verb tense, moving from present tense to conditional.  I’m playing with time progression / compression.  Verb tense is one of those items which can poke people in the eye while they’re reading a poem because jumping around isn’t hidden in a lot more words.  But now that I’m warmed up, I again move back to the computer.

1

May10, Rev3

And now for the last six revisions which I knocked out in about two, two and a half hours.  I slide words along the page a lot, playing with stanza (strophe) and line breaks.  I’m reading the piece aloud to myself constantly.  The first thing I do is migrate my written new start into Word.  As you can see, I’m working with present tense.  Rhythmically, the first line is an anapest / iamb / trochee / anapest / iamb / iamb – which is a line of hexameter – six metrical feet on one line and often considered “too long” for the English breath.  I have caesurae in the line (small breaks) with the comma and the quotes, but still that line bugs me.  You can also see that that third strophe has moved to much, much longer lines.

2

May 10, Rev4

I move on.  I still have the opening in present tense, but I’m now bringing in conditional verbs, “she would be”.  I like this set up because I’m depersonalizing a bit further, my characters are more “paper-dollish,” than individuals.  I’m also making the line lengths shorter.  I still want my strophe break between s1 & s2 to be around the “hands” action.  I’m also adding imagery around the word, “belly,” which hadn’t existed before. I do believe that would make me smile because I can add a graphic, sensual detail without being a photographer.

I have to watch myself a lot in this poem for the problem with abstractions.  Abstractions, while not classified as a defect in control (The Longman Dictionary of Poetic Terms),

abstract terms:  terms that represent ideas or concepts and that are usually taken from concrete terms, which represent the sensuous and the particularity of things experienced or known.  Abstract terms are usually broader and more general than concrete terms and tend to describe a domain of thought:  For example:  abstract: beauty, general: woman, concrete: Helen of Troy.  Abstract terms are informative and nonsensory, though they might carry strong connotations (“liberty, freedom, brotherhood”).  Although abstract terms are most often found in the more abstract realms of literature, such as philosophy, it is generally thought that some of the greatest effects in poetry can be brought about by mixing a.t.a. c.t. …

5

May 10, Rev 6

These days the pendulum is on the concrete side in criticism for the immediacy of sensuality and because no two people have the same understanding of what “beauty”, or “aging” might be.  So while I am working the abstract idea of “aging,” I’m trying to bring in as many sensual details as possible to bolster the sensibility of what “aging” is.

I’m skipping Rev 5 because that was more playing with strophe and line breaks.  Rev 6 brought about a stronger end.  I don’t really know how many times I’ve copied, or rewritten the same words by this time, but “all of a sudden,” this new image appears.  This is the wonderful part of revision.  That’s why I’m often times quite baffled at people’s resistance to revising their work.  Revision is about focusing on the work itself.  It’s carving away, or adding to, like a sculpture about your “heart’s intent.”  It’s an extended meditation on the idea you wish to communicate.  How this is a bad thing, I just don’t get.  Now, not all people’s revision process is like mine.  That, I do understand.  Some people hold the work in their head.  I can’t even add in my head, so need the physicality of moving my hand, seeing words on paper.  While my process may not be your process, there are general ideas to be addressed:  Syntax, grammatical structure, clarity of word choice, verb tenses, cliches identified and removed, use of sonic tools, concrete imagery added, to name a few.

In this draft, May 10, Rev 6, I’m also happier with the line breaks, but have lost my stanza break around “hands.”  I’ve also moved from the impersonal pronouns of “he” and “she,” to “you” and “he.”  The narrator is still third person, but is no longer addressing an external audience, but another “person,” a “you.”  I think this is the version I post for commentary on the ERWA Storytime email list.

And, as always, I ask people for their commentary on my work.  I prefer that over, “I like it.” c1 “I like it,” doesn’t tell me what the reader liked or why, much less what didn’t work for them and why.  Critique, either mild or straight-forward (some call that harsh), is the only chance you’ll have to gain insight as to what your readers’ thoughts are.  This is how you understand what communicated, what didn’t, and if you’re really lucky “why.”  When someone writes an extensive critique about what struck them in your work, that’s unparallelled generosity – even if you don’t agree.  So really, why not just thank them?  No one is saying you have to make the changes.  They’re certainly not your editor who’s paid you tens c3of thousands of dollars in an extraordinary advance.  These are opportunities for the reader to get a “fresh” view and to reconsider.  I often save the crits I receive in a separate folder so that after I’ve let even more time pass to view the work as fresh, I can return to those crits with a more objective eye. It’s also necessary to help you kill your babies.

