A list of issues to consider when revising poetry!
Poetry Revision Checklist
I can’t guarantee that this will turn you into Frost or Dickenson, but it can help you look at your own writing in a more critical manor!
THE COMMON SENSE CHECK
Does your poem say what you want it to say? Is the message clear?
Does your poem make sense all the way through?
Are the lines in the best order?
Have you kept the same point of view? (For example, if you start out describing a flower through the eyes of an elderly gentleman, you don’t want to have one line describing the flower from a child’s point of view.)
Are you happy with the poem?
Think of your poem as a picture, full of images. Are all the images appropriate to the feeling you want to convey? (For example, if your poem is about the peace you feel on summer mornings, you probably don’t want a bloody-mouthed polar bear roaring through the scene.)
Have you kept the same tense throughout the poem? (For example, if you start out saying “I see” and “I want,” you probably don’t want to switch to “I saw” and “I wanted” later in the poem.)
THE TOO MUCH/TOO LITTLE CHECK
Are there parts of the poem that need to be expanded with more detail or more explanation?
Are there enough details to make readers see what you want them to see?
Are there parts of the poem that are unnecessary or irrelevant and that could be deleted?
THE BEGINNING/ENDING CHECK
Look at your poem’s opening lines. Do they capture a reader’s interest?
Look at your poem’s concluding lines. Does the ending provide a sense of closure? Is the last line a memorable one?
THE SOUND CHECK
Read your poem aloud. How does it sound? Are there any words, lines or phrases that stick out and ruin the rhythm or feeling of your poem?
Again, read your poem aloud. Have you emphasized the most interesting or important words by placing them at the beginning or the end of your lines?
THE WILTED LETTUCE CHECK
When you create a salad, the last thing you want is a dish full of nothing but boring, wilted lettuce. When you create a poem, the last thing you want is lines full of boring, wilted-lettuce kinds of words. Are the words you have chosen fresh and crisp and interesting?
Is every word necessary? Does every word add something to the poem?
THE QUIET AS A MOUSE CHECK
Even the best poets can fall into the trap of using clichés like “He was as quiet as a mouse” or “Her eyes twinkled like stars.” Do you see any clichés you could eliminate or replace?
THE SHAPE CHECK
How does your poem look on the page? Does it have an interesting and appealing shape?
Are the lines of a sensible length?
Look at the line breaks. Do your line breaks make sense?
Look at your stanza breaks. A stanza in a poem is the equivalent of a paragraph in prose. Poets usually use stanzas to group related thoughts, to slow a certain order of ideas or to indicate a long pause with white space. Do you have a reason for your stanza breaks?
THE NITTY GRITTY CHECK
Look for weak words like “which” and “that”. Can these words be replaced?
Look for words used more than once.
Look for weak verbs, especially variations of the verb “to be”.
Consider alternative words. Using a thesaurus, are there words that better fit in context than the words you have used?
Consider small words (less than four letters). How many of these words can be cut without changing the meaning of your poem?
Look for “ing” verbs. Can these be turned to active verbs?
Are you using active voice?
THE FLOW CHECK
What in the poem stops you? Are these places where you want a stop?
Look at your enjambments. Do they make your thoughts choppy, or do they fall where you would normally catch your breath?
Does your poem read too fast? Too slow?
Have you listened to how someone else reads your poem out loud?
THE POLISHING CHECK
Are all your words spelled correctly?
Is the writing legible and neat or typed?
If you are writing in grammatically correct form, is the grammar correct?
If you are punctuating the poem, is the punctuation correct?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Be sure to look critically at your own work, and have others look at it as well, and add to this list questions that would address your own weak spots!
As time goes on, and as you progress as a poet, many of these things will become second nature for you. Be aware of your weaknesses, and you can turn them into strengths!