Poetry

Editing Process

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Together with the feedbacks we had to give to our classmates, I started going through what I wrote during the classes, the obstructions and the exercises I did. My editing process started, and it was good to read some essays about it. First of all, I decided what I wanted to include and what instead did not really work (I was not happy with many of my obstructions). Instead, I was proud of some of the poems I wrote by myself, and I thought they were relevant to what we studied. Even if I had a slight idea of what to include, I needed a guide to edit, to shape up my work. Phillip Glass said that in order to arrive at a personal style the writer needs a technique to begin with, and that is exactly what I needed to start working on the project as a whole. Also The Microlectures about Criticism written by Matthew Goulish were very helpful. At a certain point in the essay, he states that modernists believed that each work of art somehow outstretched interpretation and each criticism reduced the infinite possibilities of the work, and that no critique was exhaustive. It confused me but also made me feel better – there must be something good in what I wrote, right? Goulish says that there is always something good in a piece of art, and the good editor knows how to spot that before the “negatives”. Then he says that the act of critical thought finds its alue through fulgilling these purposes:

  • To cause a change
  • To understand how to understand.

These elements were very helpful both in my feedbacks for my classmates and in my way of looking at my own poems. The first catalyst of Session 7, besides, was about editing. James Thurber, in 1959, said that editing should be a counseling rather than a collaborating task, and that the editor should help the author do their best in their own style, not in the style that the editor likes. That means a lot, and it goes both for feedback for other people and for the editing process of my own work.

The other two catalysts, Lucille Clifton and Edwidge Danticat, were both some other inspirations to be brave and daring with writing, which is never enough now that the deadline is rapidly approaching. In their quotes, they say that it is not good to play safe when making art, that artists and writers should be ready to the unexpected, welcoming it. Create dangerously, Danticat says. I am going to remember this.

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Another text that really helped me in my editing process was the Eight Letters to a Young Writer by Teju Cole. He wrote these letters for a newspaper, pretending to address a Nigerian writer and giving them suggestions about writing. The first rule is: keep it simple. This is something I always try to do when writing fiction, but it does become a little tricky when I write poetry. I think that I have always to address those important, big themes like death and peace and war and I don’t know. Then he says not to use clichés, to avoid adverbs (Ron spotted some in my own poems); when reporting speech, use simple verbs like “say” or “tell” rather than the ones that specify how something is said – the reader should be able to guess it by the context.

Then he says to read as much as we write – and I really need to read more poetry. I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, but not enough poetry. Then he said to rely on observation, to observe observe observe and be precise. He suggested to be daring, corageous, to write something we had never read before, and always to avoid writing narratives that have only a single meaning, to try to sink into the complexities of things. This was just the first letter about eight rules and suggestions the beginner writer could use – so much in just a single text. The second and third letters were about freedom and voice. Freedom meant to be completely daring and experimental with our work, to be free to accept, study, analyse our mistakes and to fail and fail and fail. The artist has the freedom to do what they want, to modify their work endless times. So we need to take advantage of it, and try to be free with our work, allowing it to take many shapes and forms until we find the best. As for voice, instead, Cole says that is useful to give us information about the speaker – he takes the example of Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. His language and the style in which the book is written tells a lot about how funny and impetuous the character is, but also how sad he is. So the voice is not simply the way you tell the story, but it is where the story comes itself.

I need to consider all these things when writing poetry and when editing my own work. At the end of the day, they are not that far from what I consider when I do write fiction.

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