The blanket statement, "Editing/revision harms poetry," is simply wrong. It's akin to a photographer claiming that focusing the lens ruins the emotion of the photograph. It is the details, and the appropriate attention paid to them, that separate a photograph from a snapshot. Imagine a film maker slapping every frame he shot up on the screen without editing for continuity, for pacing, for effect. What a disaster. That is not to say that editing can't be destructive - there is such a thing as poor editing, just as there is poor writing. But done correctly, done well, it is one of the most important tools in the poet's shed.
Never shy away from editing/revision. Some young writers feel that to revise is to kill the spirit of the poem. This notion serves to sacrifice the potential of a poem for an ideal that really has nothing to do with the poem or with poetry. It's a romanticized myth at best, and at worst an excuse to be lazy. A skilled writer can revise a poem many times without the revisions being apparent in the final draft. All writing should seem as if it flowed from the writer's mind, or soul, directly onto the page. The process should be regarded as secondary to the finished piece because, after all, the reader sees only the final piece, not the struggle or ease that went along with its creation.
Does anyone seriously believe that Keats, Yeats, Wordsworth, Frost or anyone more contemporary never underwent the revision process? Extant manuscripts prove otherwise. But we'll get into historical analysis later.
Keep an open mind as you go through this guide. We're not going to be plunging into advanced theory here, we'll start with some editing basics that will show you how editing can strengthen your writing. We will discuss padding, rhyming, word choice, clichés, ambiguity, and top it off with a short demonstration.
You'll note throughout that I use the term "generally." Let's accept on the front-end that there are exceptions to everything, especially in the world of poetry. No rule is iron-clad and absolute. But in general, the information contained in this guide is worth contemplating.
One more thing - It would be a good idea for you to go to your gallery, pick out any poem, one you like or one you suspect needs work, print it off, and keep it on hand as you go through this guide.
Padding is, simply put, unnecessary verbiage. Padding may serve you well in that upcoming term paper on pre-Raphaelite wig-making for the professor who counts words, but get it out of your poetry. Generally speaking, poetry is the craft of saying the most with the fewest words. Poets should be hard task-masters. Make every word pull its weight - if you catch one loafing, kick it to the curb. First, however, you need to start training yourself to identify which words aren't working for you. Here's a good place to start:
The following types of words are often unnecessary in poetry as they rarely do more than point out a relationship that can easily be supplied by the reader's mind.
- Words of Temporality: while, meanwhile, as (at the same time), during, and (at the same time), etc.
- Words of Causality: because, thus, so (as a result), causing, therefore, etc.
- Words of Opposition: yet, but, etc.
- Adjectives (and adverbs)
Beside the dressing station two nurses
pull a sheet over a man blown to pieces
while the wind ruffles their skirts.
The word "while" is redundant. Let's get rid of it and see what happens:
Beside the dressing station two nurses
pull a sheet over a man blown to pieces.
The wind ruffles their skirts.
Is there any change in the action? None whatsoever. In the first example, two actions occur at the same time - the nurses pull a sheet over a dead man and the wind ruffles their skirts. In the second example the two actions still occur at the same time. There is no need to tell the reader the actions occur at the same time - they just do - grammar has taken care of that.
I flick the Off-Duty switch
and keep driving
because that f***er looked broke.
I flick the Off-Duty switch
and keep driving.
That f***er looked broke. * This example has been sanitized to preserve your innocence.
In the first example why did he flick the switch and keep driving? Because that f***er looked broke. And the second example? Because he still looked broke.
Words of opposition are usually signposts to relationships. However, opposition is often more dramatic if you don't call attention to it.
I remembered his delicate ways:
The mouth a cat's mouth yawning
but I crushed him deep in dust.
I remembered his delicate ways:
The mouth a cat's mouth yawning.
I crushed him deep in dust.
Sometimes the opposition doesn't really exist:
The sun rises slowly like an old man.
Fish rise in the shadows
but elude me like virtues.
The sun rises slowly like an old man.
