In this lesson, we will discuss in-depth one method of revision by taking the dust off poems inside our metaphorical drawers.
If you’re a serious poet, it’s likely that you have many poems sitting inside your filing cabinets or hidden somewhere in your computer. Perhaps, there’s a shoe box under your bed or at the very bottom of your closet stuffed with poems you’d like to forget. Maybe we gave up on these poems or there was a certain element missing that we couldn’t quite tackle at the time. Or maybe like me, you find yourself sending it out over and over again only to be rejected time and time again. You wonder what’s wrong with it and revisit it a few times. There is hope though in resurrecting these old monsters hiding underneath our bed. Sometimes they just need a makeover.
Scott Wiggerman offers this strategy in his book “Wingbeats” mentioned in the first week. This technique helped me create a brand new poem from two old poems that eventually got published in Huizache.
No reading assignment this week. Feel free to re-read “Do-overs and Revisions” if you need additional ideas.
Discussion: Describing your process
Include a brief sentence or two discussing your process going from the draft to the final draft. 500 words or less, please. Comment on your fellow course mates’ comments.
Writing Exercise: How to Frankenstein Your Poems
Begin by choosing one of the above optical illusions as your focus then consider this chosen illusion as two perceptions within a single narrative. See the below writing prompt and example.
Prompt & Examples
To start, find two old poems of similar length that you could never quite finish for whatever reason. Don’t worry about what form or what story each poem previously. These poems should by now have enough distance that you are okay with playing Frankenstein with them.
Now comes the fun part.
Take a line from each poem and break it up into two parts. Feel free to play around with how you break up each line. Below is an example excerpted from his chapter:
He liked to make me breakfast, He liked to make me breakfast,
omelettes with bacon and Swiss omelettes with bacon and Swiss
while I sat nude in the dining room while I sat nude in the dining room
staring at the old-time toasters staring at the old-time toasters
It started as one. It started as one
Then one became two, Then one became two
became ten, became a hundred became ten, became a hundred
before the week was through before the week was through
And so forth. Feel free to play around with the syntax and combine the two poems with each part that you created. If it helps, print out both poems and cut out each line and rearrange them in a new way. In doing this, you should become more aware of the language you are using. You do not have to reuse all your parts and in some cases, you may end up cutting parts and injecting new language into your poem. Be ready to cut lines you love from both poems. Be ready to fall in love with new lines. It won’t work every time, but let the exercise feed your creative process in revising your poem.
Shown here is the poem that Scott Wiggerman created from those two poems. Even without the whole text from the two drafts, you can see how the ideas behind “Burnt Toast” and “September 11” are imbued in the final poem.
Introduction to Want
What I remember of the bedroom:
planes proliferating in explosive
blockbusters, but mostly the loop
of relentless commercials. We tired
of condoms, Viagra on shelves
just out of reach, fat on the grill,
as the national verb, the latest
popstar bronze as American arms,
big ol’ Rams black as burnt toast.
How we compromised, picking
our sacrifices, always testing–
takeout or delivery? paper or
plastic? extra cheese?–
staring at papered walls before
the weekends were through,
my words in orbit around
his giant screen and tiny speakers.
He introduced me to want–
of something . . . I don’t remember.
And now, breakfast at two,
nude in my own garage,
I’m lost on Memorial Day.
I see him or someone like him
in fusty towns across Texas.
I seem to remember in circles.
Below, I’ll show an example of two poems I used to create “Ecology Branding.” When I did this exercise, it was picked up rather quickly by Huizache.
Photographers Took Our Portraits
Light bulbs & photographers
search for the put-on, perfect phrase
of awkward—though we are not
what we seem. Imagine Vaseline
—rubbed on a lens. Much different
from the masquerade, the breath held
beneath the rubber or plastic. Melting.
Your eyes see through slits, we do
as we were told. The results
are unlike us. Does it feel dirty?
I’m a lamb, a rock, a tree—
metal grate glowing black.
Sometimes it helps to look away.
Appear as if you were never there.
An American Tradition
What I have learned about drinking a bottle
of Coke is that when it goes down
caramel sweet full
with a sodium you cannot taste
a sugary fizz down the tongue
when it comes to the brain: you must
thirst for more. Another cold glass, please.
I prefer it with ice like in the commercials
where I’ve been tricked into believing our team won.
What I have learned of light bulbs is not the same
as when I imagine drinking Mexican bottles of coke
& the chemical urge of being a cleaner, better American
for the environment isn’t just because. Instead, I picture
the Vaseline rub on our eyelids, some sort of pornographic
lens for doing everything possible to be a better. Everybody
knows what it means to indulge in caffeine, our sodium rich
masquerades of consciousness for the same reason we indulge
in our green belief that buying this plastic product, this addiction,
will be refreshing when called upon, to repeat that phrase going clean,
to claim, I am a lamb, a rock, a cold glass of tradition, that refrain
is not unlike our commercial for BP wherein they apologize for their
black mess, unforgotten by those gulf coast habitants.
Doesn’t it feel dirty when they say we won the war?
Won’t you refill this memory, Mr. President of father
putting in the gas well, road tripping so American;
soon we won’t be able to pass the real past-time, the joy of this
bumper sticker allegiance to say I do this, but I won’t do that.
Sir—father, give it to me
straight, like I’m not the public,
like I’m learning everything for the first time.
Sebastian Hasani Paramo received his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Front Porch, Prelude, North American Review, Huizache, upstreet & elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and awarded a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. He curates Pegasus Reading Series and is currently a teaching fellow in the doctoral program at The University of North Texas.
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