Want what’s best for your poem? Read and Edit.
Years ago when I was once stuck in a cubicle making sales calls, I had inked out a little piece between verbal abuses which had been based on the almost ridiculous nature of tea. Water, when it is conjured into the mind, is typically pictured as refreshing, cool and free of any debris. That life source is translucent. Tea is not that. It’s brown, hot, smelly water and yet is somehow one of the ultimate comforts in times of stress or disease. Tea’s ability to appear utterly distasteful and yet still provide immense benefits to the mind and body was my inspiration.
The first attempt (as was confirmed by a friend’s wry grimace) did not land well. It was, in a word, corny. I set the poem down, certain there was a nugget of something decent in there and that I would come back for it. It was abandoned for years, though it would still tug at my nasal passages whenever I took in an appreciative sniff of tea.
But then I began reviewing poetry. Immersing myself in all manners of verse, reignited my rusty creative cylinders. Taking peaks at the works of modern giants in the poetry world like Chen Chen and Rupi Kaur along with lesser known contemporary poets such as Anne-Adele Wight was invigorating. There is nothing quite like surrounding yourself with art to break a writing dry spell. Or in my case, an ongoing writing drought. It was time at long last to resurrect my tea.
I tried playing around the words, cutting the poem down to a fraction of it’s former length. The thought of breaking it down into a haiku pattered about in my brain but that didn’t feel quite right. It also felt like the lazy way out. I stared at the paper, idly doodling along the margins. This editing process was bordering on a week at this point. Just then the forward slash drifted through my mind. While I had seen this form of punctuation in use before, I always thought it harsh – too harsh for poems. But it’s ability to force emphasis on particular words and phrases and therefore its requirement of the poet to be truly deliberate with the language chosen was undeniable. Perhaps it was time to give it a try.
After a few more minutes of writing, crossing out, and reading aloud, I put down my pen. The result of my labor stared up at me. Short, wistful, compact: complete. It was time to let this piece move on and lead a life of its own. I typed it up and submitted it. It was now out of my hands.
Months later, I was on a plane with my dog and my husband the night after our wedding. We were buckling ourselves in for the flight to our new home. As I was about to turn off my phone I saw I had an email; I’d just take a quick look – there was still time. My happiness that evening was then compounded.
My poem which had once been a slapped together piece of corny drivel and left for dead in a coffee stained notebook was accepted for publication by the online literary journal Awkward Mermaid! I was elated for multiple reasons. One of which was getting to join the league of mythical creatures.
Now, seeing that I am a mermaid (and yes, I know I am taking this to another level — let me have it), take my advice: When you, fellow poets, hear the siren’s call of reading only those works you are comfortable with or to disregard editing a particularly good first draft – sail on! You will find yourself improving as a writer as you expose yourself to new, mysterious verses. Challenge yourself to not settle for decent but exceptional writing. Writing is your adventure! Be bold!