Basic Poem Editing

This is a quick checklist for the process of editing your poems:

  • Write the poem.
  • Remove yourself from the poem, take some time away from it (the more you are okay with killing your work, the less time away you have to take.)
  • Speak your poem out loud, listen to its flow.
  • Kill your darlings. Cut out unnecessary words (no matter how much you are attached to them; if they are unnecessary, kill ’em.)
  • Substitute words that don’t flow well with the rest of the piece. Use words that retain the same image and feel, but sound smoother with the rest of the piece or are more inclusive of the idea/feel.
  • Come back to it at a later date and see if you can reduce it further.
  • Your dictionary and thesaurus are your friends.


Poem Editing/Reduction Example


craving each other’s presence,
familiar and timeless,
our bodies kiss

The poem “Craving” came at a cost.

This is a more dramatic example of reduction to get to the smallest form possible, yet retaining the essence of the original idea. The process below is fairly self-explanatory. My choices for word substitution comes from sitting with the poem, reading it to myself, sometimes out loud to hear the flow. If there’s a hitch, then I seek out words that can more accurately describe the meaning and flow better with the surrounding phrase.

Listening to your poem as you recite it activates another part of your mind, that which sometimes has a better grasp on what sounds smooth, connected, and can more readily envision imagery. If you have a good ear, you will do well.

When editing your poetry, don’t be afraid to take time away from it, and then return with with a sharp scissors to kill the words that don’t work.

We sometimes get so attached to our “wonderful creation” that we don’t wish to disturb its “perceived” perfection. Like any diamond, perfection comes from time and a lot of compression. You are closer to perfection when you can say the most with the least.

There are times when some of my poems come out almost completely reduced as soon as it hits the paper. Almost. Even in those wonderful cases, I can usually cleave a word or three off to make it better.

As with any editing process, your dictionary and thesaurus are companions for your journey.

Poem Editing/Reduction Process

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