Poetry Revision

The greatest lesson a writer can learn is the art of revision. A text can always be improved. A poem can always be distilled to the essential image – the central emotion, the basic truth the poem is seeking.

One of the poems that I submitted to the workshop was this one that I wrote for my cancer poetry collection. It was selected for discussion and during that conversation I learned a lot about the poem. After I read it there was a bit of a silence and then the polite comments, “Honest,” “Humble,” “Yes, I don’t like be called that,” and so on. Then the poets start in on a list of things that could be better. I took notes and considered their comments.

Today I took some time to revise the poem based on their feedback and this week I offer to you the original poem and the revision and humbly ask for your input – is the revision better?

The original draft:

The Words That Don’t Define Me

Words and words.
we use them as tools.
We use them as weapons.
We use them as shields.
We use them to describe ourselves.
We use them to describe others,
++++++++to mold them into the shape we need.

Cancer patients become warriors.
They bravely fight.
They battle.
They survive.
They have great faith.
They are loving
++++++++and have a great sense of humor.

The stories all say,
the newspapers all print,
so we can easily mourn at the grave
++++++++of the fallen soldier
++++++++who died bravely in battle.

I am not that person.
I have a cancer:
++++++++a disease,
++++++++a growth.

Brave is facing fear and crying in private.
I am not the warrior bravely fighting.
I am the battlefield where doctors launch their weapons.
I survived because I didn’t die.
My faith is as deep as St. Thomas’.
My love has not changed.
Humor is my shield:
++++++++with a joke I can deflect a painful question;
++++++++with a story I can make you forget your concern;
++++++++with a pun I can make you believe I am alright.

Paint what picture you may when I am gone,
but today I am
doing what I must
because I fear death
more than the doctor’s needle.


and now here is the revised work:

Not Me

The stories all say that cancer
patients are warriors, survivors.
They are loving
and have a great sense of humor,

so we can easily mourn at the grave
++++++++of the fallen soldier
++++++++who died bravely in battle.

I am not that person.
I have a cancer:
++++++++a disease,
++++++++a growth.

I am not the warrior fighting bravely.
I am the battlefield where doctors launch their weapons.
I am afraid,
++++++++doing what I must
++++++++because I fear death
++++++++++++++++more than the doctor’s needle.

I survived because
I didn’t die.


So the question is to you dear friends – which version better speaks to your heart?

Till next time,

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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32 Responses to Poetry Revision

  1. Reblogged this on petershakespearebaxter and commented:
    I am a stroke victim but a survivor had to learn to speak but thank god for poetry The creators gift

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Version Three | Andrew's View of the Week

  3. Pingback: Great read and inspiration! – theGeniusofNature

  4. Baydreamer says:

    I like the emotions in the first version, but I tend to lean more towards shorter poems also. Sometimes, when a poem continues on and on, I simply lose interest. The shorter version is great, too, but maybe a third and final rendition would be better with some of your much-needed emotion from the first time around. They’re both very good, Andrew!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. inesephoto says:

    I like the first one, but I also like the lines ” I survived because I didn’t die”.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. restlessjo says:

    I’m no poet, Andrew. I only know what I like. I sense that the first version has more of the ‘reality’ for you but I do prefer the briefer version. A lot of suffering brought you to this point.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Both have their attractions for me. The second version is the essence of what I wanted to say. I had to cut deep to get that. I’m still thinking of a version with less cutting in it. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the battlefield line. To me that feels like the essence of it. I am the battlefield not the soldier. I even feel like the title should be something to that effect. The second one is more stripped and to the point, but I feel it lost a little bit of the emotional connection that the first one has. I think a version 3 that brings some of that back might be the thing. Powerful work, though, either way. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My favorite line is in version #1…”Brave is facing fear and crying in private.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. PiedType says:

    If you can say what you want to say in fewer words, that’s what I’d go with. I’ve always enjoyed the artistry involved in distilling the full meaning down to a few carefully chosen words or phrases.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I like the second. It flows in better rhythm, I think, while still keeping the meaning.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is the poem stripped to its essential words. I kind of like it too, but there are parts of version 1 that I kind of miss in it. Revising is often more difficult than writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Allan G. Smorra says:

    I like the original version, Andrew. There is more of “you” in it and I have a better idea of what is going on in your head. The revised version is a bit more “clinical” and barren of emotion (e.g. the effect of using humor as a shield).

    Liked by 1 person

    • The second version would likely be more accepted in a poetry workshop. The first version is more emotional, but still has a few problems with some lines. Likely I’ll try a light pruning and reorder for version 3. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. ‘My faith is as deep as St. Thomas’ – I think you revised the whole poem just to get rid of that phrase, which is the one misplaced line in the soothing honesty of the whole. Therefore I say version one, without that line, is the better. Version two needs that first verse, for the extra layer of meaning it imparts, and the direction it gives to the piece. Words prise open the heart and let me feel the way you feel – the way most of us feel about death. I could read that first version again and again, and find new depth within it: the second I might pass over more quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Thomas reference is one of those things that means a lot to me, but few of my readers have understood it the way I do. I am thinking of reordering some of version 1 and cutting just a couple of lines to make a version 3. We’ll see. Thanks for your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. jfwknifton says:

    I think #2 is better technically but #1 is quite obviously what you feel. For that reason, I would stick with #1.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. dorannrule says:

    The first one touched my heart. Some things should not be distilled and even though I think you got to the core in Version #2. It says it all but it does not say enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am torn. Version 2 is the core, the essential thing is was trying to say. Version one has layers that I need to transcend to get to the core. Likely the true poem is between the two. There might be a third version …


  15. Ah … more is better here. It’s a deeply serious intent, and we need to feel … to know the honesty and path to wisdom of it. This shines through “The Words That Don’t Define Me.” Smiles …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do like much of what I wrote in the first version. For the second version, I hacked deeply trying to find the core of the poem. I am torn between the two. There are parts of the first I don’t want to leave behind, but I prefer the ending of my second revision. Guess this is just part of being a poet – struggling with words until they say what they should. Thanks for you words.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Susanne says:

    Hands down – the second version with its powerful ending. It also tells a story, your story, and you show yourself honestly as vulnerable. The second version is personal. I absolutely love this line: “I am the battlefield where doctors launch their weapons.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your kind words. I struggled a bit on the second version. The line you mention and the last line of #2 are the two lines I get the most comments on. They are also the two lines I did the least thinking about – the just hit the page without thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I like them both, but the second one packs a somewhat bigger punch in less words. If I had to vote….#2

    Liked by 2 people

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