Revising Poems


CHECKLIST TO USE WHEN WRITING A POEM from How to Write Poetry, Paul B. Janeczko

  • Choose a topic that interests you. If it doesn’t interest you, it won’t interest your reader.
  • Take the time to brainstorm freely some ideas related to the topic. See what happens.
  • Don’t settle for using “good” words in your poem. Work until you get the right word.
  • Read your poem aloud, to yourself or to someone else.
  • Find someone who will read your poem carefully and offer suggestions.
  • Let your poem rest out of site for a time before you look at it again.
  • Remember: Revision means to see again. Revise with care.

Learning to write a good poem takes practice and patiences. If your early poems don’t say exactly what you want, keep working at it . The more you work at it, the greater the likelihood that they poems will shine.

Look and listen to life with care. Practice writing. Give yourself time to be a better poet. You’ll be pleased with what poetry can bring to your life.

Problems in Poetry Drafts and Suggestions For What to Do

General Advice:

  • Are you writing about something you care about? Poems have more power when you write about something that matters to you. Does your poem communicate what you care about saying?
  • Reread your work several times and read it aloud. Does it look and sound right?
  • Where is the poem’s heart–its focus or message? What do you need to take out or put in to enhance that? What vibrant verbs or specific nouns would help the reader see that more clearly? What needs to be taken out in order to reveal that?
  • Change line breaks and stanza breaks to help you see the poem in a new way.
  • Write about the idea in your poem without trying to make it into a poem. Now read back what you wrote. Circle images, verbs or ideas that could enhance your poem. Where might you cut, add or rearrange your poem to use these?
  • Put your poem aside for a few hours or a day or so and come back to it. Often it will help you see it in a new way or differently.
  • Read other poems. See how those writers enter into a poem, transition, develop or conclude a piece. What are some terrific word choices you notice. Put them in your amazing words word bank for possible use when you’re looking for just the right word.
  • Try using your thesaurus--a treasure house for alternative word choices that could enhance your piece with just the right tone or sound to enliven your work.

Suggestions from Ralph Fletcher in his book Poetry Matters:

Rhyme: avoid using a word just because it happens to rhyme with another word. Some poems sound better in free verse without rhyme because they sound more natural. Keep the rhyme loose enough so that you’re not tied to any one word. The  important thing is that the poem means what you want it to.

The poem sounds like a story, not a poem: maybe you have too much going on in it. Focus. Think smaller. Concentrate on a particular moment in time, a particular image. Think photo, not a movie. Reread the draft and underline the parts that sound like a poem. Select those out. Put them on a new document and go from there. Use lines that take you deeper into the experience you’re creating.

The writing sounds blah. Often this is because the topic is too general–baseball, flowers, school. Take a slice out of the general topic. “Write about the infield dirt, perfect and unblemished, the instant before the first infielder steps onto it. Think small,” says Fletcher. Secondly, if the poem is blah, the language is likely flat. Give the poem “needs a little twist, a stretch, an unusual phrase, something that lifts it off the ground,” Fletcher explains. Alternatively, your poem might need more voice–need to sound more like you–your way of seeing the world, and your way of being, not just something anyone could have written. Can you see yourself in the poem?

The poem is too vague and “floaty.” Avoid highfaluting words that hide the poem’s meaning. Poetry isn’t just a bunch of pretty words. It needs to be about something, and to be said in a way that gets the idea across. Ground your big ideas in down to earth things– specific, physical objects that “give the reader something real and tangible to relate to,” Fletcher explains.

The poem goes on too long. Trust your reader to understand your idea. Capture the moment and show it rather than explain it. Avoid draining the poem’s energy by going on and on.