Tightening the Nuts and Bolts (and Loosening Them As Well)

There are many approaches a writer can take when tightening a poem. Making it the best it can be before sending it to a contest or for peer critique is important. Tightening a poem means to take out extra words, lines or maybe even stanzas. When analyzing a poem some writers may search for redundancy, unnecessary and weak modifiers, and wordiness. Key areas in a poem may need tapering, and doing so will result in a stronger poem. For help in understanding the tightening process, I asked
several well-known writers to share their opinions on how they tighten poems. According to Miriam Pederson, “The rhythm/flow of a poem can be disrupted by too many syllables or awkward stresses in words with more than one syllable. This may be a matter of replacing rather than tightening, but chances are, it reduces the poem's length.” This can happen quite often as some of us are oblivious when it comes to stressing too many syllables at once, and this would be a helpful tip to practice. Judith Minty responded
with this helpful suggestion: “One way to tighten a poem is to read it aloud several times. You'll discover what isn't necessary very quickly, then maybe put it away for a while, then look at it again, and so forth. Look at it after you have written several new poems.” Reading your poem aloud can help a great deal in order to hear the rhythm and to catch smaller details, and this allows you to immerse yourself in it as well. It is also important for your poem to flow so that you can make connections and make sure that your words run smoothly together.
Expanding your poem is also an imperative aspect of revising, and often goes hand-and-
hand with tightening. David Allan Evans offered these pointers: “Let it go on its own and see where it takes you. Writing, all art, is a process of discovery. It's best to always be open to possibilities.” He goes on to say that “The poem will expand itself.” Dave is saying that your original idea may not be the best after you revise it, but then you may end up discovering something more exciting. I also asked writer Phil Hey his thoughts on
whether expanding a poem will likely end with more tightening. Hey replied, “Of course it is, but it’s hard to tell in advance. William Carlos Williams sometimes says just barely enough (as in “So much depends…”) but Walt Whitman can go on for pages, and it seems just right.” Tightening your poem does not mean you have to alter it completely, but instead it a window for taking an in-depth look inside. Review the poem, dissect it, and weed out the stronger parts from the weaker. There may be unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, and even stanzas in your poem, and although it may be difficult to snip those parts, your poem will shine brighter than ever in the end.

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.