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Editing Rounds: Talking thru a Poem’s Edits

As a one-time thing, I’ll take a page from Gillian and do a Watch Me Edit. My last workshop in the 4-part series on editing with Pre-Tree is at the Arts Court Library room on Tuesday the 22nd.

A poem underway here…

first draft:

some bend at the waist and dash

the one man walks boldly, slowly
as if it were sunny midday. he can’t
get any wetter perhaps, or
perhaps enjoys the pelting
of rain-snow, the 50 km/h gusts
at his back which make his jean
cuffs billow like toy sailboats.

the traffic lights bounce, swing.
at intersections, cars nose ahead
hesitant about where that bang came from.
plastic sheets lose their homes
ghost across the yellow lines.

block after last the street lamps
look like shower heads pouring.
no stars, no sky except what comes
to meet us. see the awnings pick
at their skirts, nervously rock, threaten
to take off end for end like umbrellas
down the blackened street to the river,
its white caps lost to the dark
choppy beats, its stones grinding
on each other like teeth.

I think it has legs. It has some useful bits. The ending works but it’s diluted by taking so long to get there. It’s baggy and prosaic and report of observation without a lot of punch.

Some phrases in there. Like concept of choppy beats of waves in the dark and a blackened street to the river. The sailboat points ahead to the river coming. Like the image of umbrellas going end-for-end but that’s an expected sort of image, even if it does say wind without saying the word wind again. What else would shower heads do but pour? It’s not a marked state. Flat and redundant.

Problems with order of reveal, among other things. Where is the viewer? Walking in this storm? That needs to be addressed sooner. Can the narrator hear the squeak? Accuracy-wise, how much wind does it take to make things rock.

Toy sailboats are whimsical and don’t exactly link nor set up for anthropomorphizing the building nor that for a sense of bruxism stress enacted by the river.

There’s adverbs and extra articles. The time and space of those might be used by more load-bearing, content-bearing sounds.

What’s the point of the utterance? It’s blustering about and shifts mood for no reason and not building towards something.

It has problems. It’s got a bounce to it tho. The excitement of the storm comes thru.

Maybe should just keep the last 4 lines and put something else front end?

medial edit (around 10th draft):

jackets bend at the waist and dash

as highrise gods, we’re
uninvolved, palms pressed
to this aquarium glass.

a vestigial self-definition, gods.
frogs calling themselves tadpoles.
the traffic lights bounce, creak.

pontiacs nose into night’s cracks.
plastic sheets lose their homes,
ghost across yellow lines.

for blocks into streaks street lamps
stream like shower heads.
and one man is bold, slow,

as if it were sunny midday. he can’t
get wetter, perhaps, or
perhaps he enjoys rain-snow,

sixty kilometre gusts at his
peacoat, how his jean cuffs
billow, threaten to shear,

sail end-for-end down the
blackened street to the
river where the white caps

are lost in their own choppy beats.
the river’s stones are grinding
on each other like teeth.

The drafts were to make language and images shaper, tightens, add more sound, roll in better parts of interim drafts, address the order of reveal of where the speaker is what the narrator can see and know. This version makes the end slant rhyme at the end more visible, for better or worse.

After 3 and 4 line stanzas, couplets then back to triplets. I seem to default to couplets but it clusters better as thoughts in this size. I played with double-length lines and matching more or against syntax.

It’s the same scene but doesn’t feel like the same time. Some momentum is lost.

Comparing the two in filemerge, the last line is the only one the same. There are only about half a dozen phrases and 3 dozen words in common from the original.

Is it done?

After the title, the entry point is more abstract than the immediate idea of a particular person. By the end of the poem, we’ve forgotten about the man, a dropped stitch. Maybe he should loop back in. Or maybe he’s implied, and the humanity of others he represents, with the teeth image?

I like the pair of binaries, god and ghosts, person on high removed and poor soaked sod out there who doesn’t know someone would see and feel sorry for him. The speculating on how he feels seems more remote and cerebral than need be.