And what do I mean about “kill your babies”?  “Babies” are those ideas, words, or poems which are really bad ideas, cliched phrases or words, or poems which have no where to go and which nothing can redeem.  Having someone tell you:

1: Someone called my poem pointless piffle, foul-smelling fluff, a wanton waste of bandwidth, or otherwise drove the spike of an unkind review through the oh-so-tender tissues of my ever-so-sensitive heart. Also my soul. What do I do?

is very helpful when learning to not write cliche-ridden, irredeemably abstract horrors of mediocre work.  I once wrote a poem repeating the phrase, “I want” twenty-four times.  Yes, that piece went into the burn pile.

To receive criticism is the reason why we post our work in workshops.  If we’re not receiving at least one comment about what didn’t work for the reader, then I’d say consider the details on the commentary you’ve received.  If they’re along the detailed lines of “I like this,” you can almost bet they haven’t read the work through.

Anyways, I still have some work to do on this piece, I’ve already been tweaking so what’s posted so far is still incomplete.  I’ve been asked to record the piece on SoundCloud, so will do that so you can hear the latest revision.  Thanks to all who’ve allowed me to reference them and their work.

Back to basics: Time to start the clean-up. Revising my work.

I finished NaPo and this month was particularly difficult.  Part of it was because I had the SEAF event, but also the theme was just impossible to maintain.  But now that the first drafts are done, it’s time to start the revisions.  Oddly enough, one of Untitledmy pieces, “Love, Lust, and Sex after Sixty” was written before I found out that the photographer who inspired the work, David Steinberg,  was going to be at SEAF.  I really need to pay attention to details, but whatever.  His work has inspired several pieces of mine over the years as he photographs humans and the intensity of their enjoyment of being in their own skin and the taste of their lover’s skin. Having now made the thirty days and thirty poems, it’s time to begin the culling, the cutting, and scraping the lipstick off those pigs.  Sometimes, yes, at this stage in my writing a piece comes out “whole,” but  – well, never.  No, I always find a tweak, a word to change, some rhythm to smooth.  Do I put all the pieces out for critique?  No.  Do I accept all the comments:  yes.  And then I say, “Thank you,” as I was taught at PFFA.  Do I revise per all the comments:  no. The most important focus in this work is the poem itself.  If I, as the writer, allow my hubris to stand in the way of strengthening the work, then I’ve crippled my own “child.”  But it is a fine line the writer must tread because A)  Not all criticism is created equal, B) Not all criticism will strengthen the piece, and C) It is entirely up to the writer to choose – unless you’re working under contract in which case, do what your fuckin’ editor tells you to do, goddamnit..  Even Yaweh’s words were edited down to create The Old and The New Testaments. Get over yourself and kill your babies.  Strike the purple from your prose.  Identify each and every cliche and pick them out like you’d pick nits from your hair.  Abstractions such as “love,” “soul” (there are more than five.  Line through every single modifier, every adjective, and adverb.  Select only one to add back in.  Pay attention to pronouns.  Reread to make sure you’re referencing the correct he/she/it. Read your work aloud.  Don’t whisper it.  Read it aloud, in a normal voice and listen to yourself.  Put the work away.  Hide it in a drawer for six months.  Then look at it with “fresh eyes.”  “Fresh eyes” take time.  There’s no escaping that. This is the process I’m about to embark on with my “Thirty Poems of Love and Other Disasters.”  Wish me luck.  I’m targeting the Walt Whitman contest this year (but I say that every year and never get everything ironed out).

Rough Draft

I missed a day of completing a piece for NaPo – yesterday and since I’ve been catching up on sleep and trying to get over my SEAF hangover, I haven’t really produced squat today.  However, the fact that I’ve only gotten like four lines written really isn’t a problem, it’s part of the process.  My body and attention is not the same every day.  I am, however, at my desk for at least an hour – just sitting my fat ass down at the desk makes me available, as does moving my hand even if it’s like moving a claw.

So here are my lines for each day.  We’ll see if any of these buds really grow.

From the 25th:

Green is the color of skin in the aureola

From today, the 26th of April:

His heart is a hollow sphere, an iridescent surface which captured
the warmth of my breath at our first kiss. The ease with which
he might rupture

So, here’s another finished poem I distributed at SEAF but which did not do so well.  All the other cards were taken, but the Miami, 1964 was not a popular poem at the Erotic Art Festival.

Miami 1964