Friday, 11 May 2012


Do you revise your work? I do. I spend longer reworking than writing. It is the rare poem that comes out nearly fully formed and my graphic novel series underwent a number of rewrites. Though I think working with another person, in this case, my talented artist means that if the joint effort is to be a success you need to listen and leave the ego at the door.

There is a danger in being too wedded to your idea, a character, or a line in a poem. At times for the work to develop, to reach some kind of conclusion, you have to be ruthless and take it out. I once struggled with a poem, this was when I was a student, in the early 1980’s, and essentially the conceit was comparing Noah building his ark to the installation of cruise missiles into the UK. Not the best idea I have ever come up with, but it had legs. The trouble was I had this middle section that I was in love with that just didn’t fit, but I was just too enamoured with the whole thing to see that. I could have had two poems, but in the end I did not have one. I soldiered on with this hybrid, off and on, for about six months. In the end I put it away, puzzled why it would not work. Years later I looked at it again and realised what the trouble was, but the moment has gone, the Soviet Union had collapsed and the missiles had gone.

I did learn from that experience, I learnt that you have to be ruthless. If you cannot understand the poem you are working on, what chance does the reader have? Now I revise, and revise. I think I have said before that what I am looking for when I write is for the poem to be able to stand alone, by itself. This is about as near to a description of how I work as I can give. I know when I reach that point – most of the time.

On Saturday I was talking to a poet who places the emphasis on a strong opening line, hook the listener with a powerful statement and they will want to know how it ends. It’s an interesting method; I am not sure all of my work functions like that. But there again creation is a very personal thing, it is something we all do differently and what works for me may not work for you. What we did agree on was the need to revise what you have written. Which brings me back to my original question; do you revise your work?

Here is an old poem that wrote itself over a period of three months. It was one of those times when the ingredients that go to make up the poem are circling around you and all you have to do is to realise this and put them into a coherent order (did I say “all you have to do!”).


low sky
grey thoughts linger
discord in this house
apple tree
as naked as love lost
their gifts litter the ground
birds gather
cover the garden
feast on our misery

the eager birds wait
dart forward
sector the new mown lawn
a relentless automatic ballet
that takes no prisoners
I am reminded of you
four in the morning
out of control

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