With the pant cuffs flapping, whereas it was whimsy, it’s more hypothetical pondering where the editing hands shows rather than feeling like a natural musing/imagining. More happens in the brain of the narrator (such as imagining the cuffs shearing off and pondering our nature) and so is more telling than the descriptive showing, making it less grounded, more editorial.

Feels overworked. I want the compression of more editing without losing the sense of improv spontaneity. Could be shorter as well without losing anything.

The changes change it. Does it strengthen or weaken?

What are my objectives for it? To have something that hooks and amuses.

Am I invested in the story? Do I want a reader to be? Do they need to know the scene or me to tell it? What’s my subtext? Here, this happened. That’s more for a letter home than a poem isn’t it?

I like the extending of fishbowl high rise to aquarium since it is high density housing and made of planes not curves (Too clever so “kill your babies” applies?)

I’m taken with the idea of frogs calling themselves tadpoles and out of date self-definitions. Maybe this isn’t the time and place for it even if it a wet environment. To put it at the end would be an expected profound pondering which is tired so far as the poem arc goes. If that’s something I want to express, maybe I should express only that. Keep the storm a storm rather than an excuse to expound on our sense of our place in the world explicitly.

The nature of the story, being an observer safely tucked behind glass as someone struggles in the wind and wet lends itself naturally to considering the ethics of how one positions oneself to others. Maybe this treatment pushes the idea too far into retrospect and verbose and pat. The idea might be better served with something more minimal slipped in. If I were to cut out the first two stanzas, the attitude is still there. It’s like editing a novel and removing one principle character and the gaps and inferences around the gap make the impact as well or better.

Is it as simple as it needs to be and no more than that? Where next?

What’s the core idea, if it were boiled down to a sales slogan? We are connected equals, slob and vain god-self.

Ok, then if that were the message, what’s missing? The person on high needs to have a come-down, a humbling satori moment, something equalizing to realize self as wet and small? Is the person recognized when close enough as a friend not an other?

Is there resentment housed in the phrase “as if it were sunny midday” that can be exploited and spun? Does something happen to street person to cause empathy to surge? Flying buttress flying off or some evidence of struggle? Does the viewer wants something spectacular, a blood sport mentality of wanting thrill? A shift of sometime would cause energy…that would need to be seeded back or a crumb trail thickened thru in order to strengthen the fit of the ending.

It need to have a rest and I’ll come back at it fresh.

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13 Responses

  1. Thanks for this Pearl. Fascinating.

    Jean Van LoonFebruary 20, 2011 @ 10:35 am
  2. This is interesting. I find the first draft works for me, like an amble, head-down through the rain: it evokes the dark windy feel without using those words. I find, however, that the stones grinding like teeth of the last metaphor belong in another poem, really. First you’re on land, then there’s water, then… teeth – the mixed metaphor too many.

    I haven’t read your analysis in depth yet, but will do so after breakfast, and may continue the conversation!

    Best wishes,
    Czandra

  3. 2nd reading: The second (11th?) draft you’ve included here loses the immediacy of the first, interpolates the narrator, the thought, the abstraction. There’s nothing wrong with description that goes nowhere like the wind goes nowhere, repeats itself like a storm does, is at times flat like a lull in the rain and a times billows emptily. what better language to describe a storm, and why does it have to go somewhere? The last line could read simply “…stones grind like teeth”

  4. 3rd reading: I tend to agree with your analysis. Re: “an expected profound pondering which is tired so far as the poem arc goes.” – if circumstance merits it, this is where the poem should go, regardless of fashion. A poet is allowed to have a range of styles, including the classic. Still, I think tadpoles thinking themselves frogs is easier on the reader than the inverse.

    My impression of the solitary man was originally not that he was homeless, but that he was out in the rain and not necessarily bothered by it, maybe even enjoying it: conjures up TS Eliot and Magritte, where the lone figure in the urban landscape is somehow noble in his right place despite his normalcy.

    I’m taking your talking as an opportunity to prune your 1st draft which I will send to you separately.

    Cz

  5. you can post it here too. The pruned hybrid might be interesting to others as well.