Fish rise in the shadows.
They elude me like virtues.
To sum it up, these types of words often hold meaning that is already implied by the grammar. Like I said earlier, if you catch a word loafing, kick it to the curb. And these types of words are notorious loafers. Having said that, I do not advocate you remove them from your lexicon entirely. They do have uses. Just be careful with them.
All words are not equal.
Adjectives and adverbs are descriptors and, therefore, weaker words than nouns and verbs in general and certainly weaker than concrete nouns and active verbs.
What does that mean? Think about it this way: Nouns are representative of things, verbs are representative of energy. Think about the noun "fish" (which, coincidently, is also a verb) and you should get solid images - goldfish, salmon, fish tank, water, shark, ocean, etc. Now think about the adjective "blue." You get nothing from it unless you mentally attach it to a noun - blue wall, blue car, blue sky, blue paint. The noun is the unit of power. The adjective is just along for the ride.
It is common for young poets to believe that poetry is a very descriptive form of writing, which it is, but that notion is usually coupled with the misconception that adjectives are what make it descriptive. As a poet you need to populate your scene, or point, with things and action, or even a lack of action, to say what you have to say. No need to muck it up with weak language. That means use nouns and verbs. Strong words. The muscle and bone. Adjectives and adverbs are fat - some are needed to form contours, but too many tend to sag on the bone of poetry.
Another problem with adjectives is they can also be redundant, where the adjective merely duplicates the meaning of the noun or expresses a quality implied by it.
Cold as ice. Not only is that a cliche, but we all know ice is cold. So why say it twice in the span of three words?
To further illustrate the point, read the following poem by John Benkso and take note of how economical he is with the use of adjectives. Very few, and yet the poem is powerful, poignant, and chock-full of solid imagery.
Because the boy went swimming when
the tide was strong, and felt the water slip
under his feet and take him down, the pain
of his lungs struggled past hope.
His fear was simply gone,
a basic want like love and hunger. Air
became water, filling his last desire.
Because days later we were the crowd
fishing at the pier, we watched the log
float in and become a splotched body, the drowned
boy lying on the sand. The dog
and the children saw it calmly. Water drained
from his mouth and made most of us turn,
sick at the sight of his return.
We want to give him to someone who cares.
Because, in description, it is simple.
A neat package done up in plastic.
He waits in the sun.
from Green Soldiers by John Bensko, 1981, Yale University Press
- Conversational Grammar:
If, in your poem, there is conversation happening, then use conversational grammar as you see fit. It can add authenticity to the piece. The same holds true for dialect - if your poem is about some country-folk from Alabama, use the dialect to your advantage. However, be careful when using conversational grammar in pieces where there is no conversation. Conversational grammar is informal and often suspends the rules of syntax. While there is nothing wrong with informal writing, our speech patterns are generally riddled with weak words.
For instance, we often use the words "so," "just," and "way" for emphasis when we talk, but those are bogus words when put to that use in our poetry.
She is so beautiful.
This cake is just fabulous.
That movie was way cool.
In fact, those words can be informal to the point where we allow them to blow our grammar to hell:
I'm so going to kick his ass.
////////////Rhyming Causes Bad Grammar////////////
Rhyming is cool. If you are working with a classic form like a sonnet or limerick it is essential. The most conspicuous, and seemingly most prevalent type of rhyme is the end-rhyme - rhyming words found at the ends of lines. It is also the most difficult type of rhyme to use well, precisely because it is so conspicuous. End-rhyme pretty much hangs out there, naked, shouting "Look at me!" With the kind of attention it commands, it better not be trite or hopelessly childish. Check out the following example - it sums up almost everything wrong with the (mis)use of end-rhyme:
For goodness sake
for a rhyme to make
you must give me a break
Absolutely terrible! Not only is it cheap, weak, and easy with two cliches thrown in for good measure, it has forced the middle line into an awkward sentence construction to keep "ake" as the rhyme scheme. Ask yourself what is more important - the meaning of the poem or the rhyme? If you find yourself sacrificing meaning and grammar for the sake of a rhyme, you are on the wrong track entirely.
