An Evolving Poetry Exercise
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.
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:
- You may change verb tense, gender, articles, and pronouns.
- You must write in complete sentences (each line does not have to be a complete sentences).
- 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 MoonlightWhen 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 yearsto 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.