On Process: Verse Writing, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft

On Part II

In my last post, I laid down a heavy, lengthy development process for your consideration. Now I feel giddy and light with the surety of being finished and knowing it truly has been worth the effort. In this post, I’ll reveal how that happened and share some of my favorite resulting lines of verse from my original elegy. It’s so exciting to be able to deliver on the promise! I’m relieved and a bit surprised, actually. . . .

Feel free to comment or tweet @Carrielt37.


The Verse Writing Process, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft

I have been through the wilderness and come out the other side refreshed, enlightened, and satisfied–about my poetry writing, that is. And let me assure you, this is an extremely rare feeling when I write poetry. While the drafting phase was somewhat cyclical and cumulative, toward its end, three distinct steps emerged: (1) final development/drafting and revision, (2) evaluation and final revision, and (3) “proofreading” or polish.

Final development/drafting and revision

At the beginning of this phase, which was after that 15+ step development period, I have to admit I was right in the thick of the woods, wondering how the heck I was going to find my way out.question-mark-maze-8643312This phase included a somewhat disorganized process of line scansion for meter, writing and rewriting to balance rhymes with language and ideas, adding ideas both in meter and disregarding it, plucking individual lines and isolated stanzas or series of stanzas from earlier drafts to place in the next iteration, and ultimately, leaving a ton of poetry behind. It was messy, but those discards may bear fruit elsewhere, some other time. It also took several days of wrestling with and ignoring the work, by turns.

In between sessions, I watched the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which (spoiler alert) ends in Spock’s death, caught a glimpse of a tabloid headline targeting Nimoy’s demons, and read an article featuring synopses of the author’s top five favorite Spock-focused books. I allowed these experiences to inform and influence the poem’s development, adding ideas and reflecting on, and sometimes slightly altering, the ones I’d already put down.

Once the larger mess was behind me, I felt freer to re-order stanzas, sections, and lines within stanzas, and to revise content within and across stanzas. The poem began to take real shape.

Know_Your_Limitations_Then_DefyEvaluation and final revision

Although there were moments when the evaluation period seemed both self-congratulatory and extraneous, by the end, I felt thoroughly reassured of my poem’s finished status.

First, I assessed the progression of ideas after having done all that rearranging in the last step. Check. Then, I looked at how well the parts fit together as labeled with Roman numerals, reflecting the turning points in that progression. I moved the middle three numbers up or down one or two stanzas to improve the divisions.

Next, I gave final thought to the detailed poetic aspects: rhyme scheme, meter and rhythm, point of view between personal and universal, Spock and Leonard, topic focus and shifts therein, elegiac characteristics, other poetic devices, the alignment of content with form, the symmetry or circularity of the poem’s five-parted structure, and the effectiveness of repetition of concepts. Check, check, check, check, check! See Poetry Foundation’s Glossary Terms for more information about poetic devices.

There may be dozens of other little decisions I made more automatically based on my experience with writing and reading iambic tetrameter, studying sample elegies, and being an active poet and poetry reader for most of my life.

For some examples, I strove to avoid filler words that are empty of meaning–too many prepositions or articles–used alliteration, assonance, consonance, internal rhyme, near rhyme (end rhymes that are not exact, a.k.a. off rhyme or slant rhyme), what I hope are subtle puns, a formal tone with archaic word choice, a corresponding inversion of syntax (think Yoda speak) and interjections both to make rhymes work better more often, and rhetorical questions.

Decisions_arrows_sproutingSpecific to this poem were intentional placements of Spock sayings, physical and personality descriptions, multiple meanings for terms such as “dust,” “space,” and “soul,” veiled allusions to real life and other celebrities, and practice imitating the usual features of the elegy’s form and spirit. All of these decisions continued from early development through final polish.

Incidentally, I neglected to mention in my first post of this series the prep work I did, studying and taking notes on several famous, modern elegies by the likes of Auden, Gray, Yeats, and Housman.

And to fulfill the parameters of the original assignment from The Daily Post‘s free, online course Writing 201: Poetry, I made sure I added fog as a concept and metaphor as a device into my elegy.

“Proofreading” or polish

I put proofreading in quotes because I see finalizing my own verse as a very different process from helping students clean up a piece of prose. Every choice of punctuation, preposition, noun, and pronoun change in verse writing for me is fundamentally a poetic decision more so than a matter of correction.

Still, there are corrections to make, too, usually affecting the meaning of a line, or sentence across lines, toward more precise communication of my intended message, rather than fixing true grammar errors. This last step is usually brief and includes formatting my poem into columns.

The schedule?

My journey began on February 27th, the day Leonard Nimoy died, by writing thoughts and feelings on paper. The idea development step of the process took about 3-4 days. I first starting typing things up on March 2nd. Then, from March 7th, the drafting/poem development step took 4-5 days of actual work with days off in between. I spent between 1 and 3 hours for each sitting.

Due to my flexible schedule, I varied the time of day I worked. On a few occasions, I stayed up late, drawing my juice from my night-owl tendencies, starting work at 11:30 or midnight and working until 2 or 3 a.m. (I work as an online tutor part-time during afternoons, evenings, and weekends.) In my eagerness for results, I woke up very early for me the morning of March 16th to cross the finish line.

And what about those results?

The final product is a five-part elegy of a total of 29 four-line stanzas. Here are some of my favorite parts of the elegy I wrote in honor of Leonard Nimoy and his signature creation, Spock.

The first half of part III:

Where you once dwelt a single being--
two souls' two places, space and scene--
now mystifies the Star Trek fan,
bereft the hope you'd play again.

Let none suggest unjustified
the love of you, ironic pride,
for plain as scientific fact
reflects your greatness humbly back.

Who but you could teach us best,
less science, more about ourselves?
Who but Spock win skeptic minds 
and reaffirm all humankind?

Of man, of myth, of dual soul—
one resurrected, one immortal
—how can there be a final end
to he who was and shall be friend?

The final two stanzas of the poem, part V:

We clasp the artifacts of you
to fire our hearts and douse our blues.
Galactic space, your last frontier,
asks how you feel, O pioneer.

For you, we blest, stout hearted shall
declare, “Just fine,” return the call, 
as each horizon bears us forth,
to star-lit skies, our truest north.

? How do you decide when your poem is truly finished?

? When in poetry writing does one reach a point of diminishing returns?


In my last post of this series, On Process: Verse Writing, Part IV: Reflection, I will reflect on the process as a whole, sharing a summary of lessons learned, milestones reached, and impressions of the exercise of chronicling my verse writing process.

If you’re just joining me and would like to read about how this project began, go to On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation and follow the bread crumbs from there.

I welcome your comments or tweets @Carrielt37.

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