Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Wondrous Work We Do...

REVISION re⋅vi⋅sion  
1. the act or work of revising.
2. a process of revising.
3. a revised form or version, as of a book.

Origin: 1605–15; <>revise ) + -iōn- -ion

Related forms:
re⋅vi⋅sion⋅al, re⋅vi⋅sion⋅ar⋅y, adjective

Synonyms:1. alteration, correction, emendation. Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.

Revision, or re-vision, to re-see something, to re-learn, to find another way to say or say it more clearly, clarification, clarity. This is the work that poets (all writers!) do. This has been my only work for the past few weeks. This morning, my work is finding the best word to suit a particular phrase in a line. One early search went like this:

  • Find a word to replace "unravels" (because this word is used at a pivotal point in another poem in the manuscript and that annoys me tremendously, especially when there are so many other--perhaps more fitting--words to be used)
  • Go to the Dictionary/Thesaurus
  • Look up "unravel" and look up the noun it became an adjective/verb for in the poem
  • Decide "unravels" works but there are other alternatives
  • List other alternatives: unwind, loosen, untwine, untwist, shake loose, come undone, free, unfold, uncoil, unfurl, untie, slacken, lax, withy-cragged (okay, that one made the list just because it tickled me...)
  • Narrow the list, then try each suitable alternative in the poem
  • Read the poem aloud twice using each word
  • Listen for assonance
  • Listen for discordance
  • Listen for rhythm and internal rhyme
  • Listen for meaning
  • Listen for meaning
  • Read for meaning
  • Listen for rhythm and meaning again
  • Think about layering and denotative/connotative meanings of each word (i.e. "untwist" works because the noun literally untwists but it sounds playful and the line highlights a rough action taking place, therefore, "untwist" works sonically and denotatively but not connotatively, so it's out of the running to be the replacement word...)
  • Work with the three words that make the cut (loosen, unwind, untwine)
  • Shuffle the iPod (selections from Erykah Badu's Worldwide Underground have served me nicely thus far, now it's on to Fall Out Boy)
  • Start the search process again using only the three words that made the cut

So clearly the revision process for one word, in one line that makes up one phrase, in one couplet of one poem, can take hours, days, weeks. This is the work we do. There is nothing lazy, haphazard or accidental about decent writing. Oh and did I mention all of this work is going into a poem that has already been published and that I considered "finished" nine months ago? This is the work we do: laborious, tedious, fierce, exacting, hard work. We hunt for clarity, every day, over and over again.

Here's the lesson: the next time you read a great article, stand in awe of a pristine poem or get your hands on a real page-turner, imagine how much hard work went into the piece,then do the author a solid and spread the word about its beauty.