This is a poem revision process inspired by Billy Collins’ Masterclass. It offers different suggestions to tackle specific parts and elements of the poem.
The best way to use this is as a checklist. Run through the checklist for each poem to be revised.
- Strive to write poems about subjects that have never been written about yet. Exploit your imagination.
- Choose a large topic and choose an image as point of entry.
- Let go of the topic altogether
- Consider using a title that indicates how the poem will proceed. Then fulfill the promise while complicating its meaning.
- Don’t sum up the poem in the title.
- Write a title that doesn’t draw too much attention to it (i.e., too puzzling).
- Write a title that helps you to access the first few lines.
- Consider making the poem an epistolary poem.
- Frame your poem like a travel: start somewhere you know, end up in an unfamiliar place.
- Think of a poem as a moving thing: consider just letting go of the need to nail the subject and focusing on how it develops instead. Think of the poem’s purpose as to discover itself.
- Aspire to write poetry in the language of every day life (i.e., conversational).
- Decide who you are speaking to: to a specific reader or the general audience.
- Begin your poem with a very simple description, which seduces your reader, then take it in a different direction.
- Start your poem at home: with what’s around you. Then take it forward.
- Invent a persona and use it to frame your writing.
- Choose to either be a poet who writes from memories or a poet of present observation.
- Create some predictability to establish trust in your reader, which makes it easier for them to accept your content.
- Use imagery instead of rhyme and meter to create predictability.
- Consider using spacing strategically to force the reader to pause.
- Don’t cut stanzas unprofitably. Let the lines form the progress of the reader.
- Improve the intro by setting an easy to accept scene that draws your reader inside.
- Describe where you are.
- Don’t make demands here. Reserve your demands in subsequent stanzas.
- Revise each stanza as if it were a room that reveals something unique.
- Consider omitting certain words to heighten the sense of mystery and change meaning.
- Insert words, phrases, sentences, or thoughts that could be interpreted with more than one meaning throughout the poem.
- Consider inserting unusual capitalization in your poem to give weight to unexpected words.
- Make a radical twist spatially or theoretically from the original scene.
- Use words that are innately funny-sounding or evoke a certain emotion and use them based on the needs of the poem.
- Add musicality in your poem by using assonance (words with similar vowel sounds).
- Use your natural speaking voice or personality including the raggedness of your life.
- Add words based on ear decision.
- Consider using anaphora: begin lines the same way.
- Introduce turns: chronological turn or change your addressee. To do this, trust your own associations and follow the memories triggered by your writing.
- Instead of deep sincerity, be playful.
- Use humor in short measure (e.g., puns or wordplay) to engage your reader on your side and advance serious intents.
- Consider using a soft ending, such as an image. Don’t try to resolve anything.
- Consider using a short line of syntax that alludes to a continuation we don’t see.
- For ending, consider using a specific image that is fitting but unfamiliar, which balances expectation with surprise.
- Use a shocking ending ala “Wan Chu’s Wife in Bed.”
- Create an ending that would produce the most silence after.
- Write each poem on long hand first so you can be messy.
- Write a poem as a sentence first. Then cut it into stanzas later. Try quatrains (four stanzas) first. If it doesn’t work, let the poem go.
- Start from the beginning to the end, one good line after another.
- Don’t delete mistakes to see the process of how you arrived to a revision.
- Revise the poem in a digital space to tidy it.
- Do your revisions somewhere busy and let distractions enter the poem.
- Read your poem aloud to yourself and mark where you stumble. Read it aloud to others and mark where you stumble. Compare the areas. Make revisions for diction, pacing, and clarity. Remove nonessential lines.
- Read down to see what rhymes, the words that rhyme together may give more meaning to something.
- Work at the poem until it’s done in one sitting. Revise for sound and cadence.
- Read the poem aloud 40 times to look for words you don’t need. Look for something that shouldn’t be there.