Ask yourself these questions: Does my poem say what I meant to say? Will a room full of people be able to understand my poem?
Most young writers ask me the same question, “is my poem any good?”
The real question shouldn’t be about whether the poem is GOOD; it should be about two things:
1. Does my poem say what I meant to say
2. Will a room full of people be able to understand my poem
For young writers who are just getting the hang of craft, these issues come down to a single repeated phrases that we hear all the time from teachers: “show, don’t tell.” But what does it mean to show? It means that we are being specific.
What happens when we call our friends and say, “you’ll never believe what happened last night!!” When they respond with, “what happened,” they’re calling for a story. They want a narrative. They need details, baby, and you better deliver. If you replied with, “Tommy came over and said a lot of stuff,” it doesn’t really tell us much.
But if you said, “Tommy came over an hour earlier with a bouquet of flowers,” that would give your friend more information. For an activity, I want you to think about your poem like you’re writing it to a friend.
Take an old poem and see if you can rewrite it with this lens. Pretend as though you’re retelling it to your best friend who needs to know all the details.
“Tommy came over” becomes “Tommy came over an hour early with a bouquet of roses.”
“I’m so angry,” becomes “I can’t stop shaking with anger.”
“Jealousy ruined me,” becomes, “I looked at his girlfriend’s Instagram for 9 hours straight yesterday.”
How to Edit Your Poem
Here’s a compilation of my favorite editing practices:
1. Chop off the head and tail off the poem
2. Rewrite the poem from the bottom up (make the last line the opening)
3. Check for unnecessary repetition at the beginning of each line
4. Leave nothing that sounds like anyone else could have written it (Lisa Marie Basile)
5. “The poetic line is a primary act of conviction–surrounded by aisles of pause and space. A line steps out of circularity to assert. And what it asserts is: further.” — Cristina David in Furthermore: Some Lines About the Poetic Line