Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 20, 2008

Revising: Diving, Splashing, and Treading Water

Last month I got an editorial letter about my collection of poems called Gallery, though not for long. I squinted when I opened the letter, skimming past compliments, tactfully phrased caveats, and incisive questions. I squinted to keep out what might sting –phew, nothing awful — thinking yes, she’s right, yes, that can go.. oh how sweet of her to say that.. and yes, I think I can answer these questions with some hard and some dreamy thinking. Then I slipped the letter back in the envelope, waiting to read it again after I tackled the work already brewing in my mind.

Most of my August writing time was spent on the porch, dreaming up ways to close gaps, smooth edges, and extend images I thought had run their course. Blue light, doors, particular scientifically verifiable butterflies, a fire in a prairie kitchen, green felt over a desk, a silver looking glass. I peeled or cracked open some images a bit more and the poems get stronger. I accumulated about thirty pages as I tossed forth ideas, then pulled them back in for a closer look. The pattern is: daydream and critique, daydream and critique. I wrote many messy things and cleaned up after myself, both the slacker and the mom who tells her to get in gear.

After about two weeks of mostly mulling, I read the letter with eyes wide open and worked some more. Two days ago, I copied the editor’s suggestions and questions onto the thirty new pages I’ve written. Good question are a kind of grace, a nudge when you’re ready to dive. Did I do what she suggested? Are there still holes? Can an image I used at the beginning of the series come in at the end, adding a new echo? I’m daydreaming yet again and crossing out what’s overwritten. I like that slashing motion on the paper, the clean look it leaves.

Ahead of me is to actually open the manuscript I sent to the editor in winter and haven’t looked at since. I’m hoping much of what I wrote will find a place, though I know there will be more slashing and moving and adding, and soon I’ll have to stop squinting at the calendar, stop pretending that August may never end and let go of the spaciousness that illusion gives me. I have classes to prepare for. I like time to be big, not do that marching on thing. But I can still pretend that any afternoon, this lovely one now, will never end. Look, play, dream, where can this image go now?



  1. That cool breeze that seems to float in at the end of August or beginning of September usually signals school….for me it also signals work. It’s my time to dive back into writing – serious writing, not the meandering writing that I often do in the summer. Wishing you all good things on this go-round with your poems! Will you see you soon….

  2. You worked on your revisions without looking at the edited manuscript? I am so impressed–wow! I think that’s brilliant and doubt that I ever would have come up with it myself. I’ll bet the revisions are just so much cleaner and more you, less stressed.
    Enjoy the rest of the month to its fullest.

  3. Love the fall air, but also love summer and am clinging — yes, it’s the meandering aspects that are so delicious. But I am psyched about fall — once I make that transition. I think I need a new pencil box.

  4. Ah, you’re so sweet to call one of my weird ways brilliant. The letter gently pointed out holes that I recognized as holes, so it seemed best to work on filling those and not letting myself think — hey, didn’t I sort of kind of say that here? I just — slowly, slowly — dived in. I hope when I actually get back to the manuscript that I can nod in agreement at places the editor mentioned as particularly strong, and just enjoy!

  5. Ooh! Process porn! I love process porn!
    Also, I love the process you described, and the way you’ve been working at it, alternately the dreamer and the custodian. So smart.

  6. The dreamer and the custodian. Thanks. That sounds better than alternating being lazy and obsessed.

  7. Jeannine, I’m so impressed that you did all that work without looking at the original manuscript. What a great way to get into deepening rather than fixing.

  8. Thanks, Dina. Sometimes it works.

  9. Ahh, a new pencil box…sounds like a back to school shopping trip. A new notebook sounds nice too!

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