Breaking the Mold: How to Revise Poems for Publication

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Here's a guest post from James Von Hendy (written earlier this year) about whether material is published on blogs and a sound strategy for handling both poem sharing and revision, including how to revise poems for publication. If you have an idea for a guest post too, just send an e-mail to robert.brewer@fwcommunity.com with the subject line: Poetic Asides Guest Post.

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Recently someone posted a great question on Poetic Asides: can I submit the poems I posted on Poetic Asides to other online or print publications?

The short answer, I replied, was “it depends.” Since then I’ve received a couple of e-mails asking for more information.

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Re-create Your Poetry!

Recreating_Poetry_Revise_Poems

Revision doesn’t have to be a chore–something that should be done after the excitement of composing the first draft. Rather, it’s an extension of the creation process!

In the 48-minute tutorial video Re-creating Poetry: How to Revise Poems, poets will be inspired with several ways to re-create their poems with the help of seven revision filters that they can turn to again and again.

Click to continue.

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Previously Published Poems

Strictly speaking if your poem appears anywhere in print or online where the public can see it, such as on Poetic Asides, it’s considered “previously published.”

Visit the websites for a majority of online and print publications, or check their listings in the Poet’s Market, and you’ll see in their submissions guidelines they don’t accept previously published work.

So now what? Does this mean you can’t publish your Poetic Asides masterpiece anywhere else? Well, actually, you still have options. Here are four:

  1. Look in Poet’s Market for publications whose guidelines state they consider previously published work. If they do, they ask you to identify it as such and indicate where and when your work first appeared.
  2. Create a personal blog where you can re-post your Poetic Asides poems and reach other audiences. When you re-post, credit where and when the poem first appeared and link to it.
  3. Create a chapbook containing your best poems. Be sure to include a credits page. You can self-publish your chapbook in eBook format or as a print-on-demand (POD) book. You can also submit your chapbook to contests. Many chapbook contests—and their submission guidelines—are listed in the Poet’s Market. Be sure to read and follow the contest guidelines.
  4. Revise, revise, revise, and have fun at it. As Robert says in his tutorial video, “Re-creating Poetry: How to Revise Poems,” revision can create new work from old. Perhaps work that no longer qualifies as previously published.

Revise, Revise, Revise

Consider this. In A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver writes she typically revises her poems 40 times before she launches them into the world. Revise a poem you post on Poetic Asides 40 times, and you’ll likely end up with a very different poem from the one you started with, perhaps different enough to submit elsewhere as the new poem it’s become. (Confession: I don’t think I’ve ever revised a single poem 40 times. On the other hand, who’s published more poems? Hm.)

At the start of the 2015 April PAD, Robert reminded us the poems we were about to write to each daily prompt were first drafts. That’s a good reminder about many of the poems we post on Poetic Asides. First drafts—no matter how enamored of them we might be in the moment—are seldom final, polished drafts. They can always be revised and made new.

Cosmetic changes alone, such as renaming a poem or tweaking a few words here and there, aren’t enough to make a new poem from the old. So what does?

Breaking the Mold

One strategy I use I call “breaking the mold.” Often when I start revising I’m too attached to the original version of the poem, so I look at my poem’s first draft for its heart, the thing that fired me up in the first place. Sometimes it’s the idea floating behind the poem. Sometimes it’s a line or two that’s already in the draft. In either case I extract the idea or the lines. I don’t look at the original draft, and instead start a fresh draft to see what surprises and mysteries unfold. Only then do I allow myself to go back and compare.

One of two things typically happens. Either I merge the two drafts into a third version and begin revising that, or the new draft becomes my working version of the poem. Often—but not always—I eventually end up with a poem that’s better than the original, related to it, but different enough to stand on its own as a separate poem. If it passes the “separate poem” test, the new poem is one I can submit to other online or print publications.

What do you do to revise your poems and make them new? I’m curious to know.

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James Von Hendy

James Von Hendy

James Von Hendy sometimes dreams of living off poetry, but fortunately for the bottom line he works in a different kind of fantasy world as a technical writer in Silicon Valley.

His poems have appeared infrequently over the last 30 years in print and online journals.

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