Monday, July 16, 2007

Poetic Verb of the Week: Revision

Please note: I have revamped my "poetic verbs" theme. Instead of listing the verbs that I accomplish for the week as I have in the past, I will pick one verb a week and reflect on its effect on my creative and personal life. Enjoy!

I think poetry is really the search for the perfect word, the word that encapsulates all of the meanings, nuances, and innuendos and distills it into a set of phonemes and letters. In reality, language isn’t nearly that perfect. It is awkward and imperfect, a collection of “almosts,” “maybes,” and “kindas.” It never does what I want it to do and can never stretch wide or deep enough to fit all the experience and memory that I want to fit into it.

Because language is like this, when I write my first draft, I know I will need to revise it. While I love the rush and inspiration of the first draft, it is ultimately chaotic, uneven, and messy. I know that I will need to hone and craft. I will need to puzzle over each word, and wonder, “Is this what I really meant?” Revision is both contemplative and conflicting.

Even though I know that I have to revise my writing, I dread revision. I dread it like a trip to the dentist, like a job interview. I dread it because it is so careful, painstaking, and frustrating. I dread it because I know that I can make the language work better, but I can never make the poem work like I want it to work. The poem will always be a close approximation of life, but never life itself.

I think revision is what separates poets from the rest of the world. Most of us stumble through life, through all of our first drafts, and think, “I could have done that better, but oh well. It’s too late now.” But poets believe that experience can be tinkered with and tweaked. We may not be able to go back and redo one moment in life, but we can recreate our lives and our new daily experiences. We can try to cross out what we don’t want in our lives, excise the unnecessary, and expand what works. My friends who are writers are often reinventing their lives every couple of years, trying a new draft that works better than the last one. But, since they are writers, they also know that it can never be perfect, only closer to the clear vision we had when we started.

Sometimes I feel doomed to constantly revise my writing and my life. I am never satisfied with what I’ve created and I have to crumple it up and start over. Other days, I feel blessed that I can do this. I can see, beneath the wreckage of misused words and misunderstood choices, the beauty that is burning just below the surface.


Crafty Green Poet said...

This is a really interesting post. I had never before mande the connection between my need to revise my writing with my need to change jobs every few years.

Jessica said...

While poets aren't the only ones to job hop, we are guilty of it quite a bit. :)

Peter said...

Although I love revising poetry, I hear you.

Your last sentence here suggests that you teach. I just checked your resume, and sure enough.