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EDITING POETRY
THE WRITER'S WAY

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the writers way jen frankel EDITING POETRY
THE WRITER'S WAY

by Jen Frankel

Editing poetry is essential to flow; despite the fact that a lot of especially free-form poetry comes out in a burst from the imagination to the page, a little bit of crafting can go a long way to making your words truly paint the picture you are trying to convey to the reader.

Is Poetry

Is poetry the frenetic
coupling of words
The images springing
spinning
hardly half formed onto whatever
surface presents itself -
notepaper, paper napkins, bank
statements
The purpose and intent beyond
the frenzy
taking shape even as the form
coalesces?
Is it sexual
or cerebral?
Should the approach be acrobatic
With every new word
a dare,
every new letter
empowered to enhance or
destroy
Or a symphony of calm & order
Never a hair
or line
out of place?

I wanted to write a haiku about an idea I was struck by, looking up at a single star that had managed to shine through even over the lights of the city around me.

I liked the idea of the star as a precious jewel that is unregarded, possibly ignored, something more valuable than the brighter lights that grab your attention with more urgency.My first draft, paying attention to the haiku form of 5 / 7 / 5 syllable structure over three lines, went like this:

An uncut diamond
Lonely in the black night sky
Over cold neon

Okay -- so there were things I liked about the draft, but it really didn't capture a unique image as much as I'd hoped.

For one thing, the words are possibly even too common, not carefully chosen enough. Why is the star lonely? Because no one is looking at it? Because it has no friends? That says a different thing altogether than what I intended, that the natural beauty of the star is swallowed up by the city lights.

I've made the star an object of the poem, but haven't explained its loneliness. If I'm going to anthropomorphize the star and give it a human emotion, I need to find some way to explore that, instead of leaving it, literally, just hanging there.

I decide to change the "lonely" to "glistens" to avoid giving the star an emotion at all, and "black" to "bleak," a more descriptive and evocative word. Losing "lonely" leaves me without any emotional content to the poem; adding "bleak" puts some back.

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An uncut diamond
Glistens in the bleak night sky
Over cold neon

Better, but still not good.

Why "uncut diamond"? I've inadvertently posited the idea that no one notices the star because it's dull itself, instead of that the neon lights are bright.

Also, the most important part of a haiku after the syllable count is to make a contrast - haiku traditionally contain a natural image, and some kind of comparison that leads to a new understanding or way of looking at the world. I've missed that altogether in my first drafts.

I consider that I have several opportunities for contrasting images here, even in such a short poem. First, I can compare the star to the lights below. And, if I play it right, I can contrast the quality of the star to the quality of the city's neon.

I decide I can play on the usual impression that neon is a warm kind of light, and give it a more sanitized, cold feel, while brightening up the star, cutting and polishing the diamond, so to speak:

A bright speck diamond
Over cold neon bustle
Simple, unheeded.

The star is bright, simple, and beautiful, but the cold and busy world below ignores it.

I'd still like to warm up the star a bit, but all in all, I'm happy with my haiku.

A little editing, as you can see, can make a huge difference between a nice idea or image, and knowing that you've actually found a way to communicate that idea.

Writing is a medium of communication, after all, and editing is one of your finest tools to ensure that communication has the effect you intend.

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EDITING POETRY