Quick Editorial Tips VII – For Poetry!

Nash

Nash

I have edited and proofread some poetry, both for clients and as a favor for friends. Poetry is tough to critique honestly!You don’t want to crush the muse, you don’t want to offend (as poetry is so personal), but you do want the writer to reach a little, experiment with words and sounds, show true emotion.

I have a poetry collection coming together – hopefully I will publish this year with the help of editor Shawn MacKenzie Shawn MacKenzie and my book designer Elizabeth H. Cottrell.

I’d like to share some of my critique notes on poetry I have edited and proofread. Perhaps a few of you can refer to these notes when you beta read my poetry collection! Or perhaps you have decided to write or edit your own poetry.

Struggle for rhyme

Don’t struggle – it will be evident. Try to make the rhyme flow. Rhymes don’t necessarily have to be the same letters like in “ease” and “please.” Rhymes can come from similar vowel sounds. For instance – try “verse” with “search.” Or “son” with “become.”

Echo…echo

Look at your collection – does it use a lot of the same old common words?

Reach for it! Pull out the thesaurus and open up your vocabulary. Don’t use familiar words over and over (people reading your collection will notice).

Thoreau

Thoreau

Tickle a funny bone

How many collections have you read where all the poetry is the same – sadness, depression, lost love, loneliness. It’s depressing to read, too.

Try a little humor! What makes you laugh? Try to tap into this laughter with a light-hearted piece or two.

Does this comma make me look fat?

A comma adds a pause and changes the cadence; it changes the way a reader reads the lines and the piece. Along those same lines…

…Try reading your own work out loud

I do this for clients and friends, and I also do it while reading a “finished” piece or my own. I often change things around a bit after I’ve heard it out loud.

Have a friend read it aloud to you. You can hear where the reader stumbles and pauses.

Change the sequence of words

Instead of “I lost my love,” try “the love I lost.”

Instead of “the worm squiggles and wriggles,” try “the squiggly-wriggly worm.”

Auden

Auden

Caps or no caps?

The use of caps at the beginning of a line or a sentence within a poem is a personal choice. Sometimes we don’t want to use any caps, nor do we want to use any punctuation. But consider it both ways.

Would the piece be enhanced with a few caps along the way?

Would it read better with some additional (or less) punctuation?

Left justified all?

Consider lay-out and indents. Are all your poems left justified?

Experiment! Put a few lines left justified then poke the fourth or fifth line into right justified or indented.

Haiku anyone?

Look at your poems. Do they all look like blood relatives? Are they all laid out the same way? Few lines and a break, few lines and a break…

Throw in some haiku or a long-paragraph prose piece. Study and employ alternative poetry forms.

What have others written?

Read others’ poetry. Search for your favorite poets online.

I’m inspired by Ogden Nash (what a hoot), Auden, Poe, Thoreau, Thomas.

Poe

Poe

Is there a theme?

Some of my poems have a theme, like the sea and waves or art and canvas.

Put a theme into a few of your pieces; use of similes and metaphors can make it more real to a reader.

Smell is the strongest sense

When someone talks about warm apple pie or the lilac scent drifting through the bedroom window…do you remember? Can you smell it?

Darn tootin’ you can!

Interject some smells into your poetry to get the reader more involved.

In your comment

Feel free to include links to your favorite poets, one of your own poems, or a poetry site you especially like.

LET’S HAVE SOME FUN!

I’ll start a poem, you add to it. Poem stanzas will be in ALL CAPS.

If you don’t want to add to the poem, no problem (try it, you might like it!). You can still comment!

Here goes…

I THINK MY BONES HAVE GONE WEAK AND BRITTLE,

THEY’RE NOT AS BENDY AS WHEN I WAS LITTLE,

All photos from Wikipedia.com.

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9 Comments

Filed under Editing & Proofreading, Prose & Poetry, Publishing, Quick Editing Tips

9 responses to “Quick Editorial Tips VII – For Poetry!

  1. So very true about editing poetry–tricky stuff. But great advice!

    • karenselliott

      Thanks, Shawn. It is a little tricky, but a good edit can make our words and stanzas stronger, as you have taught me as well!

  2. I THINK MY BONES HAVE GONE WEAK AND BRITTLE,
    THEY’RE NOT AS BENDY AS WHEN I WAS LITTLE,

    I’ll not despair, though I creak and groan,
    And it seems at times that my feet are stone,
    But my heart and mind are lithe and free
    With blessings galore…’tis enough for me!

    • karenselliott

      WONDERFUL, E! I wasn’t sure how this add-to poetry thing was gonna go, but you just made it real awesome! Thanks so much!

  3. I was going to try my hand but there’s no way I can top Elizabeth and Karen. Poetry isn’t my strong suit anyway.

  4. Thanks this is very helpful. You mentioned about themes and the use of common words. Yes oh yes, using common familiar words can get out of hand and take over, but how do you prevent this when you are working on a theme for the entire collection? Changing the words and way they are used is one possibility but apart from that how can one maintain a theme yet not make it sound boring or cliched.

    • karenselliott

      Hmmm, a theme for the entire collection. I guess it depends on the theme. For instance, if it’s “family” you can still compare family to many different things. I would still say try to interject some variety and similes and metaphors; use an expanded vocabulary. You can also use a variety of moods – not every minute with every “family” would be the same – there are high points, low points, funny points.

  5. I’m excited for you to publish your poetry, Karen!
    Poetry doesn’t come naturally for me; I admire those of you who can pull it off.

    • karenselliott

      Some of my poetry sort of wrote itself, but then it’s been edited and re-written to make it “just so.” Others I have struggled with, but then am pleased with the results.

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