Through the site Precipitate, I came across the work of Curtis Jensen, a poet who has lived and worked in Utah, Wyoming, Ukraine and now Brooklyn. He maintains a blog at the end of waste and was good enough to answer the following questions:
How do you work your way through revisions? Do you have any tricks or theories to removing commas, words or lines?
I usually work through revisions in pencil, on paper, reading / speaking to myself out loud as I write.
Regarding punctuation, it depends on the poem or set of poems. Over the last year or so I’ve drifted away from using commas and end punctuation, and now I’m sort of drifting back. If I am using punctuation, I usually have an imagined hierarchized scheme for it all–certain symbols mark sentence-interior phrasal breaks, other symbols mark sentence-end phrasal breaks.
If a line sticks in my ears or for my eyes (I try and give my ears more attention as a general rule, but that doesn’t always work out), I piece the line out in a sort of hashed up phrase-level sentence diagram, or I scan it with my own mongrel version of Derek Attridge’s phrasal scansion, or I do both.
I look for points at which more syntactic energy can be built in to the poem (lately this has seemed to be a function of keeping an eye out for the chance to exploit the charge between subject and object by way of predicative ambiguity, but there’s more than 1 way to pluck a goose when it comes to this stuff) and more formal patterning or variation can be teased out of the poem.
Once I’ve moved through a round of all of that, I usually type and print a draft sheet of the poem. More often than not I try out drafts at readings–there’s something about getting a poem in your mouth in front of an audience in the charged space of a reading that can really show where poem is charging itself or not.
Most poems, after a couple rounds of all of this, settle out into something close to finished.
Robert Lowell wrote that “Revision is inspiration.” To what extent do you think that’s true? How would you rewrite Lowell: “Revision is __________”
Revision is usually for me a function more of composition than of generating text. But not always.
Any pet peeves when it comes to editing your work or someone else’s?
I’d rather not do either when I’m out in an icestorm. In fact I’d rather just avoid icestorms.
Are there any lines from an early draft of a poem that you’d like to share? What ideas, principles or gut feelings guided you through those changes?
I’m working on a longer project about John D Lee, a figure from Mormon history. Last night at Prospect 60WANU5, from a new poem I’m working on in which I sort of throw Lee’s voice, I misread
A friend is one’s second self,
& you are my third wife, loyal
To all ends the word of God is holy
As are our bodies our wealth
A friend is one’s second wife
You are my third, loyal …
The formal integrity of the stanza holds up with the change, it’s nice to have wife out of the 3rd line, and its pretty ridiculous to take on the voice of a polygamist and say things like that, so I think I’ll keep it. It was a complete moment of parapraxis–I as guided by my inability to read.