Real Poetry

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Steve’s Poetry Tips – Revision

Hey everyone,

I felt like writing a brief poetry tip for this Thursday, so here you go.

If there’s anything I learned from my experiences working on my Honors Thesis this past semester, it’s been to place more emphasis on revising my poems.  The most difficult part of revision, for me, has always been the sitting down and looking at what needs work.  Once I’m sitting, I can usually get at least some small modicum of work accomplished, but getting myself to approach that area and start work is difficult.  That’s why I have a few small pieces of advice to share to those interested.

First, create a space for your revision to take place.  This doesn’t necessarily have to be a “created” space mind you.  This could be a coffee shop, a library, the kitchen table, a park bench, or (as it is for me) a clean desk.

Bookshelves surrounding a desk.

Second, have all your writing accessible to you.  For me, I have a handy filing bin with all my poems, fiction stories, plays, and even academic research papers sitting right next to my desk.  I suggest having them all printed out and in front of you for a few reasons:

  1. It’s easier to revise something on paper.  I’ve never felt differently about that, even with the advent of tablet technology.
  2. If you get stuck or can’t think of the line you really want in a poem, sometimes it’s good to just move along onto another poem and come back to it.  I will sometimes just sit and read through several random poems until something jumps out at me or I’m struck with how terrible the draft is and feel like I have to fix it.
  3. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it just feels good to physically see how many poems I’ve been working on.  Helps to stop feeling discouraged when a poem just isn’t coming along well or fast enough.

Finally, the last bit of advice I have to share is to give yourself a set time of day (every day if you can manage) to sit down and revise.  To help with this, I suggest setting an alarm.  I’ve had an alarm set for 10:00 am every day for the past couple months and it really does help to keep the practice in mind, while also adding a sense of guilt when I decide I don’t have time to revise on that day.

As a brief disclaimer I feel I should say that no one I’ve ever heard from has ever really revised in the same exact manner.  I know some poets that revise when they feel that “inner inspiration” that tells them exactly what to do.  In my writing this epiphany rarely if ever happens, so I started using the methods I outlined above.

Hope you all have a wonderful end to the week,

Stephen Recker

p.s.  It’s also a nice practice to have a favorite book or two on the craft of poetry around.  I have quite a few that I turn to, but the two that stand out would be Writing the Australian Crawl and The Poet’s Companion.  Both have great words of wisdom on poetry and the latter also contains exercises that help produce material as well.

Steve’s Poetry Tips – Linebreaks

If you’re anything like me when writing a poem, or revising for that matter, linebreaks are something that have either too much or too little thought put into them. For me, at least in early drafts of a poem, I put little to no thought into these breaks. This can have drastic impacts both on how your poem is read aloud and how it is interpreted.

When I was first beginning to write poems, the points at which I broke lines for my poems were either entirely arbitrary or to help the stanza have a uniformity of shape. As a result, when workshopping my poems in the past, a common critique was a lack of understanding why the lines were broken as they were.

Lately though, I’ve been working towards putting more thought into when and how lines are broken in my poems. I figured I would share how I’m making these decisions with you today.

But first, I want to share a  picture from my recent adventures… a trip to a local spring to enjoy the hot weather and swim (A 3.5 mile walk in the sun to the spring makes the dip in the cold water that much better):

Anyway, when first writing a draft of a poem I think it’s important not to worry about linebreaks at all.  Let the lines end wherever they end.  If that’s before the end of a page so be it; if it ends because you ran out of space that’s fine too.  You don’t need to be worrying over such minutiae in an initial draft.  All that’ll do is make you over think your poem, and I don’t think there is a worse thing to do when working on a first draft.  If you couldn’t tell from the context of that tip, yes I tend to handwrite my first drafts of poetry.  This is a personal preference though, so don’t feel that it necessarily applies to you.

It’s during the initial revision of the poem that I have started using a new method to help focus more deliberately on linebreaks.  When typing the poem into a wordprocessor, I write the poem in prose.  That’s right, no linebreaks whatsoever.  Then, after finishing the revision, I go through the poem (usually without looking back at the original draft to avoid effecting what linebreaks seem necessary) and insert linebreaks where the poem seems to “want” to be broken.  Poems do, in my opinion, take on a life of their own once they are put down on paper.  You have to be willing to allow it to go where it will and end lines where it feels right.

This process of writing the poem in prose really works well to push focus towards deliberate use of linebreaks, and I’ve been using it for every draft of my most recent poems, especially when making drastic revisions.

