The Poetry Writing Process

Okay, a few people asked me this. I thought I’d oblige with a post.

I write the majority of my drafts on my iPhone, while I’m walking, watching TV, or sitting on the toilet (my compositional repository of choice). My writing very much depends on my mood and what has impacted me that day. I generally write better material when I’m depressed or in a dark state of mind.

As to process, I set up a draft on my iPhone, which is either edited or ‘done in one’ (a first draft not requiring edits). Generally, most of my drafts stay on my phone until I revisit them a few days or weeks later. My editing process includes reading the piece aloud, adding enjambment, line breaks, punctuation, altering words or lines as needed. I edit whenever I return to my notes on iPhone. Sometimes, I edit older poems after writing a new one. This also depends on the amount of time I have, location and mood.

Sometimes editing can change the meaning of one or more lines, which can subtly change the context of the overall poem. Sometimes it’s just a change in the words used to convey a metaphor or simile. Very occasionally the poem is scrapped and I start over with something completely different. Generally, I find something that I like in everything I write, even if it’s only a scrap of cloth. That scrap can be shaped into an everyday shirt or a tux, depending on my mindset.

My favourite poet is T.S. Eliot. I find a wistfulness and solemnity in his imagery and love the way he uses language to alternately hide and expose meaning within his poems. My favourite poem of his is The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock; it moves me with the way it flows and insinuates its way into my emotions. He’s the sort of poet I aspire be; if my poetry was only a fraction of the quality of his, I would be happy.

Excerpt From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

Cheers

Steve 😊

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On Writing and Editing Poetry

Explain your editing process. What works best for you? Do you take risks? Are you objective? How have you taken the poems through its steps to completion?

The Song Poetic. A poem about writing and editing poems.

The toilet provides solitude,
composure in a setting sometimes peaceful,
sometimes filled with the keen echoes of urgent battle.
It is here that fingers flicker with grace and iniquity
across the silky screen of my smartphone,
where auspicious notes take shape,
mellifluous harbingers of lyrical intent.
In minutes an ode is formed, a symphony is saved,
then forgotten until the next; sometimes minutes, sometimes days.
 
I return in no short time, or perhaps too short time,
to read and ponder, as you do, to consider
already considered notions of pomp and circumstance.
Sometimes the music is given voice, in all too muted tones,
whispered like dark secrets to a musing world.
Delete that line, change that word,
antonym or synonym, hyperbole or metaphor
magically enchanted with a wistful edge
that would hold a man to ransom (if only he were not so deaf).
What risk lies in changes? The page will not consume itself
in bitter apprehension, or come back to haunt
my sleepless nights, like an insomniac ghost.
 
The supple net awaits, for me to cast my feeble musings
on the virtual sea, where they be caught
or slip into watery depths, obscured.
Perhaps, all for better, or all for worse,
one man’s love is another man’s curse.
 

Stephen Thompson 2017

I came, I saw, I edited.

I read my poems out loud once they’re written. I often return to them, sometimes several times, to edit and change lines, words, imagery. Sometimes they’re written and done in one, without any further editing. Sometimes my poems start off being longer, then get whittled down as the twisted bracken and rotting undergrowth is macheted away with the poise of a manic chainsaw juggler. But not often.

The poem above was written in one — I read over it, changed a few words and line breaks, but the length stayed the same, as did the imagery and intent. I read it out loud a few times. It took me, all up, about 15 minutes to complete. Most of my poems take less time, but then they’re generally shorter. Some poems just seem to flow from some undammed river of consciousness.

Editing requires patience as well as objective and subjective vision. I wish I could say I have more patience, but I don’t. I’ve often published poems I’ve looked back on later and said “DOH! I wish I’d edited that.” Sometimes I can be objective and subjective enough to edit succinctly, other times I’m too attached to the poem.

I truly believe that the reader is free to interpret a poem any way they choose, as poems, like songs, affect each of us differently. They wind and wend and burrow their way into each person’s soul, connecting or disconnecting as they see fit.

Editing poems is like editing stories: you step back, re-read it, reshuffle and rewrite, and then hope for the best. But I’m always hoping for chocolate, even if it just turns out to be vanilla.

Cheers

Steve 😊

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