Another reason why end-rhyme is so prevalent in young writers is because it is drilled into our heads from birth. Nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss, children's songs, many of our most insipid Christmas ditties - all contain very basic, simple rhymes. As we get older our vocabulary broadens to incorporate more compound words, our thought processes become more complex, our cognitive ability becomes more sophisticated, and yet a lot of young writers continue to write poems like the example above - one syllable, full rhymes, at the ends of lines. Hopefully, if you are reading this, you're not in pre-school anymore. You have a lot more sophistication than you did when you were four years old, so shouldn't you reflect that in your poetry? Unless you are writing children's verse, the answer is most certainly YES. In fact, even if you are writing children's verse, the answer is YES.
*(for the record, Dr. Seuss was a genius)
But rhyming is cool. If you can pull off end-rhyme, more power to you. But end-rhyme is only one of many types of rhyme, so branch out and experiment. What other kinds of rhymes are there? One such type is called internal rhyme, where at least one of the rhyming words is found in the middle of the line, such as in Poe's The Raven:
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door
In contemporary free-verse, rhymes can be found anywhere:
the Persian cat grooming beside
the blooming tea rose
As a poet you are free to contrive your own rhyme scheme. Look at the following example - from Marianne Moore's A Carriage From Sweden:
of moated white castles--the bed
of white flowers densely grown in an S
meaning Sweden and stalwartness,
skill, and a surface that says
Made in Sweden: carts are my trade.
You may have immediately noticed the end rhyme in the second and third lines - S and -ness, but did you notice that in the first line the third syllable rhymes with the last one, and in the last line the first syllable rhymes with the eighth? If I pasted the whole poem, you would see it is like this throughout. Moore also makes liberal use of a type of rhyme called a slant rhyme.
But let's take a step back for a minute and give some thought to what rhyme actually is. Most of the examples thus far have been of a type called a full rhyme (or perfect rhyme). Rhyme is made up of a sameness and a difference. The sameness in a full rhyme is the accented vowel sound and what follows it. The difference is what precedes the accented vowel: grooming/blooming. The accented vowel sound ( -oom), is the same, what follows it ( -ing) is the same, with the difference being the gr and bl.
A slant rhyme (also known as off-rhyme, near-rhyme, half-rhyme, oblique-rhyme, imperfect-rhyme) doesn't use the sameness of a full rhyme, but depends on a similarity. In the example above from Marianne Moore, moated and bed is a slant rhyme. Other slant rhymes include home and come, root and foot, close and lose, moon and bone, vein and men.
Emily Dickinson made such prolific use of slant rhyme it became her calling card. Why use it? Many reasons, but here's one: In musical terms, full rhyme can be said to be harmonious. Slant rhyme is a way to introduce an element of discord or dissonance to your poem, if that better fits the mood.
Sight Rhymes can often be the same as slant rhymes, but their dependence on similarity is in how the words look rather than how they sound. The double-o in moon and soot, the 'ough' in through and slough are good examples.
A mosaic rhyme is one in which two or more words produce a multiple rhyme, either with two or more other words, as go for / no more, or with one longer word, as cop a plea / monopoly.
There are more types of rhymes, but to list more here would verge on overload. Look for a future submission that is exclusively devoted to the subject.
In the meantime it’s enough to know there are lots of ways to play with rhyme, lots of types of rhyme with which to play - so branch out and have fun. Try to move past the nursery rhyme stage and work on your sophistication.
////////////Stale Word Choice////////////
This one is difficult and is probably dependent on the extent of your vocabulary. If your vocabulary is limited there isn't much you can do except broaden it - and that takes time. Read a lot. Not just poetry and novels - read the news, read essays, reviews, scripts, product labels, advertisements, whatever. Take note of unfamiliar words you hear in conversation. Always add to your arsenal.
