As promised, here continues my focus on nature and wildlife poetry that began with Call of the Wild Poetry. See my prewriting for this poem at Raw Poetic Material: Sources and Destinations. In response to my writing group moderator’s assignment to “write a poem about a sea otter” (which I had only partly attempted), I began with a more meandering subject matter focus and less formal stanza structure than you’ll see below, but with similarly short lines.
Step 2 zeroed in on the target subject, and I wrote a longer collection of 6-line stanzas with no end rhyme. The poem at bottom represents the latest (third) iteration, taking what I felt was the best (last stanza) of the intermediate material and building on it. This version employs 4-line stanzas using an ABXB (or ABCB) rhyme scheme. It is still a work in progress.
My revision goals include:
- Let the poem stretch and breathe a little to see if idea clarity improves without wrecking structure or sound. Make the poem feel less stilted and claustrophobic while still preserving economy of word choice. Specifically, reduce the number of hyphenated phrases.
- With increased clarity and space, home in on a definite theme and/or message to dovetail with the sensory detail. Make sure the poem communicates what I intend it to.
- Decide how form may best serve content, and whether to make a series or set of parts out of the different treatments tested during the drafting phases.*
It may seem backwards not to start with the message you want to convey and then seek the words to express it. While I do begin with a concept in mind, my entry into verse writing is more predominantly through its music–the sounds of words, the rhythm of phrases, the frolicking through rhyme and alliteration. For students of poetry and speech, this collection of aspects is called is called prosody.
Sound, sense, and form all must work together for overall poem quality.
Sometimes I emphasize form excessively, spending more time experimenting with line and stanza breaks than is beneficial. Likewise, I tend to obsess over punctuation, probably using too much of it. (This habit comes both from my college poetry instructor’s admonition to “study [verse] punctuation” and from my own pique over comma errors committed by my writing students and others.)
For additional insight into the state of my verse writing process, see the 4-post series beginning with On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation. In that series, I use the writing of an elegy for Leonard Nimoy to illustrate both poem creation and my development as a poet.
I hope you find these descriptions and samples instructive. Happy verse writing and reading!
Watery wiles gild sea waves, yield thick-furred off-white young, black- eyed dark, five fingers. Coats arc down through copper-coated ocean tents with slick black-coffee sheen toward gloaming, up again. Porpoising, then a raft, mother floats belly up, one light pup suckling; now hunts, stones mollusks. Sharp teeth keep urchin counts checked, kelp alive, frond forest sound, safe, for otter sleep, more life.
* Sometimes a writer must face the fact that the chosen form or style may not be what the content calls for, which can mean, e.g., changing a poem into an essay or revising end-rhymed verse into free verse.
Watch this verse writing process and poem develop, from start to finish:
- Raw Poetic Materials: Sources and Destinations
- Wildlife Poem: Sea Otter in Progress
- Otter Poem: Today’s the Day
- Sea Otter Poem: Revised Draft
- Sea Otter Poem, 4th Draft: Reaching Revision Goals
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