The Joy of Revision

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“Revision is not cleaning up after the party; revision is the party.”

-Source unknown

“Sometimes the best revision of a poem is a new poem.”

-Marvin Bell

Poets use words to make art. Each poem is a combination, not only of words, but of decisions made consciously and unconsciously by the poet. Revision is the process of returning to a draft to make different decisions. This process is fundamental to a poet’s development, since it not only affects the poet’s decisions in relation to the poem she is immediately revisiting, but affects her future decisions in composing and revising new poems.

The appreciation of poetry is largely a matter of taste. Therefore the idea that poetry consists of the “best words in the best order” can not be considered in the context of some universal, objective “best.” Rather, it is a personal best one is always striving toward as a poet, to bring forward what is uniquely one’s own, and therefore ultimately only the poet herself can decide what constitutes a “better” decision in relation to her poem.

And yet, paradoxically, it is through input from other self-aware readers that poets can often develop most quickly, learning through feedback how their decisions affect a receptive other. Through both giving and receiving input on poems, the poet also increasingly learns to act as this receptive other for herself in composing and writing her own poems. This is why workshop groups can provide a powerful boost to the development of any writer, and especially poets.
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