Writing a Poem Backwards: Herb Perkins-Frederick revision for poetry

My dear friend, Herb Perkins Frederick, passed away two years ago; his poetry was startling, often humorous, detailed, and well-put.  He said important things in all of his poems.

His ideas regarding revision brightened many of my poems–and others.  So we’re at a Sunday workshop attended by mostly Bucks County (Pa) poets.  There were about 15 there.  Someone read her poem, and another person read it again, so we can have a better feel for it.  We all said our revision comments–what we were pulled to, what we felt needed more work, and Herb interjects–“What if we read the poem backwards?”  Backwards, really?  What can that do but confuse the reader?  When we did, the poem surprised.

Here’s an example.  The first draft is how the poet first wrote the poem; the second is the poem backwards.

Smart White Stars

She waits for stars
to break and muffled
light to flood the snow.

She waits for the pond
to solidify, then ventures
onto ice the color of drizzle’s

gray screen. An age,
it seems, passes before
her head tilts back

and snowflakes melt
on her tongue and the
andiron color of her hair.

Her breath bursts the cold
like smoke. She looks,
she always looks, then turns

to the house and gathers
sudden light that spills
from smart white stars.

Now, the poem, backwards:

Smart White Stars

She gathers sudden light
that spills from smart white
stars. She turns to the house

and looks, she always looks.
Like smoke, her breath bursts
the cold. On the andiron

color of her hair and on her
tongue, snowflakes melt.
She tilts her head back

and an age, it seems, passes.
She waits for the pond
to solidify, she waits

for muffled light to flood
the snow, she waits
for stars to break.

The second version of the poem is marvelous with its connections; the images take on newer significance.  While this doesn’t work for all poems, if a poem is giving you trouble, try Herb’s revision idea.  ‘Re-vision’, after all, means ‘re-seeing.”  This is a very useful way to ‘resee’ your poetry.

 

This entry was posted in April National Poetry Month, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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