Tree roots emerging from the cliffside at 4th of July Beach, San Juan Island
Driving home the other night, I found my usual exit adorned with a road sign I’ve never seen before. It read, “Parkway Exit, Revised”, as if someone hinting at a poem title. At my ten PM tilt, it didn’t occur to me until I was half way down the exit that perhaps this was an itinerant revision. Had they moved one section of the exit to a different place in the narrtive? Were they in the process of removing some particularly stubborn passives? Or had there been some major gap in the storyline that I’d been over looking all these years by being in too much of a hurry to get through the stoplight at the bottom of the hill.
For years, I was in a hurry writing, too, content to bang out papers with nice enough ideas and coherent enough sentences they were ready for stapling after a cursory dance with the spell checker, no revision needed. Hell, revision takes time and who has time at 2 AM? Once in graduate school, I intentionally left myself an extra day to try out this whole revision idea that everyone was raving about. I sat down with the intention of refining, fine tuning, maybe tweaking a word or two. Instead, I swear, the damn think acted like a neglected cat. It pissed on the couch and proceeded to unravel itself and I had no choice but the scrap the crap and start from scratch. I was done by 2 AM.
Needless to say, revision and I have had a tremulous relationship.
But recently, especially in my work with poetry where I’ve forced myself to weigh the weight of each word inside the line, I’ve begun to see what kind of writer I am. I am an overwriter. I bury ideas and images under layers of bland and multisyllabic verbage until the really interesting parts, the parts that I really was trying to write about, are six feet underground.
So I’ve been learning to revise – to slice, to chop, to take all the lines I like but are not relevant or just not enough and chuck them. I’ve been learning to erode away my own brain detritus to get at the root of the idea, in the hopes that, under all that dirt, there will be something really lovely.
And it works sometimes. Other times, I just end up with an exit ramp, three feet to the left.