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.


Steve 😊


The Narrative Poem.

Here’s another response I did for uni. You might want to try it out.


Steve 🙂

Write a narrative poem of no longer than 15 lines about your childhood. Remember the narrative poem is a journey. Take the reader on a journey of your childhood.


Stephen Thompson

This new yard, so voluminous and green, where every potential meets possibility.
Far away from the housing commission ghetto that predicated deeds,
where every child was built on foundations of paternalistic greed.
Here, the air is plain and untinged by the sedentary.
Here, I can run free.
This new school, so quaint and reassuring, where unfamiliarity is as anonymous as mediocrity.
Far away from the amorphous tincture from which my primal learnings seeded,
from where the outcome for every child was branded into flesh.
Here, the opportunities avail themselves, a future not yet set.
Here, I can learn. Free.
This new life, so fundamental and correct, where philosophy waxes agnostically.
Far away from dreams cluttered with rusty cans and shoebox schemes,
from fundamentals like crack whore 101 and burglary.
Here, a path lures me from the box that long confounded me.
Here, I can be truly free.

I grew up in a low rent housing commission area, riddled with drugs, crime and violence. When I was the tender age of eleven, my family moved to another suburb nearby. It was the exact opposite of the one we’d left: quieter, safer, subdued. We didn’t have any more money and we weren’t especially privileged, but the move opened up what seemed like a different world, even though it was geographically only a few kilometres away. A world of nascent opportunity.

Looking back now, hindsight is clearer than the proverbial deer in headlights.


Steve 🙂

Waving, not drowning. Just watch out for the sharks…

(‘So, what are you up to, now,’ says Alpha Girl, glancing over my shoulder at my laptop screen. ‘Blogging? Online dating? Writing recipes, or whatever it is you do all day on that thing?’

‘I’ve started writing a book,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to be a writer. It’s about time I started.’

‘A book,’ she says, with an air of incredulity. ‘You’re writing a book?’

Sometimes its exasperating having to justify everything I do to her, but I’m used to it by now. I guess I blow off a little steam in my response.

‘Yes, a book. I intend to be a writer and writing short stories, novels and blogs is part of that. I know you look down your nose on the things I do because you consider them unimportant, but they’re important to me. I know you probably think I’m wasting my time, and maybe I am, but if I don’t try I’ll never know if I can do it. I have time on my hands and now’s the time to do it, rather than stagnating and wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of my life. Happy?’

She steps back. The silence hangs heavy. ‘What?’ I say. ‘Are you going to tell me to stop wasting my time and get a real job?’

For a moment, I could almost believe she’s hurt. Her mouth is a thin line. ‘I was going to say good luck with it. I’ve read your blogs, and you’re obviously passionate about writing.’

She leaves the room, leaving me feeling like more of a tool than I usually do.)


I’ve started my novel. I’ve written unfinished novels in the past, but my intention with this one is to actually write an entire book. Maybe I’ll toss it in the trash at that point, but I have to write it, anyway. I would like to try to get it published.

I read some good advice in a book I’m reading, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.  In one of the many essays, Bill O’Hanlon advises to write in small increments. This ensures that you write every day and that you can fit writing into your busy schedule (yes, I have one of those. In between uni work and sitting around, that is). O’Hanlon also comments on overcoming the mental barriers associated with big and daunting jobs, using a process called ‘externalising’.

Externalising is taking the unhelpful inner voices (you know the ones – am I good enough? Why is everything so hard? Did I leave the gas on when I left the house?)  – the one’s that affect motivation – (okay, so I meant that, not the gas thing) and begin to consider them as external.

One of the examples O’Hanlon uses is: ‘I self-sabotage by telling myself I’m not a good enough writer to get published’. He suggests to think instead: ‘self-doubt is trying to convince me that I’m not good enough’. The change, he suggests, helps you to challenge negative thoughts, rather than allowing them to undermine you. This works for all things, not just writing.

