Sea Otter Poem, 4th Draft: Reaching Revision Goals

Continuing the verse writing process on a wildlife subject first drafted here, developed here, and revised here, below are excerpts from the latest (4th) draft of my sea otter poem. Between development and revision, I pursued three main improvement goals:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.*

The first true revision (3rd draft) made good progress on these goals, but more work was needed to reach them. My husband reviewed a few versions in the 4th draft revision phase and helped me to make the poem more accessible.

For theme and purpose, I decided I wanted to convey the relationship between observer and observed, the longing to see something special in nature first hand, the wonder of possibility and knowledge of what could be seen if we’re lucky, the appreciation of unique species traits, and the elusiveness of the wild.

The poem was inspired in large part by my California trip to visit family this April, especially sharing the National Geographic young reader book about sea otters and the day we spent in Monterey. I saw one sea otter swimming briefly in the harbor near Monterey Bay Beach. Sunset occurred hours later with sightings of sea lions and shorebirds, which we also enjoyed, but no otters.

I am now confident that my verse writing goals have been met, and the poem is fully ready for feedback. Feel free to share yours, too!

Opening stanzas introduce the observer’s perspective —

Realized from shore, what do 
we dredge up through horizon?

A seascape we have not seen
peers to us watchers of wild,
whose eyes by turns troll 
and bail, and then decant. 

The new-to-us coast is cold,
far from our land home and  
the smaller ocean edging 
ancient world from this one.

2nd questioning stanza —

Does this speck of sea otter
then disappoint? Or does life
in motion mean so much 
more in person than on video?

Focusing in on the water —

Sudsy flickers of ocean
tongues lap the beach, where
remnant foam re-gathers 
in the formless current and 

jutted surf-wash, rinsed
by the sprawl of shadows,
promontories kissing back.
These never tire of the affair.

The gaze becomes mesmerized waiting for action, then sharpens into a new question —

The sea surface quilts into 
copper-coated tents interlocked 
over endless circus, reluctant 
aquarium—indifferent, holding 

fathoms unsolved. Wet coats 
plunge, flashing a black-coffee 
sheen, like fireflies in twilight,
porpoising between questions.

Do I mistake otter scuttle for 
the dark face of rising water?

Behaviors that do happen but we don’t witness live (closing 2 stanzas) —

Belly up, becoming a raft, 
mother suckles her one pup. 
We won't see. She hunts and 
scratches, stones fresh mollusks. 

Sharp teeth keep urchin counts 
checked, and kelp alive. Mom
folds the babe in their blades. 
We miss her relief as she dives.

copyright 2015 C. L. Tangenberg

May all your wildlife encounters be safe, enchanting, and joyful.