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Editing Poetry

Posted: Wed Dec 20, 2006 10:11 am
by Gillian
This was gleaned from the WWW - I don't know who the writer was, I would have liked to have been able to give credit where credit is due.


Editing Poetry

Here are some common strategies for editing poems. Some of them may be useful to you when you're revising your poem; some may not. Don't feel that these are "rules" which have to be followed every time you write or re-write a poem. Part of the fun of writing poetry is breaking rules, after all.

1. Eliminate structure words

"Structure words" are words which express spatial, temporal, or casual relationships (prepositions, conjunctions) or which indicate a particular thing or differentiate between two or more things (article, relative pronoun, demonstrative pronoun, etc.).

moving through the green rooms of the summer

moving through green rooms of summer (articles deleted)

2. Eliminate implied words

In the above example, the verb "moving" is implied by the preposition "through": the idea of going "through" something implies motion, either in space or in time. Consequently, we might be able to cut "moving" and tighten up the sound of the line without sacrificing the sense of the sentence.

through green rooms of summer

3. Eliminate unnecessary modifiers

Modifiers (adjectives, adverbs) express specific qualities of things (nouns) or actions (verbs). Ideally, they allow us to describe objects, emotions, and ideas more precisely and thus to communicate more clearly. The problem with modifiers is that they are often used to "prop up" vague or poorly-chosen nouns and verbs. Rather than using a noun and an adjective, for example, we can often find a precise noun which will do the job of an adjective-noun combination all by itself. Substituting a strong noun for a weak noun propped up by an adjective makes our language more incisive.


The very old man ran extremely quickly down the very narrow road.

The codger bolted down the lane.

4. Eliminate repeated subjects

These sequences of verbs can give your poem an interesting chant-like quality and allow you to emphasize rhythms.


She walked through the doorway from the garden, holding a single white orchid.

She held the flower to her lips.

She began to eat the soft, fleshy petals.

She spat out a couple of aphids,

Romance, she concluded, is dead.

4. Eliminate clich├ęs

The language of poetry should come from direct perception; it should never consist of the familiar locutions or borrowings from less interesting writing.

5. Use repetition--but only when it adds to the rhythm of the poem

6. Use interesting words

Part of the enjoyment we get from reading poetry comes from the texture of the language. We can build up that texture by choosing original and interesting words.

7. Use concrete language

Abstractions can mean very different things to different people; a concrete noun or adjective communicates sensory information, and such information is specific enough that we can all see the image the writer had in mind.

8. Use visual space

The "white space" of the page is a field of composition for the poet and a system of notation through which she or he communicates the music of the poem. White space is a pause between rhythmic units.

9. Experiment with punctuation

Every poet invents his or her own system of punctuation. Obviously, he or she can use standard mechanics and punctuation, but he or she can also choose to use punctuation marks only within lines and let the line breaks indicate pauses at the end of lines; he or she can also choose to eliminate punctuation marks entirely--even the capital letters which usually mark the beginnings of sentences can be deleted.

10. Experiment with line forms

When you've written down the ideas and images that come out of the initial inspiration for a poem, the next step is to begin to work on the sound of the poem. Try re-arranging the lines and stanzas, experimenting with short lines or longer lines, varied line-lengths or relatively regular ones, etc. The best way to do this is to read the poem out loud, sounding each beat fully. Watch out for plodding, too-regular rhythms. Try to make the sound of the poem fit the sense of the poem.

11. Avoid pointless impressionism

drips of water slowly

drip down the window-

pane. It's


(Yeah. Okay. So what?)

12. Avoid lists of "ing" verbs

Running down the alley

Turning Burning

Catching a fallen neutron star


Sliding into second base

Falling through the webs of his memories


on incessantly about nothing

13. Be yourself

There's a temptation, when we're writing poetry, to use formal or self-consciously "poetic" language. We find ourselves using words we wouldn't be caught dead using in conversation with our friends--"gossamer" or "eldritch", for example.

14. Have fun

Poetry should be as enjoyable to write as it is to read. Crafting art is one of the most rewarding of human activities, and we should never lose sight of that fact. Poetry is a celebration of language and its relationship to our world and to our feelings and ideas.

Posted: Wed Dec 20, 2006 10:17 am
by heinzs
:cool: :cool:

Re: Editing Poetry

Posted: Sun Jun 12, 2011 1:54 pm
by heinzs