One thing that is tempting for the young writer is to write a poem with a dictionary open. I caution against the temptation to use the dictionary to fill your poem with obscure words. I address this below in the section entitled, "In Praise Of Ambiguity," so for now all I'll say is it is incredibly annoying to read a poem that makes the reader reach for his own dictionary every other line. Using the dictionary when writing is good as long as you are using it to check spelling and to make certain you are using words correctly. Just don't try to baffle us with it. Get a good thesaurus, but use it only when necessary. Work your brain first.
A specific form of stale word choice is using archaic language because you think it sounds poetic. Evermore? Thee? Thine? Check out the calendar - it's 2005. Let John Donne have his day (which ended in 1631) and understand that contemporary times call for contemporary poetry.
Remember what I said up above in the Adjective section about not all words being equal? And how I urged you to use active verbs instead of adjectives? Well, here's a caveat to that. Some active verbs are still stale. Take this line for example:
I walked to the store. The verb "walked" is stale. It's a better line than I went to the store because "went" tells us nothing about how I got there. Did I run, drive, take a blimp, teleport, swim, crawl? We don't know. By the same token, "walked" doesn't tell us anything more than I used my legs to get there. If I "limped" to the store, you have more description to assimilate into the poetic picture I am trying to paint. Same with words like staggered, stumbled, shambled, ambled, shuffled, skipped, hopped, strode, marched, trekked, paraded, tottered. There is a lot of description built into a word like "staggered." It doesn't need an adjective anywhere in its vicinity.
And not all nouns are created equal, either. Abstract or general nouns are stale - identify and replace them with concrete or specific ones. Words like "love," "freedom," "pain," "sadness," "anger," and other emotions and ideas need to be channeled through the physical imagery of the five senses, Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Touch.
My personal benchmark test for nouns and verbs is this: can I observe them? I can't observe an "idea" or a "thought" or "pondering" or "love." These are abstractions. The old gag about the lightbulb appearing over someone's head when they have an idea? That was invented to show the person having the idea. Otherwise, to us, it would look like he was just standing there. Steer as clear of abstract nouns and weak verbs as you can.
Question all words in your poem. Are your verbs descriptive enough? Is there a better verb? A more descriptive noun? The more engaging the language, the more memorable the poem.
Salvador Dali said, "The first man to compare the cheeks of a girl to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot."
Cliche is the past participle of the word clicher, which is an old French printer's stereotype. Rather than cobble together letters or words to print routine phrases, they created blocks that contained the phrases as a way to save time. That's great for old French printers, but for poets? Cliches are red flags that tell the reader, "This poet got lazy." Ultimately, and this is what should really make you think - cliches are not your words. They were strung together by someone else long ago and passed around like the common cold. If your poetry is not going to be your words, and, by extension, a means of expressing yourself, why the hell are you writing it in the first place?
In poetic terms, cliches can be of several types:
- Cliche Phrases: expressions worn-out through common use. What are some examples of cliche phrases? There are thousands of them and they include such exhausted specimens as: hand in hand, heart to heart, made up my mind, can't live without you, end of the line, broken heart, taken for granted, losing sleep, someone like you, night and day, by my side, bright eyes, last chance, down on my knees, back and forth, pay the price, worth fighting for, going insane, drive me crazy, dreams come true, I can see it in your eyes, look into my eyes, I'm losing you, broken home, heart of stone, bleed for you, broken record, easy going, matter of fact, etc.
- Cliche Images: images worn-out through common (poetic) use. These include tears, blood, stars, shadows, razors, eyes, roses, moon, etc. Much of the typical, journal-type, "look at my wounds" poetry on deviantART is chock-full of these images. If thousands of emo-angsters on DA have submitted tens of thousands of these types of poems, imagine how many millions of poets have written the same stuff, dating back to the invention of the written word. What a ghastly notion. Are you a member of that mob or are you an individual with your own ideas and words? Make up your mind before you write anything else.
