Tomorrow is the last session for a revision class I'm attending at the Multnomah Arts Center in SW Portland. Four poets (including myself) and a woman writing a memoir for her grandchildren have been sharing work and revising pieces with our facilitator Judith Pulman. Judith is a force, a new person I've connected with in the Portland writing community. She is also a poet, having graduated recently from Pacific Lutheran University's MFA program. I haven't read much of Judith's work and the class doesn't revolve around her aggrandizement, which is refreshing, but she has been a good guide for us novices. She's titled the class "Revision: Getting Beyond 'I Like It'".
So we each read a piece (or two) and then sit quietly as the others in the group express what works for them and what doesn't. We go about the process in a somewhat methodical way by first giving a one- or two-sentence statement about what we believe the writer means, in essence, the poem's story or conflict. Afterwhich, the critique (and I use that word loosely because so far, it hasn't felt like critique) takes shape depending on what surfaces from the readers' impressions -- some readers express confusion, or desires for a different direction, or deep connection. As part of the process, the writer reads the work, then another person reads it a second time. I struggled to read aloud a piece for another writer last week because it touched a soft spot.
Nevertheless, the class is teaching me that even if we think a piece is DONE, it has room to grow, to change and possibly to become something brand new and more powerful. Judith encouraged us to bring in pieces which we believed needed work, which I have. And, the discussions have led me to see poetry in a new light. Poems are translation. I'm not a person who holds tightly to first drafts (or second or third drafts), but this has made rewriting a vaster place, where many doors are ajar.
Judith provided a concrete example last week -- the "process" drafts of an Elizabeth Bishop poem (CLICK HERE). Bishop's first runs at "One Art" read like rambling laundry lists with mental asides. Then, over time and contemplation and tightening, the finished piece comes alive. But, our motto for the class is Paul Valery's statement: "A work of art is never finished, only abandoned."