Have Another Look


It’s about relationship.

Can you find that in your writing?

Does your poem meet the world

like a child meeting his first bunny?

Creation Needs Deliberation

Something has dawned on me as I write more, a lesson I thought I knew. This lesson is more central to the disciplines of reading and writing than I realized. It is also harder to follow than I used to think because it requires patience and, at times, a certain courage.

The lesson is this: reading and writing means having another look. At life. At what we just read. At what we just wrote. Having another look is what sets writing apart from speaking. In conversation, we can’t edit. In writing – if it is to be good writing – we must.

Insight Isn’t Instantaneous

One of the most important ingredients for a well written piece? In most cases, time. A writer’s creation needs a certain amount of autonomy. It needs personal space. Given that space, it will mature over time. Actually, the writer matures and returns to view the piece with new perspective after having put it away for a while. Inconsistencies, awkward wording, indulgent phrases, and ineffective generalities all become clearer when a poem has had a chance to breathe.

Failure to have another look explains why browbeaten students often turn in less-than-A-quality written work. For several completely understandable reasons, they write in as few sittings as possible and submit with minimal edits. They often do not have the time – or take the time, whichever the case may be – to let a piece of writing sit, to return to it later with less immediacy, having forgotten why they used this phrasing here, that image there.

Why We Hesitate to Evaluate

Students have an excuse. They are coerced into writing. Their hearts are often not in it. But when we don’t take another look – a real, honest look – at something we’ve written for ourselves, the reason might be more complex…and perhaps even problematic from a creative and personal standpoint. It might be that we have trouble assessing our own creation.

Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves, which prevents us from making confident choices or taking artistic chances. Other times we fix errors or fill in blanks in our minds but not on the page. We forget that others can’t read our work as we read it, can’t see into our heads. This leads to cryptic writing. And there are also times when taking another look at what we’ve written would help to make our messages more insightful, universal, and honest.

What to Look For

Remember, creativity seeks to relate truths about human experience. And human experience is all about relationship. If our writing doesn’t honor our relationships with ourselves, others, and the world around us – doesn’t respect the other in that relationship (even if the other is some part of us) – then it won’t communicate, compel, or connect as a powerful piece of writing should.

I write about this not because I’ve figured it all out but because I need the reminder myself. Feel free to share your suggestions for weaknesses we can spot in our poems when we have the patience and courage to look.

Exercise: Have Another Look

Go back through some of the poetry you’ve written and “look again,” asking the following questions:

  • What was I trying to say in this passage?
    • Is this the best way I can say it?
    • Is my point clear?
  • Is the image or language as gripping as possible?
    • Did I take the easy route and use vague language?
      • Could it be that I don’t really understand what I want to say?
      • Have I thought it through, explored down to the “nut” of the idea?
      • What is my real point and why does it matter to me or anyone else?
      • How can I make my words less general, more specific and concrete?
    • Is this a cliché?
      • Did I use an obvious, overused image or phrase here?
      • What word, image, or analogy would be more unexpected but still relate the experience I hope to convey?
  • Do I really need this part?
    • Does this line add to the whole piece?
    • Or is it just there because I like the way it sounds?
    • If a phrase doesn’t add anything to my poem, then it detracts from it – can I accept this?
    • Can I just take the line(s) out? I can always save the cut passage for use in another piece.
  • Does the passage lend itself to misinterpretation? Could easily be misread to mean something completely different? Could it be clearer?
  • What aspect of human experience does my poem express?
    • How can I make the moment feel real and significant to others?
    • How do my words relate to someone else’s experience, not just my own?
    • What will others find in my poems that will help, entertain, or move them?

About Lesley Clinton

Lesley's poems have appeared in the 2016 Houston Poetry Fest Anthology, the 2017 Texas Poetry Calendar, Sakura Review, Haiku Society of America members anthology, Euphony Journal, Frogpond Journal, and others.
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