- Cliche Rhymes: Going back to what we've learned already about rhymes, the childish, cliche rhymes are particularly vexing because as soon as you see a line end with one of the following words, you can bet your hat the next line will end with the other word in the pair: eyes/sighs, eyes/lies, ache/break, tears/fears, cry/die, frown/down, be/me, heart/apart, wrong/belong, bleed/need, feel/real, dead/head, love/above, burn/yearn, etc. Yawn. Don't be so predictable.
- Cliche Metaphors:
- Storm (including dark clouds, thunder, rain, etc.) as a metaphor for anger or turbulent relationships.
- Fire (including burn, spark, flame, heat, etc.) as a metaphor for passion or love.
- Cold (including freeze, ice, frozen, etc.) as a metaphor form emotional indifference or emotional distance.
- Darkness (including night, shadows, blindness, etc.) as a metaphor for sadness or loneliness.
- Light as a metaphor for happiness or knowledge.
- Rain as a metaphor for tears.
- Seasons as metaphors for stages of life or relationships.
- Prison, Prisoner as a metaphor for love (prisoner of love) or an oppressive home-life.
- Drown as a metaphor for love or for hopelessness
Can cliches ever be used? Certainly. Turning a cliche against itself by intentionally using it in an inverted form can revive it. Puns can give a cliche a renewed life. See how the old familiar phrases below can be twisted into something fresh:
Cliche: Vise-like grip. Revived: I'm in a grip-like vise.
Cliche: His bark is worse than his bite. Revived: Look at the bite on that great, big bark.
////////////In Praise of Ambiguity////////////
Try to read each of your poems as if someone else wrote it, someone you don't know. I realize it's a trick to pull that off, but do your best, and then ask yourself, "Is the meaning of this poem (or the point of it) clear? If so, is it too clear?"
And now you're probably asking yourself, "What kind of silly hair is ndifference trying to split now?" Good question.
Ambiguity, derived from the Latin ambi- (meaning "both") and agere ("drive") generally means doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness but it also means capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways.
The British literary critic, William Empson, defined ambiguity as "any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language."
This, perhaps, is the most beautiful aspect of poetry. Allowing the reader to interpret your meaning, or providing the reader with grounds upon which his imagination can add to the poem. In other words, not treating the reader like an idiot who has to be told everything. Ambiguity is what makes much of the work of William Carlos Williams so powerful. It engages us so that we become part of his poetic process, rather than being casual observers. The example du jour:
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
chickens -- William Carlos Williams
In this poem a lone voice suggests in rather emphatic terms that the seemingly simple, often overlooked elements of life are what really matters. He could have said "the farmer uses this wheelbarrow to haul manure and chicken feed, to tote dirt, lug gravel, etc." At that point he is no longer writing a poem, he’s writing a report. Besides, more long-winded explanations would ruin the syllabic form – 6 5 5 6.
Another example of perfect ambiguity comes from the Bard, Act II, Scene III of Henry IV. Lady Percy asks Hotspur why he’s been acting like such a freak for the past two weeks and his response is:
This is no world
To play with mammets and to tilt with lips.
We must have bloody noses, and crack'd crowns,
And pass them current too.
Two words, crack’d crowns, sums up the action and theme of the entire play. Crowns refers to coins, heads, and what kings wear. If you are familiar with the play you know what Lady Percy did not, and you know Hotspur told her what was going to go down even though she didn't quite pick up on it.
I often see poems on deviantART that have summations or explanations, either at the end of the poem (in the final stanza) or sprinkled (parenthetically) throughout. This implies the writer had momentary lapses of confidence in his ability to convey, or in his faith in the intelligence of the reader. Neither is good. Always give credit to yourself and the reader. If you find yourself explaining something, re-write what it is you feel you need to explain, or get some feedback from critical readers first.
The flipside of being too explanatory is being too cryptic. Writing a poem that no one on earth could figure out doesn't often paint the writer in a good light. Rather than being considered "deep" or "thoughtful," the label usually applied is "bad poet." Don’t try to baffle the reader with detached, nebulous musings.
