Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In Dark Places (the redraft thingy)

Seeing as Ms Jane H has been busy offering comments on her victi... er, volunteers' drafts (including Julie, who lacks cowardice), I suppose it's only right that I offer up a revision of that ghastly mess of a poem I posted a few days back.

I don't know if I can offer much in the way of comments on my redrafting process. I don't so much redraft as react to the first draft, which can often produce something radically different - some would say, perhaps, that the redraft is a completely different poem, though I would argue more that what I'm doing when I redraft is trying to rescue the nut of an idea which was in my head when I sat down to write the first draft, but which hadn't had time to ripen into the knot of ideas I wanted to write about.

In this one, for instance, my starting point was the title of the exercise - Dark Places - which triggered some fairly banal stuff alluding to homelessness in the first draft. But I knew as soon as the 15 minutes was up that that was not what I wanted to write a poem about. Within a day of posting the poem, I was convincing myself that I wanted to write about a different sort of darkness, a homely, safe dark place where intrusions such as winter festivals couldn't barge in un-mediated.

So in fact, when I actually sat down to redraft (most of the work takes place in my head - I like to call it the festering stage of the madness), very little of the original poem survived. This is very different to Jane's comment on the revision process: "When revising, we usually prefer to work with what's already there rather than write new material, mainly because of natural human laziness but also because revision uses a different set of skills to those we use when creating, and it's not always easy to swop sides, as it were, half way through."

Is it the same poem, you may both ask? Well, it is to me. But I don't expect people to understand that.

Anyways, less talking and more showing:

In Dark Places

Cold in the valley, ice on needle leaves
packed in puddles. Chips of wood float
like snowflakes mourning the death
of christmas. This axe is treasured:
old wood slots within the steel that lops
root from bole, warms the hands
that wield it - arch it through air
as brittle as decorations.

Good will requires flames, a heap
of tongues licking goose meat: bones
turned in lines over the hearth.

We are in dark places, my love.
We can sit and wait a while
beneath the stencilled angels,
but he cannot come: he has
no liking for walls or chimneys.
I treasure these bricks, know;
this darkness has warmth, a comfort
of arms and dry cloth for the wrapping.

My brother choked on sixpence once.
Twisting it in silver foil didn't stop
the tarnish milling many faces.

I bought you a present, as torn
as pockets poked for loose scraps. It is
- a bribe, I suppose. A new axe -
its shiny shape caught my eyes
like decorations dangled from boughs.
You can keep it by the door, if you like,
or the wall where the fire once burned
before I bricked it away, for safety.

Well, it needs much more work still. But this version feels more right, more accurate in its purpose. This version is ready to be displayed in a critting environment - and thus to the poetry newsgroups it shall be posted. I'll supply a link to that thread in due course, so you can savour the mauling.


  1. Rik, I think it's a different Julie. I'll try to say something about your poem/thoughts tomorrow, but I'm too tired at the moment. Off to bed.

  2. Hi Rik. I think it's a different Jane. No, okay, it isn't. But it was worth a shot. What I meant to say is that you need to remember that black is white and vice versa with me. There is a case to be made for both sides - or all sides - of my arguments about writing poetry.

    So revision can take a poem thousands of miles from where it started - this happens to me all the time - and it can pare evrything down to the simplest elements - ditto - or it can touch almost nothing, leaving you with roughly what you started with - the best kind of revision, as long as the result genuinely works as a poem, because it requires so little time and emotional energy.

    L ike your poem. It's kinda quirky. Like you.

    Merry Whatnot.

    Jx (no, the same one, not another, though you could be forgiven for not believing a word of that)

  3. Re the above Comment. It's a blog I run for my late mother.

    Don't be fooled by the fifties look photo. It really is me. Jane Holland, that is.


  4. Rob - colour me 'confused of Hackney'. There's too many Julies in the world - Mother says if I had been born without the tackle I'd have been a Julie as well. She's come to accept the fact that I turned out to be a Mary ...

    Jane - thanks for visiting and commenting. I know it was you who set the evil exercise that whelped this poem!

    I'm happy to take 'quirky': 'quirky' is much more fun and butch than 'cute'.

    ps: my sister read boxes and boxes of M&B in the '80s - it's how she taught herself to read after leaving school with no qualifications. I'll have to ask her if she remembers your mother's books. Excellent tribute site, btw.