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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Revising your poetry can be a smooth move

Occasionally a poem presents itself in full, so the poet does not need to change a thing. Usually, though, revising a poem can coax out something hidden or work out rough spots, making the revision – literally – a smooth move.

Unless a poem calls too much attention to its shiny self, a well-polished poem may be more likely to gain a positive response from editors of poetry journals, anthologies, and e-zines.

To help your poems find their full potential:

First, make and keep a copy of the original. Refer back to this as needed.

Let each poem sit and rest. Later, when you return to the work, treat the poem as if someone else had written every line.

Clarify meaning. As you put aside a poem, you might forget the exact wording or initial train of thought, but both should be clear when you go back to re-read. If not, recast lines or change any words that cause confusion.

Keep an eye out for errors. If you have trouble proofreading your poems for errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, or punctuation, you might consider such word processing software as Microsoft Word, which includes those editorial features.

Keep an ear out for musicality. Read each version of the poem aloud and listen to its rhythm. Sometimes, just switching a word or line can change the rhythmic flow or smooth out a bumpy beat.

Play with line-breaks in free verse. For suggestions about where and when to break a line, see previous articles on this blog such as, “Breaking line with free verse” and “Line breaks can make or break your poem.”

Avoid overworking a poem. Too much revision can douse that spark of spontaneity that began the poem. If you suspect this has happened, set aside both the revised version and the original poem, then resume your revision when you no longer recall every aspect of the poem.

Read aloud each version. If something seems “off,” diagnose what and where as accurately as possible, so you can correct the problem. If that does not work, put the revision aside, focus on another poem, and, if need be, find another perspective.

Get professional feedback on your poetry. Another poet whose work you respect – and whom you can trust to respect yours – can often pinpoint flaws and also recognize and encourage your poetic strengths, which helps you to improve your poems in general.

Use reliable resources for poets.

For more suggestions about revising, look for previous articles on The Poetry Editor blog such as, “Getting A New Vision For Your Re-Vision” and
Editing, Revising, and Otherwise Improving Your Poems.”

If you have found something workable that helps you to revise, add your tip, suggestion, or other encouraging word to poets in the Comments space below. Thanks - and have fun playing with words and lines and fresh visions in each re-vision.

(c) 2011, Mary Sayler


  1. Great list! I always have to have my mom read things, I can't always trust word.

  2. Thanks. Isn't it wonderful to have family members you can trust to read and comment helpfully on your work? Growing up, my son heard a lot about poetry, so he and my husband and two sisters have a well-trained eye and ear.

  3. Thanks so much for this post; it is exactly what I needed. I'm on a mission to continue working on my poems that I feel fall a little flat, and my rough drafts that are still missing that "something." You rock!

  4. Thank you for the encouraging word, Krissy, and I hope you're encouraged to keep looking for the word or phrase that makes a flat poem get fizzed :) But sometimes we're too hard on ourselves. For ex., an e-zine recently published a few of my poems, and the ones I felt super good about received no comments, whereas the poems I didn't think were too poetic got excellent feedback from readers who connected.