“I don’t will a poem into being. I unravel it.”
Dana Gioia is the award-winning author of several collections of poetry. He also spearheaded “Poetry Out Loud,” a national competition that involved nearly half a million high-schoolers. In the April issue of The Writer, he had some fascinating comments on craft that we can all relate to and apply:
“A poet needs to collaborate with the language. I try to figure out what the words want to do….What I actually know is how the poem starts. I don’t always know where it is going. As I revise, I often find a very different poem emerging. The poem will take a turn I never expected. That’s when I get excited.”
“The best advice I have for any young writer is to bring the same excitement and openness to inspiration to revision that you do to the first draft. Amazing things happen in revision. The poem can change in unexpected ways — sometimes becoming altogether different in subject or tone from the original version.”
“Once I get the draft done, I try to cut out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Sometimes I don’t cut, but I condense….Over the years, I’ve learned how a poem grows stronger and richer through cutting and condensing.
“Most poets over-explain. They don’t trust the reader’s intelligence. That is a mistake. The poet needs to address the reader as an equal. In a truly successful poem, the author and the reader collaborate to create the meaning.”
“Once I think the poem is entirely done, I read it over to pick out the weakest line. I cross it out and come up with a better line. I will spend hours playing with just that one new line. It is astonishing what emerges.”
I love that last bit about the weakest line — what a gem! Just think about using this technique for improving paragraphs — definitely on my to-do list. Write on!