  6. Hi, Pearl. I don’t think I kept it, and can’t figure out how I sent it to you?? It’s not in my facebook messages. You can post it if you’d like to. I’d add the following as a suggestion for the beginning, before “some bend….”:

    highrise gods uninvolved,
    palms pressed to this aquarium glass
    in vestigial self-definition:

    frogs thinking themselves tadpoles.
    pontiacs nose into night’s cracks
    some bend at the waist…. (add rest of pruned)

    (I like the momentary puzzlement at pontiacs bending at the waist – urge to look up pontiac,
    which is a good thing)…..

  7. Pntiac: (c. 1720–1769), Ottawa war leader
    Championed as the “great chief” who headed Pontiac’s Rebellion, Pontiac’s significance lies in the way he reflected, rather than created, intertribal militancy following the Seven Years’ War.

    Sources first mention Pontiac at Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) in 1757, but definitively he appears in the record only in May 1763. Foiled in his attempt that month to surprise and capture British Fort Detroit, Pontiac and his multitribal allies besieged it until October. Pontiac may have directed, though he certainly did not lead, the successful attacks on the British forts Sandusky (Ohio) and St. Joseph (Michigan). These actions inspired frontier raiding, the elimination of seven other British posts by July 1763, and the Delaware and Shawnee siege of Fort Pitt.

    By late 1763 and throughout 1764, Pontiac endeavored to draw support from French garrisons in Illinois. Failing again, he retreated with the British at Detroit in July 1765, confirming peace at Oswego a year later.

    By 1768, his reputation among Ottawas had fallen and he became an exile in lower Illinois. There, at Cahokia in April 1769, perhaps in retaliation for his killing of an Illinois Indian in 1766, a Peoria clubbed and stabbed Pontiac to death.

    [See also Native American Wars.]

    Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/pontiac#ixzz1EhGLH58Y

  8. comical image of cars bending at the waist or random act of history inclusion of Pontiac.

    The version you sent I still have:

    some bend at the waist and dash

    one man walks boldly, slow
    as if it were sunny midday. he can’t
    get any wetter perhaps, or
    enjoys the pelting. the gusts
    at his back make his jean
    cuffs billow like sailboats.

    traffic lights bounce, swing.
    at intersections, cars nose hesitant
    about where that bang came from. (I like this, and
    plastic sheets lose their homes, I like it in the middle)
    ghost across the yellow lines.

    street lamps
    look like shower heads pouring.
    no stars, no sky except
    what meets us. see the awnings pick
    at their skirts, nervously rock, threaten
    to take off end for end like umbrellas
    down the blackened street to the river,

    its white caps lost to dark
    choppy beats, its stones grind
    like teeth.

  9. Pearl, I finally sat down to read this with a clear head. I agree with them, the first draft does have a quality the 10th draft doesn’t but re-reading it, I do understand your points and how I can apply them to my own works.

    Wish we had some good workshops here in town. There are poetry groups, but I find there are so many who attend you do not get much time to work through something, and so many freaking opinions in a setting of 15 people. makes me more confused.

  10. Glad the demo was interesting.

    The more opinions you take in, the more you have to work with. It’s all data.

    If the person likes what you like, writes like you like, has the same goals, you can weigh that differently than someone who is a consistently poor listener. You’re sifting for things you misses seeing.

    This town’s very blessed with dozens of workshops around.

    PearlMarch 9, 2011 @ 12:00 pm
  11. Pearl, I missed this because it came in while we were away. I’m looking forward to the next draft of your poem – I loved the streetlights as showerhead image. I also learned a lot from how you framed your analysis. I’m so glad you did a ‘watch me edit’ too.



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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] did a live poem edit here with all my thinking about the changes, weaknesses and strengths made explicit for a later […]

  2. […] poet Pearl Pirie pulled a Gillian and did a ‘watch me edit’ post on her website. Check out her Editing Rounds. Share this page: This entry was written by Gillian Wallace, posted on April 6, 2011 at 9:30 pm, […]