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.

Artwork to inspire poetry: Shelter

Shelter

The above artwork is of a shelter.  The representation consists of two posts with a crossbeam that is tied with grass.  On the crossbeam, wood is laid.  On top of the wood are large leaves.  On top of the leaves are more wood.  It represents a shelter a person might make if they were lost in the woods.

This artwork can inspire poetry.  A poet might write about, for example, the situation that led to a person having to make such a shelter.

Here is an example poem using the artwork:

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

P. S. Tomorrow is New Year’s Day. Happy New Year! As tomorrow is a holiday, there will be no new post on the blog until January 2, 2020.

Poem with an explanation: Happiness again

Behind the bars,
looking out,
listening for a sound.

  Behind the bars,
  looking in,
  sitting in the silence.

The door opens,
eyes look up,
with hope.

  The door opens,
  eyes look down,
  in the emptiness.

Waiting each day,
seeing joy,
waiting for the turn.

  Waiting each day,
  seeing sadness,
  with nothing to wait for.

    Having a thought.

    Waiting.

    Having a thought.

    Waiting.

    Time passes.

    Waiting.

    Taking a step.

    Waiting.

Behind the bars,
looking out,
seeing the face.

  In front of the bars,
  looking in,
  seeing the face.

Happiness again.

 

This poem is about a person and a dog.  The person recently had their dog die and the dog in the poem is in an animal shelter.

The poem has stanzas with alternating focus for the most part (although how that is applied changes in the poem).  For the first six stanzas, the odd stanzas are from the perspective of the dog and the even stanzas are from the perspective of the person.

In the first stanza (Behind the bars, looking out, listening for a sound), the dog is in a cage at the shelter.  It is looking outside the cage bars hoping someone will come for it.

In the second stanza (Behind the bars, looking in, sitting in the silence), the person is alone at home.  Their dog has died and they are sad.  Their house feels like a prison (Behind the bars) and they are feeling loneliness.

In the third stanza (The door opens, eyes look up, with hope), the dog hears someone come into the shelter.  They look up hoping the person will pick them.

In the fourth stanza (The door opens, eyes look down, in the emptiness), the person opens the door to a room where their dog was.  The look down because they are sad because they are sad their dog is no longer there.

In the fifth stanza (Waiting each day, seeing joy, waiting for the turn), the dog in the shelter waits for someone to get it.  It sees the happiness of other dogs that are picked and it waits for its turn.

In the sixth stanza (Waiting each day, seeing sadness, with nothing to wait for), the person waits to feel better, but they are sad, and they feel like they have nothing to wait for because their dog is gone.

The first six stanzas follow a pattern.  They are grouped as pairs.  In each pair (stanzas 1 and 2, stanzas 3 and 4, and stanzas 5 and 6), the first line is the same and the second lines start with the same word and then have an opposite word (out/in, up/down, joy/sadness).  All the stanzas are three lines.

Stanzas seven through fourteen are the next set of stanzas.  In this set, the person’s perspective is shown in the odd stanzas, and the dog’s perspective is shown in the even.

In stanza seven, the person has the first thought of getting another dog.  In the eighth stanza, the dog waits.  In the ninth stanza, the person thinks of this more.  In the tenth stanza, the dog waits.  In the eleventh stanza, time passes.  In the twelfth stanza, the dog waits.  In the thirteenth stanza, the person goes to the shelter.  In the fourteenth stanza, the dog waits.

In stanzas seven through fourteen, the stanzas for the dog are all the same.

The next set of stanzas are stanzas fifteen and sixteen.

Stanza fifteen parallels stanza one, and has the same first two lines.  In this stanza (Behind the bars, looking out, seeing the face), the dog sees the person who has come to get it.

In the sixteenth stanza (In front of the bars, looking in, seeing the face), the person stands and sees the dog.  This stanza has the same second line as stanza two.

The last stanza is a combination of perspectives.  It shows the dog and person are happy again.

Experimental Poetry Form: stanza with trochaic and dactylic meters

Today’s experimental poetry form uses two poetic meters: trochaic and dactylic.  The poem has one stanza with six lines.  The odd lines use trochaic meter and the even lines use dactylic.  The odd lines have three feet (for six syllables) and the even lines have two feet (also for six syllables).  Here is how the form looks:

*.*.*.
*..*..
*.*.*.
*..*..
*.*.*.
*..*..

The stressed syllables are noted with an “*” and the unstressed syllables with a “.”.

Here is an example poem written in the form:

Seeking shelter nearby,
energy vaporized,
empty footsteps taken,
quietly crumbling,
silent echoes seeking,
rescuing peacefulness.

A photograph to inspire poetry: Insect nest

Insect nest

This is a photograph of what appears to be an insect’s nest.  It may be a nest of something like a hornet or something similar.

This photograph can inspire a number of poetry ideas.  One idea would be the ideas of protection and shelter.  This nest presumably provides both, and those ideas could be used in a poem.  For example, a poet could write about finding shelter in the rain or about the idea of finding a place to feel protected.

Another idea that could be inspired by this photograph is the idea of construction.  This nest was constructed, and the idea of construction could be used in a poem.  Since the nest was built using natural materials (all be it, on a manmade wall) a poet might decide to write about a structure built with natural materials.  This could range from the idea of a temporary shelter in the woods, to a modern home built with natural materials incorporated.

Another idea that could be inspired by this photograph is the idea of vulnerability.  This nest is on a wall.  It could be easily damaged by rain, animals or human beings.  The idea of vulnerability could be used in a poem.  For example, using the ideas of protection, shelter and construction from above combined, a poet could write about someone building a shelter in the woods, for example when they are lost.  The poem could describe the construction of the shelter for the purpose of protection and have allusions to the vulnerability that the person has and feels.