Whether you’re planning to prepare work to submit for publishing (or perhaps to our anthology…), or just trying to look at all the writing you’ve done with a discerning eye, editing can feel really daunting. But editing can also help you turn up the volume on your creativity, on your particular voice and weirdness, and also help you enjoy reading poetry in a new way. We asked one of our favorite writers and teachers, Brendan Constantine, to talk to us about how he thinks about editing a poem. He agreed to let us record it, so even if you couldn’t be there, you can consider his advice on your own (and I think lots of us who were there will enjoy rewatching it, because the talk was so rich. The notes I took during the talk are in a list below. Anything to add? Leave a comment. Happy editing!

Editing a Poem

by Brendan Constantine

  1. Put the poem into a new document, call it an experiment
  2. Remove all line breaks—turn it into a paragraph
  3. Use the first line break as a yard stick for length of lines
  4. Don’t end any line on punctuation—bury it all
  5. THEN add stanza breaks
  6. Ways to think about stanzas: Couplets tend to make a poem slower, tercets make a poem tumble fast, quatrains make a poem more meditative
  7. Send the poem to somebody who doesn’t read poetry, have them read it back to you with no coaching. Have a few other people read it too. See what you learn about the velocity of the poem.
  8. Record the poem and listen to it a bunch and attempt to write it from memory. Anything you leave out might be informative.
  9. Read the poem backwards (bottom up)
  10. The poem already exists, you are negotiating with it to find out how it wants to lie on the page
  11. What is the effect on the poem if you change the pronouns or POV?
  12. Some ways to think about closing lines: a poem should not end on “so this is what it means…”,  a poem should not tie up neatly, a poem should end on a line that allows it to continue in the mind of the reader
  13. Be sensitive to how your title works with your first line
  14. And perhaps consider how your first line works with your last line
  15. Your title *may* be the first line of the poem, or it is a “free line” that sets some context
  16. Feeling has got to be first. If you were moved to write a poem, there’s something there. Follow it.
  17. These are all suggestions.

About Brendan: Brendan Constantine is a poet based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in many of the nation’s standards, including Best American Poetry, Tin House, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and Poem-a-Day. His most recent collections are ‘Dementia, My Darling’ (2016) from Red Hen Press and ‘Bouncy Bounce’ (2018) a chapbook from Blue Horse Press. New work is forthcoming in Poetry and The Hope in the Head Review. He has received support and commissions from the Getty Museum, James Irvine Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A popular performer, Brendan has presented his work to audiences throughout the U.S. and Europe, also appearing on NPR’s All Things Considered, TED ED, numerous podcasts, and YouTube. Brendan currently teaches at the Windward School and, since 2017, has been developing poetry workshops for people with Aphasia. Please visit www.brendanconstantine.com