Sunday, July 01, 2007


Part of the great Writers@Work experience I had was the manuscript conference I had with the editor/publisher, who loved my work but also had some editorial feedback, to wit:

1. each line should be like a little poem unto itself. I was enjambing too much which made all the lines feel not like little poems unto themselves.
2. take three words out of each line. (overstatement, translation: wordy, talky, also wordy.)
3. hold your hand over the page and find the language "hot spots." (metaphorical, translation: too talky, too much talking between the good parts.)

He took care to remind me that the above feedback was in the context of really liking my work, so I was not supposed to tumble into a pit of self-loathing, and I mostly haven't. Mostly. When I mentioned this feedback to several friends, they said, basically, (a) that's just regular good advice, but (b) don't do it just because he said so! (insert eye-rolling here). Anyway, I decided to go through the manuscript to see what I thought, and immediately, I could see poems that needed relineation and general pruning. Did I see this just because I'm a pro and it's just good practice? Was I doing it because he said so? Probably both, a little.

Yesterday, I spent several hours revising almost every poem. It was amazing to me to see how much sharper I could make poems I haven't touched for literally years. Example of an old sad version and a new sexy, streamlined version of the first part of one poem:

Old version:


To get to the house, you must first find
the black highway, measured in leagues
and scores of leagues. This will take days.
The broken lines will keep you
till the road ends. There, you’ll find

a field with a path. It has been years
since the least pilgrim has found it,
so really, it will be the intimation
of a path, and you’ll have to imagine
the rest with your feet, or perhaps with

a rusty old scythe, which you might find
lying there.

and the 2.0 version:


To get to the house, first find the black highway,
measured in leagues and scores of leagues.
This will take days. The broken lines will keep you
till the road ends. There, find a field
and the intimation of a path—
imagine the rest with your feet,
or perhaps with a rusty scythe
you might find lying there.

Still enjambing, but with more purpose, and so many extra, useless, meaningless words . . . poof!

Well, who can say? In any case, I enjoyed doing the revising, then had a fit of self-loathing as I readied copies of the ms to send out. But not because anyone told me to. The self-loathing I always manage to do on my own.


  1. Why are we so good at self-loathing? Years of practice?
    I liked the original, but I really like the new version. Could you hold your hand over my short story collection and find the "hot spots"? Or maybe I need a fiction psychic who will just tell me. Please just tell me. Or someone who will write for me.
    "Will Write for Other Writers" or something.
    Also I read the tag "thanks for the feedback" with some sarcasm and possibly some eye rolling, which I can do and not just because you said so.

  2. I'll give you my workshop feedback--one highly conventional and useless comment and one comment that is quintessentially middlebrow.

    1). I love the image of the black highway!
    2) But can you put this in the form of a limerick? What rhymes with highway? Or scythe?

  3. Wow! That's a great revision. It's a totally different poem. Want to do mine? There's only a hundred or so poems that need some hot spot checkin'.
    I love the longer lines in the new version. They entreat (if entreat is a verb). Scythe and highway--cool doubling.

  4. 1) I really dig revising stuff that is years old. It is surprising, and a bit like revising someone else's work.

    2) There was a period of time when I wanted useless words to abound. Although I still have a soft spot in my brain for useless words (like conjunctions and prepositions chained together) I weed them out with abandon now.

    3) Your revision is tight. I really like how you've played out the first few lines. I wonder if the last half could be un-enjambed (as you said) even more?

    4) Ain't writing fun (despite how annoying it can be at times)?

  5. Thanks for using the word "enjambment" in a sentence, by the way. Obama uses lots of enjambment in his collegiate poetry, this is what people tell me. What is enjambment? It sounds like something you do to force yourself into a crypt, like in those Hammer horror films.

    "It's been sealed for a thousand years..."
    "We're gonna have to enjamb it. Step back."

    Wait, Ima go look it up online now...



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