Poetry essay: Remodeling a poem

Sometimes as a poet, you might want to remodel a poem.  Maybe you wrote a poem, but think it could be better.  Maybe you wrote a poem, but your view on the subject has changed.  Maybe you want to write a poem, and are having trouble thinking of ideas, so you look back at an old poem you wrote for inspiration.  Whatever the situation, remodeling a poem can be an interesting exercise.  It can lead you to a poem that is very different from what you started with.

For this essay, the poem from the post Artwork to inspire poetry: Shelter will be used to illustrate how a poem can be remodeled.  The original poem was:

all the time
he kept wondering
if civilization
were just over
the next hill

In the poem, a person is lost in the wilderness.  They have been lost for some time and have built a shelter.  They have doubts about their situation though.  The wonder if in some place nearby, that they can’t see, there could be civilization.  They wonder this from a number of perspectives.  They wonder if they should keep moving rather than building a shelter.  They wonder if they might be rescued soon.  They also are self-conscious in that they wonder if they will be judged by people for their actions given that civilization may be very close by.

In starting to remodel the poem, one thing that could be changed is how long the person wondered.  In the original poem, the person wondered all the time.  A change could be made to say that the person only wondered after a certain point.  The first line could say some like, “after so many days”.  This implies that the person didn’t initially have doubt, but that doubt developed over time.

With this change, as can happen with remodeling, another change would have to be made.  This is in the second line.  In the original poem, the first two lines express the same idea.  Since the first line is changed, the second would have to be as well.  It might be rewritten as, “he wondered”.

Another change in the poem, might be the gender of the character.  In the original poem the person is male.  In the new poem, the person could be female.  In this case, “he” of the second line, could be changed to “she”.

The original poem was based off of the idea of a shelter.  That led to the notion of civilization in the poem.  As part of remodeling though, a different idea could be looked at.

The basic idea of the poem is that of wondering if something good might be nearby but unseen in some way.  That idea could be applied to other things.

Rather than looking at the idea of being lost and wanting civilization, something else could be looked at.  An example might be a person who is looking for a new job.  They might wonder if a new job was near in some sense.  This could be written in the poem as, “if a new job”.

In the original poem, civilization was described as potentially being “just over/ the next hill”.  The new job, could be describe as, “just in/ the next email”.  The idea is that as the person is trying to make ends meet, and looking for a job, they might wonder if their next job offer will be in the next email they receive.

After the changes, the poem so far becomes:

after so many days
she wondered
if a new job
were just in
the next email

While this expresses the idea, it does lose some of the depth of the original poem.  In the original poem, there was an idea of survival and civilization.  In this poem, depth could be added with a few small changes.

First, the first line could be rewritten as “after so much time”.  This adds more significance than focusing on days.

Second, instead of referring to “a new job” a more profound description could be used.  Something like, “if something new”.  This is more ambiguous, but adds depth, and still contains the same idea.

Third, rather than describing something as “in” it could be described as arriving.  The line “were just in” could be “would soon arrive”.

Fourth, instead of saying “email”, the poem could talk about a “message”.  A message is a deeper sounding idea than an email.

Fifth, instead of describing the message as arriving “next”, it could be described as something that is “awaited”.

With these changes, the poem becomes:

after so much time
she wondered
if something new
would soon arrive
in an awaited message

Again, the original poem was:

all the time
he kept wondering
if civilization
were just over
the next hill

The new poem has depth, has some ambiguity, and expresses an idea.  It follows the basic idea of the original poem, but shows something new.

This poem remodel was an example.  It shows how the process can go.  A poet can go line by line and examine words and ideas as they work to change the poem.  As they do, it’s important that the overall poem be kept in mind so that it continues to make sense.

Remodeling a poem can be a good learning exercise because the action of it causes a poet to think about their writing and what they want to say.  It can also be a good way to come up with a new variation on a poem because a poet might not know where the remodel will lead when they start the process (as was the case with this poem remodel).

As an exercise, find a poem you’ve written and try to remodel it.  Start with a short poem and work through process, maybe taking notes as you go.  You might post both poems on social media and see what people think of the changes.