Poetry is so personal. Still, good poetry is not independent of rules and processes. The craft matters.
This article is not a manual. This is my way of making poetry. The writing is highly subjective, but the editing applies to a broader range of poetry.
I experimented with poetry in meter and rhyme, in my youth, and even won prizes with it. But, with time, I settled with a stable and defined free form of lyric poetry. I needed an extremely dense, minimalistic, and authentic form, so I saw any structure as an impediment.
My writing starts with inspiration. If this sounds naïve, it is. I’m probably not a poet. I’m only able to write poems on inspiration. If I try to force my writing, that’s a sure ticket to a complete disaster.
Inspiration happens rarely, but it happens. It feels like some events and energies intersect into a particular moment of my life. I know that that moment is unique, and it carries a powerful feeling or emotion.
Nowadays, inspiration also decides the language, either native — Italian — or English.
Words start to flow. One by one. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes more regular. It happens that, line by line, the full but short poem is there, or it happens that I feel the need to extend the first draft, switch sections, or rework part of it. It’s writing&editing at the same time, contrary to the usual advice on writing. I’m searching for a gem, so I don’t feel like letting out something that is not, even in the draft, because the whole point is finding the perfect words, not some words.
Usually, in a few minutes, or half an hour at max, the thing is there.
If it happens when I can write, I have a poem. If it happens when I can’t dedicate time to it, I’ve lost a poem. Sometimes I try to save part of it in my mind, and try to write later, but that’s rarely successful.
What I have at this point is usually very close to the final form, title included.
The form is short verses, without punctuation. First capital letter for verses which start a “sentence.” A period on the last line.
The title usually happens to be the last verse.
Sounds strange, for me, because I’m an eclectic person, with so many different interests in life and ways of expressing my creativity. Yet, in poetry, only one form comes naturally to me. And I someway feel lucky for it.
I never let my poems see the light without a full revision from many angles. Of course, not the same day of the writing.
I’ll skip most of the usual editing rules here because I skip that “standard” check myself, when editing. I probably comply with many editing rules already, but it’s also possible that I break most of them. Simply put, I don’t have a checklist based on common rules.
My aim is not maximizing the impact on the reader or making the poem “successful.” My only purpose is to let the poem perfectly express its meaning with the least possible words. I want a gemstone.
Of course, I rarely get it, but I work on it, and I’m often satisfied with the result, at least in my native language.
The first check is emotional and semantic. Yes, both at the same time, because they’re strictly intertwined, in poetry. I try to evaluate if the original meaning is channeled, and I possibly work on that. I want the meaning to be intentional and someway delivered. I might revise some verses and even add new ones to fill “holes” in the “explanation.”
Then, I check coherence. I need full coherence. Unnecessary verses — because not strictly supporting the point — are swiped faster than light. Also, verses must be coherent among them.
Verse splitting is usually already okay, at this point, but I do a final check for it, and possible spacing between sections.
When the structure is sound, I check again that every word needs to be there and that it’s the right word. I laser-focus on each word. No room for even a single word not fitting.
Finally, the title.
For some magic, the title is usually the last verse or nearby words. Probably, it’s because that happens to be a “power” and “summary” verse, but there’s something in this magic that I still have to understand. Occasionally, the last verse is not representative or in the best shape for the title, and I have to find one. But it’s a matter of seconds. Again, the shortest possible title.
It’s never a headline, of course. It’s not about introducing the poem. It’s a title, and it must someway recall the core point.
The curious part of the edit is that I rarely think about the reader. I don’t care about the possible impact. I only care about crafting the perfect words for the moment that appeared in my mind. If I do that, I’m doing it right for the reader too.
It’s not actually that I don’t look at the poem from a reader’s perspective. But it’s like the reader it’s me at a different time. It’s like I want the poem to be clear to a different me. So, to someone who can relate. I totally don’t care about making it clear to everyone. It would become verbose. It would become prose. It needs to be clear enough to resonate, but if it needs to be explained, it’s not for that reader.
As a last step after editing, I see if a translation is possible. Most of the time, it is. Sometimes it helps with a further edit of the original. Sometimes I prefer the translation to the original.
It doesn’t seem a big thing. Actually, it isn’t. But that’s how I try to produce my gems. I think that creating little gems made of words is the purpose of poetry.
So, I need my poetry to resist time.
Besides, what’s poetry if not a presumptuous attempt of saving a mortal moment, of putting into words something that can’t?
Visit viconotes.com for a selection of my poems, with friend links to Medium.