O’Hanlon has written 28 books, so I can’t really argue with him. It’s one way he managed to overcome his own self-doubts as a writer, along with some other Jedi mind tricks he discusses in the essay.

So, I typed my first chapter with a newfound sense of confidence, clear headedness and purpose. Maybe this is what I was meant to do. Maybe this is my true calling.

Time will tell.


(I find Alpha Girl in the kitchen, making herself a huge, multi-layered sandwich.

‘Sorry if I lashed out earlier,’ I say. She turns to face me, a tight smile pinching her features.

‘I was going to say what you said, about getting a real job,’ she replies. ‘But then I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t shoot you down over this.’

I’m not sure how to respond. Is this a trap, another mental mind game wrapped in duplicity and deceit? I swallow involuntarily.

She turns her attention back to her sandwich. ‘I like seeing you all insecure and confused. It makes it all worthwhile.’ She turns back, the malevolent glint in her eye has returned. She tears the sandwich with razor teeth, chews and swallows, like a shark consuming a dolphin that’s irritated it for too long. ‘And I still think you should get a real job.’

I’m imagining the dolphin’s death throes, the water permeated with blood and pieces of frayed meat. The shark tears and tears, and it’s sinking into the red-hazed waters, plummeting deeper and deeper…)


Yes, my spelling is English, not American. So stop wincing every time you see an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’, or a ‘u’ in ‘Humour’.   

To find out more about Bill O’Hanlon’s books and methods, visit http://billohanlon.com/

To find out more about ‘The Complete Book of Novel Writing’, visit http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/novel-writing

“There is no try. Just do.”

My late-teens son, Padawan Nerd-in-Training, rarely listens when I offer advice. I can see his eyes glazing and his brain slowly switching off the brilliant lecture I have so carefully devised. He’s thinking about the latest Metal Gear Solid or what’s to eat in the fridge.

It’s not that he’s a bad kid – he doesn’t run wild at night, he doesn’t drink or do drugs. In fact it’s pretty hard to drag him away from his games console of choice to get him to go out and breathe fresh air. But he’s at the point now where I can’t really admonish him if he’s done something wrong, or to do chores. He’s a man now, so I have to reason with him, provide evidence to support my argument, plead and beg and bribe, if I have to. Gone are the days when my word was law and he jumped to it.

I sometimes worry that I didn’t bring him up the right way. I think every parent does. There’s no point blaming his mother for not providing him with a regular routine when he was young, or for moving him through five different schools because it was convenient for her to do that. Although I only had Padawan every weekend, I was still a big part of his life and thus an influence.

If you’re anything like me as a parent you agonise over everything you do and say, worrying that the latest advice or scolding you give is going to traumatise and have them in therapy in their later years. I must admit, it is very convenient for me to blame my parents every time I cry when I see a soppy movie.

But although we like to think we are the be-all and end-all, that’s not the case. The simple fact is, although we are major influences on our children, as soon as they get to school (or day care) they are exposed to friends, peers, teachers, all sorts of role models whom they learn from. Over time, they have a gamut of influences, many of which we have no control over. That’s not to say we still don’t worry about our own input, but there are many other factors at play.

And don’t get me started on the influence of the internet. Some days I’d like to blow up all the servers in the world and return us to a technological dark age, to stop the crap that kids and teenagers can get access to. Other days, it is the most valuable research and communication tool ever created (I couldn’t be a blogger without it). We take the good with the bad.

There is no perfect way to raise kids. We try to do our best. Sometimes we f*ck it up (I do, often). There are things we wish we had never done, things we should have done better, guilt that will follow us until the end of our days (unless you’re some kind of sociopathic parent who really doesn’t care at all).

So, I guess I should stop worrying. Padawan still comes to me for advice (he just doesn’t like it when I offer it). He chooses what he uses and what he doesn’t. That’s how free will works.

If only he’d just do it my way…


(Yes, I use English spelling. Get over it.)

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