As you write a poem, let your words flow onto the paper without censoring yourself. Later, after the lines have had a chance to sit and rest a while, go back and read your work aloud.
Pretend that someone else wrote the poem, then briefly summarize. Describe what you see, hear, and feel with each line. Does the poem express what you intended? Or does it directly state your thoughts or feelings without “visual aids” to help readers get into the experience?
A lack of “visuals” often occurs in a first draft, so don’t be surprised if the lines of your verse freely turn on flat statements that may sound like prose, rather than poetry. No problem! Once you know what to look for and how to assess your work, you can change the lines however you want.
One way to handle a poem is to look for an image, symbol, metaphor, or phrase that relates to your subject. To do this, list each picture, cliché, or object that comes to mind — preferably something with an obvious connection to your main thought or theme. Then play with those words or phrases until you find a fresh way of showing what you want to say.
Another way to handle a poem with direct statements is to get radical! Cut. Slash. Rearrange lines, and find the poem within a poem.
To give you an example, let’s first consider the original draft written by Tapeshwar then a revision, which, in the life of any poem, could be one of many possible versions:
Death is layered
Haiti, Tsunami, Terrorism…
Death, death… everywhere!
We all are affected by this,
And the death of the people i.e. near and dear ones.
The echo effect of death is just for a moment,
And it vanishes when the next death sounds the bell.
Many a cry, many the sympathizers…
And the story goes on as ever before.
Diagnosis is pre-emptied and the cure is semi-transparent.
The cure for the affected families is for the moment only.
The whole disaster evaporates in oblivion,
Nothing is kept for the conscious!
It is just a moment truth,
And the trust is burdened upon the past.
Lots of speeches provoked, laden with untold miseries…
But the affect is self-made by the speaker.
Does anybody think that i.e. that was my mother, father, sister, brother etc.?
Proclamation is distant and the affect is near.
Killing is substitute for the over-burdened mind.
Death is normal for the Death itself!
Death is layered by the onlooker by the previous death.
The meaning of death is partaken by the un-dead!
As you can see, the poem addresses the subject of death in a very direct manner. While this shows an honest, authoritative, concerned voice, readers may feel excluded from the poem, which has the unfortunate effect of removing them from the experience rather than evoking empathy or providing new insight.
The following version plays with lines and experiments with some rather drastic cuts, which may make the poem more accessible to readers:
Earthquake, tsunami, terrorism,
and the death of people near….
A bell sounds, echoing
the next death.
Many cry. Many sympathize,
but the story goes on.
The cure is for the moment.
Nothing is kept.
and trust burden the past.
Speeches provoke, laden
with untold miseries.
Was that my mother, my father,
In the distance, the effect
Death lies down
in layers. The un-
Tapesh, if this version omits a deep insight that came to you, keep working with the lines until they say what you want but so readers can grasp your meaning. For example, the revision omits, “Killing is substitute for the over-burdened mind,” which presents an interesting thought that you might want to reword to clarify then re-insert into the poem.
Read both versions aloud and think about any images or phrases that could assist you in showing thoughts about death. Select the freshest ideas to work into the poem. Experiment. Revise, and continue to read aloud each revision.
This revision cuts to the essence of your poem, removing repeated thoughts, a cliché (near and dear) and statements that might be considered unsubstantiated rather than factual. From this skeleton, however, you can flesh out the poem as you like, Tapesh. Or you can let the bare bones of the poem rattle like this – like death.
[For resources to help you revise your poems, visit The Poetry Editor website – http://www.thepoetryeditor.com. ]