Thoughts on editing maiming

"Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

Thus spake Samuel Johnson.

But I wonder, as I begin tinkering with the bits and pieces I've produced over a long and mostly fruitless summer, is my own taste so out of whack? Everything eventually boils down to epistemology, which is just a headache I would as soon skip. What is aesthetic good and how do we know when we've reached enlightenment, and other such rot.

But I am always curious about when a poem is finished, what sorts of mystical (or perhaps very practical) things occur to stave the poet's maiming pen? We often speak of things just clicking into place - suddenly, it's there, there's nothing more to be done, it's perfect - or in any case, it is what it was meant to be. But me, I'm a sucker for measurable criteria. Often, these criteria stick their little pig noses into the initial writing stages and thus we have the requisite dry spell. When is a spell not dry, anyway?

They're really rather simple, perhaps a trifle silly, but they've come to be implicit rules for my writing/revising process. For one, unless I cannot for the life of me see any way around it, I do not like to include more than three "to be" verbs in one finished poem. If it's a shorter poem, I'll lower my limit to once or twice, depending of course on the proportion of other, more glamourous verbs. Rather elementary of me, I suppose, but I really do wonder how many poets think about such trivialities while revising. What do other poets think about while revising?

What about you? Do you think about sex or grammar? Do you try not to think, but meditate, hoping for the click? And does the click happen?

Always, I feel silly asking questions such as these, but I realize that if I don't ask them, I shall have precious little of use to write in this space. And I really don't want a dead blog on my hands. Dead blogs always speak of fickle or disinterested writers. I should hope that I am neither. In fact, I feel more and more that now that I have an MFA, I am just beginning my education.

More later, I hope. For now, back to working stiffness.


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