Watering the Poems
By: Sara Ries Dziekonski
I don’t hear many writers say this, but I really enjoy the revision process of writing poetry. In fact, I probably love it even more than the first lines I scurry to write in my journal as soon as the inspiration hits. I remember in grad school, a poetry professor talked about how poets are good at writing the poems but they often have trouble getting around to revising them. I must have looked so surprised because she looked at me and said, “Oh, well maybe you don’t have this problem.”
I like to call the first lines that I write in my journal the poem seeds and I refer to the act of revision as “watering the poems.” I water my poems to help them grow and develop so they can move on their own and thrive without me. I compare revision to sculpting, too. Sometimes it’s necessary to knock off some words to make an area more concise, and other times it’s best to fill a line out so that it really hits a reader’s heart. I often spend hours in one sitting rearranging lines and playing with line and stanza breaks as well as the wording so that I can see the many ways the poem can breathe. The computer is my instrument, and it allows me to compose my songs as I rearrange, add, subtract—this is how I make music. I once heard Peter Meinke, Poet Laureate of Florida, say at the Q & A portion of a poetry reading at the Dalí, that he revises towards sound, not meaning. I, too, focus on the lyrical quality of my poems. When I revise, I read them out loud over and over, removing any clunky areas, until it sounds just right. Sometimes, when the poem is finished, I feel it so much that I cry.
Last week I shared some lines (poem seeds) that I had written in my journal about the worries that often clutter our minds. It began with the stress train that was parked at our kitchen table. I spent all week watering the poem in several sittings. I will likely change some things since I still want to have my writing group provide feedback, but I am happy with how it turned out, so I’ll close this post with the revision:
The Stress Train
stopped at our kitchen table,
lights shining on our faces;
I got on—choo-choo.
It was Thai Thursday, too,
takeout, a pandemic.
I brought up bills,
the writing on the calendar,
next week’s election.
Teddy smacked his lips,
drummed his high chair tray.
Maya meowed by her dish
of hardened turkey shreds.
Candlelight blessed our wooden table.
Tell me, when was the last time
we prefaced a meal with grace?
Thaddeus dipped a spring roll
in peanut sauce. Shut the door;
look at the moon, he said to me,
the other day, when I was worrying.
Now I was towns away, and the Thai
tasted nothing like usual.
I thought, what am I doing—Stop
the train, then returned to my plate.
Teddy was flying his hand through air
or maybe reaching for me.
A smattering of tiny turkey flowers
planted around his lips.
The floor a field of buttercups,
bread tossed at our feet,
colors more alive than usual.
So I started clapping,
then Teddy joined his little palms
fingers spread, again and again,
all eight teeth showing.
Then Thaddeus, too,
his long lovely hands,
and we three clapped
until our bellies were full
and it was just us
beside vacant linoleum tracks.
Thank you for reading. Until soon!
Sara Ries Dziekonski