Editing “Ripe Plum”


I think that a lot of new writers get discouraged about their work because the first thing they produce isn’t solid gold. I’m not an adept poet; I make no claims at being one. I posted “Ripe Plum” a few days ago without a lick of editing beyond spell check, because I wanted to show a bit of the process behind a worth-while self-edit.

The first step in a good, solid edit is not just to say, “Gosh, this is crap!” All that’ll do is make you reach for the scotch.

First, identify some kind of real, addressable problem. Sometimes you need readers to help you find these. Sometimes you just need time. I slept on this poem for a few days after posting it on the Absolute Write poetry critique board, and on this blog.

I came back today to find some very insightful critiques. A professionally published poet chimed with, well, an essay on metered rhyme (which I adore), and then I got a very harsh critique from one of the users whose posts I follow. That’s not the entirety of the thread, but those stuck out to me.

I read their critiques and where suggestions had been offered, I matched them against what I wanted with the poem. That’s an important step. Because if you don’t do that, you’re not the author any more. If you take suggestions you don’t agree with or don’t fully understand, you’re no longer the sole creative power behind what you’re making. This isn’t always bad, especially if an editor or an agent suggested changes that would make or break a sale, but at the same time, I think we  all want autonomy over our work.

So I started by cherry picking the advice and criticisms that I liked, because I hadn’t found a problem with the poem myself, yet. (Note the difference between not having found a problem, and not thinking that a problem exists.)

Someone in the thread pointed out the misplaced rhyme. That led to this:

Edit one:
Fixes the misplaced rhyme.

Flower boom! Color!
gives power to her
sweet fruit; her sour,
mist-cloaked purple globe
cool, unkissed–soft-hard
and ready for our tryst.

Then the published poet’s essay to me on rhymed meter made me want to see if I could give the poem meter at all. This my attempt at that, complete with comments to myself.

Edit two:
Let’s see if we can give it meter.

Flower boom! Color! – Crectic, Trochee
gives power to her – Trochee, Trochee, missing syllable
sweet fruit; her sour, – Iamb, Trochee
mist-cloaked purple globe – Iamb, Iamb, implied Iamb, maybe, if you’re looking really hard for meter.
cool, unkissed–soft-hard – Trochee, Trochee, and another dangling bit of stuff.
and ready for our tryst. Iamb, Iamb, … grrr.

So, that’s not good. The easy way out would be to make the entire thing trochaic. So naturally, I think the entire thing should be uniformly [Crectic] + [Trochee/iamb] or (because Crectics are kind of weird in English) [Trochee/iamb] + [Crectic.]

That makes the diagonal rhyme scheme impossible, near as I can tell, so I’ll sacrifice it. Sob!

Flower boom! Color!
Power sends shocks of
sweet-sour fruit kisses
(Well, the title says “Plum,” so we know I’m talking about fruit, right? So “fruit” is a wasted word.)
purple mist-soaked globe (Purple moves again! Not a fan of “cloaked” anymore, because the element of secrecy was never working very well.)
Virgin, cool, soft-hard
and ready for our tryst. (I don’t like this line at all, and since I have a grammatical problem now, I’m going to delete it, move the other two down, and then see what can go in the space.

In the middle of this edit, I found a problem. Now, with all respect to people who offer critique (It’s hard, demanding, thankless work), the problems that the author finds should take precedence over problems that other people find. It’s part of how styles are developed. My friend Klaus, for instance, doesn’t edit his writing for logic. He’s perfectly OK with letting Mars be red in his story because of iron-dust in the atmosphere. That’s part of his bizarro style, and it’s what makes his writing unique. Klaus might very well listen to a solid critique on his logic, if enough people said it was bothering them, but at the end of the day, character motive and the story’s endgame are way, way more important to him.

In a SYW piece I saw on Absolute Write last night, someone posted a fairly well-done story about an Ogre’s interaction with a human. I loved it, even though I saw a few things I’d have changed. And then I saw one of the critiques. Someone did a line-by-line and essentially rewrote her voice. It was like watching a bulldozer drive through the Louvre. The other author’s style was OK. But so was the original author’s.

The original author would be perfectly justified in agreeing or disagreeing with that other writer’s edits. My point is that, if in reading those edits, the author found a problem that bothered, it’s far, far more important to fix that problem than to slavishly use some one else’s line-work.

Extensive critique and attempting to express why something doesn’t work  can often kick-start an author’s creativity. It helps him or her see what’s keeping the reader and critic from seeing his or her vision.  So even if someone reads a critique, and their next version doesn’t use its changes, it doesn’t mean the critique didn’t help. It means that it showed the author a problem the critic didn’t see.

That’s what happened to me here. Following everyone else’s advice, I realized that I had two themes going at once. Fruit as Love was one theme, and secrecy was another–but it was a very short poem, and I do not have the poem-nads to cram two themes into six lines.  So I edited thus:

Flower boom! and Color!
Power sends a shock of
Sweetly sour kisses
To my thirsting throat.

I’m still work-shopping it, because I like this particular poem. It’s helping me keep my mind off of my flu-funk and the short story I’ve been slaving over. I’m probably going to read Kie’s essay on metered rhyming again, too, and see what I can do with it. But in the meantime, I killed a problem that to me was far, far worse than anything structural. In fact, with two themes, I’d argue that the poem wasn’t even ready for a structural critique!

I’m happy with it the way it is now. I won’t be in a few hours. I can already see how the first line might start irritating me, but I’m not ready to act on anything. So I’m going to put it down for now.

Which is fine, when you don’t write on deadline. Edit until you’re out of things to fix, and put it down when you’re satisfied. Look at it again later. Rinse and repeat.


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