////////////Put It All Together////////////
Let's take an example - one stanza - and examine what's wrong with it, then fix it up. I decided to write a poem about Monday Night Football which, in the US, is an institution. An unlikely topic for a poem? Perhaps, in one sense. But everything is fair game in the world of poetry and, in a quest to write something fresh, I chose a topic that probably hasn't been done to death by the poets of the world. Here's the first draft of the first stanza:
The players tape their huge hands
on every dark Monday night
and fight it out in front
of the boisterous crowd, screaming because
it is drunk.
What's wrong with this stanza? Well, everything. For starters, it's not even poetry. It's prose with line breaks. We all know by now it takes more than line breaks to make a poem, right? It's padded, contains weak word choices, is too explanatory, and is lifeless. It flat-out stinks. It can, however, be salvaged through a bit of editing.
Let's look at the adjectives first. We have six: their, huge, every, dark, boisterous, and drunk. For a five line stanza, that's way too many. The first is "their" and I'm not going to question it at the moment. After all, it is their hands, not the water boy's or the coach's. The second, huge, seems okay, if for no other reason than the "h" alliteration it shares with "hands." The third is every. Its implication simply isn't true in the context of the poem. MNF doesn't happen every Monday night, just the ones between September and January. Since these guys aren't taping their hands in April, we'll cut every. The fourth, dark, is redundant. With exceptions such as the Arctic Circle at certain times of year, night is dark and we all know it. So that word has to go. Boisterous is a weak descriptor - not only does its meaning not adequately convey the passion or rowdiness of the crowd, there are too many syllables and soft vowels to have the proper impact. This descriptor either needs to be shorter with more hard consonants, or it needs to be dropped. Let's drop it for now. That brings us to drunk, which is kind of stale and not specific enough. But the inebriation of the crowd is important in my opinion and, as the author, it is my right to determine that. There are better words for drunk, anyway - loaded, soused, schnockered, plowed, plastered, and blitzed (which is particularly appealing , considering "blitz" is also a football term) but we'll leave drunk in for now and address it later. With the adjectives momentarily attended to, let's give it a line by line examination.
Take a look at the first line:
The players tape their huge hands
"The players" is specific, which is usually good, but I'm going to assume that since the poem is about football, the fact that the players tape their hands (as opposed to the spectators or the cheerleaders) is self-evident. Although I do like the letter "y" here, which reoccurs in the next line, I would prefer more ambiguity and less redundancy. I can achieve that (and keep the "y") by simply changing it to "they." The second half of the line bothers me because I have two adjectives attached to "hands." I'm usually uncomfortable with one adjective, but two? No way. We've already established that "their" is necessary for clarity, so huge, despite the nice alliteration, is on the chopping block as it really adds nothing to the line. Besides, not all football players have huge hands. I'm sure the 6'8", 345-pounders do, but not the kicker.
We've chopped the line down to its lean, mean form - They tape their hands.
In the second line we've already gotten rid of the two adjectives that were mucking up the place, so we are left with on Monday night, which is short and to the point.
What about line 3?
and fight it out in front
Fight it out is a bit of a cliche. Fight it out, duke it out, hash it out, work it out, spell it out, reason it out, sniff it out. Cliche, cliche, cliche. Anything plus it out is probably a cliche. Dropping it out and leaving fight might work. In front is pretty boring and doesn't describe the location of the players in relation to the crowd. The crowd is packed into a stadium that rises up - the players are down on the field below them. Down there. At the feet of the crowd, to invoke a metaphor. So how about we go with at the feet? "Fight" and "feet" work well together. Using both alliteration (beginning sounds are the same) and consonance (repetition of end consonants of stressed syllables), "fight" and "feet" is a decent slant-rhyme.
How are we doing so far?
They tape their hands
on Monday night
and fight at the feet
of the crowd, screaming because
it is drunk.
