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Redrafting a Poem – curiouser and curiouser …

When we think of editing and redrafting we often think about paring down, getting rid of extraneous words. We look at word choice, layout, structure, titles, and opening lines. The main purpose being to ensure our poem is as strong as possible – to look at it closely and interrogate each line – and we make edits that bring out its natural power.

But before I write about editing down (a later post) I thought I’d share the journey of one of my commissioned poems which grew with each draft. You may prefer the early version, the ultimate, or one of those in between, but I plumped for the last (or at least stopped there). The penultimate and final version differ only in the ordering of one line which I realised was crucial but it took me this long to spot it!

Commissions are hard, and this one for the Alice in Wonderland centenary was especially so, for two reasons. Firstly, I was kind of commissioning myself for an Ekphrasis project (see here) and secondly, as it was in an anthology it would rub alongside 60 others, so I needed my poem to be “mine” and not to sound as if it could have been written by anyone. So I “uniqued” it – brought in a favourite band from my youth and put Alice in the heart of 1980s Woking. I love specifics in poems too, so threw in the name of a pub (and yes I Googled it to make sure it was real).

The image of Alice I had stuck in my head was by Brian Moser:

Picture1.png

So, a bit like Alice herself my poem grew…

.

The trouble of getting up and picking daisies

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in its creeks

and rivers, I draw lines, as if to cross myself out,
with the stub of each finger. I ought to be ashamed

of myself. But am not. Sometimes I think I can undo
everything like a trick unravelling itself until

something unlost is tragically found. For one time only
I untelescope limbs, listen to clocks untick ‒

nothing is lost as I do it. I meet my arms in parallel lines
halfway down to the uninvited place ‒ femurs jolt.

You can date me by the scattering of bones, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.

*

Daisy-chains and downers
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground) – Paul Weller

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in their creeks

and rivers, I draw lines, as if to cross myself out
with the stub of each finger. I ought to be ashamed

of myself. Sometimes I think I can undo everything
like a trick that unravels itself until something

unvanished is magically found. For one day only
I untelescope, listen to clocks untick; nothing is lost

as I do it. Time slackens, parts its lips. I go under;
arms skitter halfway down to the unwelcome place ‒

legs shimmer their image in a mirror’s cockeyed curve,
femurs jolt at rock-bottom, the pits, blue funk.

You can date me by the scattering of bones, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.​

*

Daisy Chains and Downers in a Town Called Malice
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground) ‒ Paul Weller

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in their creeks

and rivers, I draw lines, as if to cross myself out
with the stub of each finger. I ought to be ashamed

of myself hanging out on Stanley Road after dark,
like a groupie, struggling to get in the Birch & Pines ‒

but I’m not. I think I can undo everything on
the Sheerwater Estate, like a trick that unravels itself

until something unvanished is magically found.
Tonight I untelescope, listen to clocks untick,

nothing is lost as I do it. Time slackens outside
the working men’s club and Walton Road parts its lips.

My arms skitter, halfway down to the unwelcome place,
Underground my name’s uncomfortable in my mouth,

legs shimmer their image in the mirror’s cockeyed curve,
femurs jolt at rock-bottom, the pits, blue funk.

You can date me by bone density, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.

*

Daisy Chains and Downers
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground) ‒ Paul Weller

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in their creeks

and rivers, I draw lines, as if to cross myself out
with the stub of each finger, drop daisies in the gutter.

I ought to be ashamed of myself hanging out
on Stanley Road after dark, like a groupie

struggling to get in to the Birch & Pines ‒
but I’m not. I think I can undo everything

like a trick that unravels itself until something
unvanished is magically found. Tonight

I untelescope, listen to clocks untick, nothing
is lost as I do it. Outside the working men’s club

time slackens, Walton Road parts its lips, exhales.
I slip down to the unwelcome place –

underground my name’s uncomfortable in my mouth,
I was a different person then. Arms and legs skim

their image in the mirror’s cock-eyed curve,
femurs jolt at rock-bottom, the pits, blue funk.

You can date me by bone density, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.

*

Daisy Chains and Downers
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground) ‒ Paul Weller

Because there’s still mud smudged down my dress
by hands too small to contain soil in their creeks

and rivers, I draw lines with the stub of each finger
as if to cross myself out. Drop daisies in the gutter.

I ought to be ashamed of myself hanging out
on Stanley Road after dark, like a groupie

struggling to get in to the Birch & Pines ‒
but I’m not. I think I can undo everything

like a trick that unravels itself until something
unvanished is magically found. Tonight

I untelescope, listen to clocks untick, nothing
is lost as I do it. Outside the working men’s club

time slackens, Walton Road parts its lips, exhales.
I slip down to the unwelcome place –

underground my name’s uncomfortable in my mouth,
I was a different person then. Arms and legs skim

their image in the mirror’s cock-eyed curve,
femurs jolt at rock-bottom, the pits, blue funk.

You can date me by bone density, scraps
of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops.

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2 thoughts on “Redrafting a Poem – curiouser and curiouser …”

  1. I really enjoy reading your process. You make excellent points in the article. There are many wonderful moments in the poem, an unlikely marriage of ’70s adolescence and Alice. I particularly like “I untlelescope, listen to clocks untick” and “the shape my heart makes as it stops.”

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