Recently I brought a poem to my writer's group for critique—a simple poem, easily accessible, one I wrote at least 3 decades ago, and that didn’t have any great meaning to me. I just liked it, and thought it would be a good one to start off my second manuscript. I really just wanted to ask the question: which do you like better, the rhymed or the unrhymed version?
The almost unanimous, and not unexpected, answer was: rhymed! Dang. That is just not the way contemporary poetry is going, folks, but I'll think about it.
Anyway, as the critique group asked questions, it became clear that I had bigger fish to fry. Layers of meaning emerged with each question, a metaphor suddenly popped out at me that I had missed entirely, and I was on the verge of an epiphany...agh!!! This poem was supposed to be almost complete!
I took a deep breath and steadied myself as the questions continued. (Rule #1 of crtiquing is: defend your poem, not yourself. You have to justify craft, not your reason for being or your belief systems. If you feel yourself getting angry, your critique group is probably hitting a nerve; rant and rave at home, then get back to work on the poem!)
So the questions and suggestions continued (and my critique group is very gentle and kind, just to reassure you). What others were seeing in the poem astonished me. What I felt, thought and was experiencing those days when I wrote the poem fell out of some closet in my heart as they probed, and I felt quite vulnerable. It’s one thing to put oneself out there intentionally in writing (good writing is all about transparency, right?). It’s quite another when you don’t even know what you're talking about--and you're the author!
I had to clarify a central metaphor I didn't even know I was using. I had to explain the 30-year-old epiphany; I didn't know the first thing about epiphany when I wrote the poem. I kicked myself for not catching all this before coming, but this is why I belong to a writer's group. Blind spots, ego, impatience to finish something that just won't quite cooperate...any of those battles sound familiar to you?!
Finally I was left speechless, and had to admit to the group that I honestly didn’t quite know myself what the poem meant, and we all had a good laugh.
Well, I survived, and the poem finally ‘dawned’ on me. I literally discovered it 30 years after writing it. (And my heart sank a bit as I thought about revising something I thought I was finished with.) So don’t worry if you don’t think you ‘get’ a poem—sometimes the poet doesn’t either!
I am back to the drawing board, looking at this poem in light of the new insights, to see what I need to change. I’m kind of eager to get to it, though, to see if the process will reveal anything else. Care to join me?!
The title of the post is the first line of the poem…so let’s have a little fun here, and let me give you the original poem, and next week I'll show you what I did, if anything. You may not know the first thing about poetry, but you can probably tell me what works and what doesn’t work, where you get lost, don’t understand, what you like and don’t like. There’s a couple of problems with it, that maybe you’ll find along with my critique group. But how much revision does it really need?! That is the question...have a go at it, and I’ll be back next week with my conclusions!
Egrets are in the air—
White with yellow eyes.
Lucky and positive I feel—
Full of grace and light.
Look at the haunted ones—
White with fear it seems,
With yellow eyes and feet—
With thoughts they dare not speak.
I want to humanize.
Egrets in the air.