I hope this was some help to you all, I know it’s really strengthened my poems of late.

Till the next post take care,


P.S. If you didn’t notice, I decided to rename the blog to “Real Poetry” for now.  I’ve been considering a new title for awhile, and this seems to better fit where I want this blog to head.

Sylvia Plath – “The Swarm”

I usually post up a poem of my own on Thursdays, but a majority of my work (and believe me I have been writing a lot the past couple weeks) is well within what I like to call my revision stage. I’m not going to do the disservice of showing off first or second draft poems that need, in some cases, harsh revisions. Therefore, I thought I’d share a poem with you that holds a special place for me.

This poem, “The Swarm” by Sylvia Plath, was one of the first poems I ever analyzed on my own and wrote a paper over. The pages from this book that I’ve had since high school are covered with my notations and connections I made throughout the poems. I’m so proud of it I decided to include this picture:


This poem is from her collection Ariel,  her last collection of poetry published posthumously.  The entire book is very imagistic and is a book that I will undoubtedly review at some point when I can give it enough time.

The Swarm

Somebody is shooting at something in our town—
A dull pom, pom in the Sunday street.
Jealousy can open the blood,
It can make black roses.
Who are they shooting at?

It is you the knives are out for
At Waterloo, Waterloo, Napoleon,
The hump of Elba on your short back,
And the snow, marshalling its brilliant cutlery
Mass after mass, sahing Shh!

Shh! These are the chess people you play with,
Still figures of ivory.
The mud squirms with throats,
Stepping stones for French bootsoles.
The gilt and pink domes of Russia melt and float off

In the furnace of greed. Clouds, clouds.
So the swarm balls and deserts
Seventy feet up, in a black pine tree.
It must be shot down. Pom! Pom!
So dumb it thinks bullets are thunder.

It thinks they are the voice of God
Condoning the beak, the claw, the grin of the dog
Yellow-haunched, a pack-dog,
Grinning over its bone of ivory
Like the pack, the pack, like everybody.

The bees have got so far. Seventy feet high!
Russia, Poland and Germany!
The mild hills, the same old magenta
Fields shrunk to a penny
Spun into a river, the river crossed.

The bees argue, in their black ball,
A flying hedgehog, all prickles.
The man with grey hands stands under the honeycomb
Of their dream, the hived station
Where trains, faithful to their steel arcs,

Leave and arrive, and there is no end to the country.
Pom! Pom! They fall
Dismembered, to a tod of ivy.
So much for the charioteers, the outriders, the Grand Army!
A red tatter, Napoleon!

The last badge of victory.
The swarm is knocked into a cocked straw hat.
Elba, Elba, bleb on the sea!
The white busts of marshals, admirals, generals
Worming themselves into niches.

How instructive this is!
The dumb, banded bodies
Walking the plank draped with Mother France’s upholstery
Into a new mausoleum,
An ivory palace, a crotch pine.

The man with grey hands smiles—
The smile of a man of business, intensely practical.
They are not hands at all
But asbestos receptacles.
Pom! Pom! “They would have killed me.”

Stings big as drawing pins!
It seems bees have a notion of honour,
A black, intractable mind.
Napoleon is pleased, he is pleased with everything.
O Europe! O ton of honey!

—Sylvia Plath, Ariel

Slight delay, with hints of things to come.

With another week of college, comes another delay in the poetry review.  I will not be waiting till next Tuesday to get it up however.  I should have it up by the weekend.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share a little more about myself today.  More precisely, my writing area. (Pictured below)

a picture of the desk I write at

This desk has been my pride and joy these past two years.  The bookshelf: I built myself.  On the left side of the desk is the beginnings of my old book collection (All printed in the 1920s: Emerson, Wilde, Twain, and Dickens).  I’ve managed to keep that central area as a writing space.  It may be a little crowded, but it functions well.  If you look closely to the right you’ll see my new book of poetry I got in the mail today.

Just my newest collection of poetry. Marie Howe - The Good Thief

I’m pretty excited for it, as Marie Howe is one of my favorite contemporary poets right now.  This isn’t my next review, but I’ll be reading through it soon.

Anyway, I hope you all have had a great start to the week.

Combat Steve

P.S. If you’re interested in a fun poem to read check out “Humanitad” by Oscar Wilde.  I’ve read through it a few times recently.  It’s long, but worth it.

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