April is National Poetry Month! Be Concise. Poetry Advice from Marie Kane

 >We don’t have to serve the meaning of the poem to the reader on a silver platter of words; BE CONCISE.

This is hard for me, since I often overwrite, use too many words that bore the reader with my verbage.  Nothing causes a reader to stop reading like blah, blah, blah description that goes on and on but adds little or nothing to the poem.  So, I try to be exact, succinct, and specific in my descriptions.  I mostly succeed, but sometimes I need someone else to read the poem to tell me where I am writing too much. Or, reading the poem out loud is a great way to find overwriting, over describing, saying too much when less does a better job.

Here’s an example of a part of an early draft of a poem, “Almost,” that is overwritten.  The final version appeared in my book, Survivors in the Garden.  It’s a two stanza poem about MS and visiting an eye doctor’s office.

First draft stanza of “Almost”

The eye doctor’s blue-uniformed
assistant watches me struggle to rise
from the stiff chair.  Dilated pupils:
the rug rises to meet my feet,
lights coalesce into brilliant beings,
and everyone brightly moves out of
my way. The assistant’s hesitant hands wave
in my direction—should they touch me?

Here’s the final version of the first stanza:


My eye doctor’s assistant watches me struggle
out of the stiff chair. Dilated pupils: the rug rises
to meet my feet and lights coalesce into brilliant
beings. Her should I touch hands wave in my
direction. The chair purrs, you can’t get up
even if you want to.

Notice what was cut–first, the extra info about the assistant.  We don’t need to know that she is “blue uniformed.  I use ‘rise’ twice in the first few lines, so I change “rise from the stiff chair,” to “struggle out of the stiff chair.”  “Struggle” is more specific–and a verb that carries meaning in the poem.  I don’t need the line “everyone brightly moves out of my way”; the poem concerns me at the Dr’s office and the assistant who doesn’t know how to help me get out of the chair and walk, no one else is important.  I changed the “should they touch me” regarding the assistant’s hands to an adjectival phrase describing her hands which is more economical.  The last info about the chair is part of the second stanza.  I brought it up to even the length of the two stanzas.  I like personifying the chair by allowing it to speak.

There wasn’t much I removed or added, yet the final version is more succinct, concise, and readable.  The poem moves better.

Tomorrow–More Advice!


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