Okay, we're getting there. The last two lines are wordy and weak compared to the tight first part. It's time to turn our attention to the crowd. We removed their boisterousness so we have to find a more descriptive way to portray them. I'm also hating because since it is a word of causality. However, if we drop it we will wreak havoc on the grammar of the last two lines. Screaming it is drunk doesn't make any sense and if we also drop it is, it will become the players who are screaming drunk, not the crowd. That's not right. Damn you, grammar! Making me work for it, eh? Let's picture them for a moment. Think of Cleveland Browns fans. The vendors have been sloshing beer at them, two at a time, for a couple hours. It's an autumn or winter night, they've been hollering, yelling, cheering; their throats are raw, hoarse. They are stewed, sauced, blotto on beer. They are positively swilled. And they are packed in with their bulky coats (except for the shirtless idiots with letters painted on their gelatinous guts), wedged in, crammed in, a mob, a throng, a crush. Perhaps we've hit upon it:
They tape their hands
on Monday night
and fight at the feet
of the swilled hoarse crush.
Better. Much better. But now, since we've shortened some lines, we are having an enjambment problem. Enjambment is the continuation of the sense and therefore the grammatical construction beyond the end of a line of verse or the end of a couplet. In other words, there is only one place in this stanza where we actually come to a full stop - and that's at the period at the end of line 4. The other lines are enjambed - no pause or stop between the lines. This is largely a matter for each poet to determine, but I don't like the way the enjambment is foisting itself on my flow. Let's fix that so it reads:
They tape their hands on Monday night
and fight at the feet
of the swilled hoarse crush.
There you go. Quite a difference from the initial draft, right?
I showed an early draft of this essay to my friend, nonculture, and he asked, "You don't go through all this when you work on your poems, do you?" Oh, hell no. I already know all of this and I incorporated it into my work flow years ago. I do much of this type of editing on the fly, in my head, as I write. Much of the editing I have shown you is designed to fix things that are so wrong that I wouldn't even write them in the first place. But I used to write like that. Yes I did. And I had to start somewhere, just like you.
If you care about your poetry, or yourself, and you care about how you express yourself through poetry, you should care enough to work on it. I guarantee not one person on this site has written a perfect poem without rolling up the sleeves and getting the old hands dirty. It is practice that makes perfect, as the saying goes. Of course you could always trust to luck, just don't ask me to read what you've got while you wait for luck to catch up with you.
////////////Finally, What About Those Old Guys?////////////
Yeats was a chronic revisioner - not only in drafts before publication but after publication, from printing to printing - hence the periods "younger-Yeats, and older-Yeats." Take poems such as The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner (original 1890, revised 1925) and The Sorrow of Love (original 1891, revised 1924). Yeats firmly believed his syntax and diction evolved as he grew older. A wise man once said, "Poems are never finished, just abandoned." Yeats obviously found them difficult to abandon so, instead, he continued to turn them into something else.
And lucky for us, I've found some photos of manuscripts that are under glass, lock, and key in museums. Take a look at the effort expended in the creation of some of mankind's most famed poems:
The Tyger, by William Blake
Rose-Tree, by e. e. cummings
The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Keats
Ode to a Nightingale, by John Keats
Hyperion, by John Keats
Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
Perceptions and Senses, by Walt Whitman
Ashes of Soldiers, by Walt Whitman
Anthem for Doomed Youth, by Wilfred Owen
A Cabin in the Clearing, by Robert Frost
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost
Want to see more of Whitman's manuscripts? This index is impressive.
Want to see more of Owen's manuscripts? Index
More Keats? Index
If you would like to read more about revision and it's usefulness, this interview with Martin Lammon is enlightening.
If you have space on your hard drive you can download an Allen Ginsberg class on revising autobiographical poems. If you don't have the space, there is a streaming option. Fascinating.
example 1: from Green Soldiers by John Bensko, 1981, Yale University Press
example 2: from "Hack" by Steven Conn, 2003
example 3: from The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo, 1979, W. W. Norton
example 4: from The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo, 1979, W. W. Norton
example 5: from "A Carriage From Sweden" by Marianne Moore