I think of myself as a writer, but when push comes to really thinking about it, I am indeed a person who re-writes and re-vises continuously. In order to do this, it is necessary to read and re-read. If a word, or even a comma, in a poem troubles me, then it is a sign that something is wrong, somewhere. Whenever I am faced by this sensation that “something is wrong”, then I re-read, re-think, re-plan, re-vise, re-visit and re-write.
I try to re-work and re-think by asking myself (a) what is missing and (b) what can I add and (c) how am I linking things and (d) am I over-complicating and (e) what is the burning heart of the matter and (f) what am I really trying to say and (g) have I managed to actually say it. If the answer to any of these questions raises even more questions, then it’s back to the drawing board. No: a re-writer’s life is not an easy one.
I usually keep my early variants to poems (and other prose works) in chronological order and I find it useful to go back to that first precious moment of inspiration. Did I stay true to it? Did it change? How? Was the change for the better or for the worse? Occasionally, re-writing takes the original spirit right of the piece. It is sometimes very, very hard to re-write that inspiration back in, without re-turning to the original. If I am in difficulty, I will re-write from a different point of view: another person speaking, perhaps, or in prose, or as a stream of consciousness. This exercise, and that should probably be written in the plural, will either present me with a viable alternative or confirm me in (a) my original wording or (b) a new form of wording. Another simple (relatively speaking) exercise is to check for structure, theme, metaphor, and wording: are they all neatly tied together and well-linked?
This happened to me today with Obsidian’s Edge 14 & 15. Neither of my many attempts at taking Dainzú and placing it into words on a page felt right. Something was missing. But what? I couldn’t put my finger on what was going wrong. I spoke with Jiminy, my friendly Cricket Conscience, and he asked me several questions that I couldn’t answer. Luckily, I was able to choose the TV Show option phone a friend, so I did.
My friend too was troubled by these poems and said that I hadn’t managed to produce anything that seemed to express my better poetic self as he knew it. We talked out several possibilities. “Perhaps you need a lizard,” he said. “It’s a dry, dusty landscape. It can sit on a wall. But don’t worry: you’ll think of something.”
When I put the phone down, I went back to work. Sure, I was struggling with OE 15, but when I checked back to OE 14, I saw that I had been struggling with that too, but without realizing it. What to do? First, I tried writing about the lizard; then I tried adding water and lack of water; then I re-wrote from the point of view of the old lady in the poem. This certainly felt better. Then I shifted images from OE 15 back into OE 14. Then I re-wrote OE 14 from the point of view of the old woman. The poem started to feel better.
The secret, I think, is for me to relax, to be myself, to let the poem flow into me, and then to let it flow out again. I must remember not to force my writing, but to let it flow, and to continue writing as I want to write while paying attention to the small details of which I am becoming more and more aware every day. We are all creative — or we wouldn’t be here, reading this: we must let that creativity flow.
Friends are essential. Writing groups are useful. But the real secret is to develop and polish our own creativity. We must also learn to develop our own voices and to have confidence in those creative sparks that dwell within us. It is only by entering and re-entering that personal creative space that we can write and re-write in the way we really want. And we must have courage: the courage to tear down the wall and free that which is within and let it roam, un-fenced and at will. Like the cattle, like the dogs, like the wind-blown dust my old lady will see and feel, sandpaper on her skin, in the next version of her poem.