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An Evolving Poetry Exercise

Updated on February 24, 2008

Sometimes, a poem takes years to complete…sometimes, a poem is never finished…

The goal of this hub is two-fold: it offers a writing exercise any poet can use; and, it shows how revision can truly change the intent and overall effect of a poem.

The poem I am sharing with you today, in all of its different versions, still isn’t finished. Generally, I don’t like to publish a poem that I still have a working relationship with, but I will for example purposes. I first began writing this in 2004, but the poem’s meaning remained hidden from me for a long time—it is finally emerging from me, for me, with me.

The Exercise

Pick a poem written by someone else. Make sure it is a poem that you like, or the exercise won’t be enjoyable. I suggest choosing a poem that is about ten lines long. If you want an advanced version of this exercise, go ahead a pick a longer poem.

Now, you are going to rearrange the lines in this poem to write your own. The rules are:

  1. You may change verb tense, gender, articles, and pronouns.
  2. You must write in complete sentences (each line does not have to be a complete sentences).
  3. Write a title for the poem that directs the reader toward making sense of it.

My First Draft

I wish I could share the poem I took this from with you; but, it wasn’t published at the time, and I don’t know if a form of it has been published since. I wrote earlier that I don’t like to publish anything that isn’t complete, and this is triply true of someone else’s work.

Traveling through Moonlight

When the woman in white

who slowly disrobes

would bear me home,

I become the World, lit & yawned.

She is a mother. She has no body.

The sun, the ground, the something

beside her, I learned

each night for 27 years

to love deep.

And you never knew.

Three months later, I wrote this next version:

Traveling with Moonlight

When the woman in white,

who slowly disrobed, dropping

silken showers through the

sky, would bear me home,

I was the World, lit and gaping,

free from the chains of bright days.

---

She is a mother with no body.

The sun, the ground, the mystery

surrounding her—I learned each

night for twenty-three years

to love deeply.

And you never knew.

A more recent version:

Drops of Moonlight

The woman in white,

slowly disrobes, dropping

silken showers from

the sky. She follows

me home, lit with light

on a starless night.

---

A mother with no body,

the sun and ground, surround

her. I love to walk

with her at night.

Do you see how a poem changes? This one doesn’t even have drastic changes, but the style is altered between the three versions. As I tried to change the style, I realized that the intent of the poem had changed.

Although you begin this exercise with a completely written poem, you need to make it your own. Once it is yours, you also need to learn to let things go. Sometimes you have to put a poem away for a few months, or even years, before you are distant enough to cut things out.

Happy writing. And, please, feel free to critique my poem…as it is still being workshopped, just try to be nice.

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      Theresa Grefer 

      9 years ago

      This poem is written very well. I like the mystery of it. One thing that lacks is a more deep description of the woman. All you say is that she is white. Does she sparkle? What of her eyes? eyes tell a lot about a persons character. Is she tall, slender, or fat? Or, since you said, she is a mother with no body, maybe your purpose is to lack in details of her. So maybe exaggerate the fact that she has no body. What would make up for the lack of her body? Her personality? Her connection to nature? These are just thoughts, it is your poem. I think it is very beautiful but it needs a lot of work.

    • profile image

      Abhinaya 

      10 years ago

      Stacie I am looking for someone who would teach me to write poems.But I find great tips here.Thank you so much for sharing.It's nice when people share such ideas.There won't be any critics here,I am sure.Thumbs up!

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