How To Edit Poems

Hi guys, welcome to my desk. I started a
conversation over on Instagram this morning and loads of you said that you
were finding it really interesting, so I thought I would move that discussion
over onto YouTube and show you what I’m up to today because I personally find
this really interesting as well. Last night I got my page proofs back for
my new book The Girl Aquarium. So, when you submit a manuscript to your editor
after you’ve done any editing that needs doing they then typeset the manuscript
and they send it back to you to check over. Normally it’s just a PDF you’re
going through, maybe having one final read through to make sure there are no
typos that have escaped you but with poetry, formatting is super, super, super
important. I would argue or at least I feel that the negative space on a page
is… it’s not nearly as important as words that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it
is really very important; how the poem looks; how it moves and where it stops
and starts, all of these things are vital to the meaning and the tone that you
want to get across to the reader. Because I’ve been writing my poems in a Word
document previously so in A4 and now they have been put into book-sized pages
there are some instances where lines have gone over onto two lines because a
book page is smaller than A4, so my editor has put an indent on that second
line to show the reader, or to indicate to the reader, that this used to be a
whole line but it won’t fit on one line. However, I think that looks really messy
and he also thinks that it looks a bit messy which is why he sent it back to me
to read over. I’ve spoken about poetry quite a lot on this channel; I have a whole
playlist of poetry videos which I’ll link in the description box down below
and I also run a series called Dissect a Poem with Jen, when I analyse/do an
in-depth reading of another poem and encourage you to do that with me. I have
however never spoken about on this channel, how I personally edit my own
work… my own poetry, that is; I have spoken about short stories. which I’ll link in the
description box down below, but I have never shown you how I think about the
structure of my own verse. So that is what I’m going to show you today.
I’m going to take you through some of these instances where I mentioned that lines
have gone over onto two lines; I’m going to show you how I decide to reformat
that poem, if indeed I do, and talk you through my reasons why. If
you would like to learn more about writing poetry, and about poetry and
structure I run writing workshops online which you
can take one-on-one with me via email at any time of year. I’ll link those in
the description box down below and I also offer editorial services as well, if
you’ve written something that you’re looking to send to agents or publishers,
again all details down below but I wanted to show you this because as I
said I find it interesting. Other people might not find it interesting but I get
really geeky over small little details like this, plus I want to show you the
great view that I have from my desk which you will have seen on Instagram if
you follow me on Instagram, but I have a family of spider plants, a whole family!
One of my new professions is Plant Mum Jean bought me this spider plant on
the Left which is called Anastasia; she gifted it to me and Mr M when we got
married last year and she has blossomed actually not technically because
there are no flowers… can you blossom if you don’t have flowers? Anyway, she’s
grown a lot and now has lots of little babies so I have propagated them
and now they are in many pots and… it really lifts my spirits to
look up from my desk and see something living. I enjoy it. I would recommend it.
Okay so let me turn this camera around and show you the page proofs and what I
am going to get up to editing-wise. So, welcome to my desktop. This is
actually a slight spoiler as well because another exciting thing that I
got in my inbox last night was an email from Katie with the final illustrations
for Franklin and Luna and the book of fairytales and that’s coming out in
September. This is one of my favourite spreads so I’ve set it as my desktop
background. So, essentially I have three files open that I’m going back and forth
between, so these are the page proofs so this is what my editor Neil sent me last
night, and if I open these to full screen then you’ll be able to see them better.
Something I never really thought about which again is just a very small detail
that most people probably don’t care about but I find interesting is that the
right-hand pages of a manuscript have a bigger left
margin because of the crease in the center of the book, and that’s something
I have never really thought. After this page we’ve got this one
which details my previous books and then we have the title page, the copyright
stuff and then on the right hand side we have a quote from Jeanette Winterson
which I really like, which I chose to go the beginning of this book which says “I
don’t know how to answer. I know what I think, but words in the head are like
voices underwater they are distorted.” That’s from Oranges are not the Only
Fruit it matches the contents of the book and
also the cover of the book, I’ll insert a picture of the cover here, which I’ve
shown you guys before, the cover matches the inside which is why I chose
the cover but I think it kind of bridges the gap between those two things, and so
that is why I picked that quote. And then we’ve got acknowledgments, contents page,
and then we have this which is the first poem, also the second one as well, sneaky…
so we’ll go back to single pages. Yes, the book is split into three sections, so
this is the first poem of the first section, which is called Concerning the
Principles of Human Knowledge and I read it in a video last week so I will link
that in the description box down below if you’d like to go and find out
more… you can read it here as well but if you want to
listen to me reading it in a full, you can head over there. So as you can see here there are two lines
that have run over, so those were one line before. “When I try and tell my story
I take a deep breath and vomit saplings and myself” was all one line and also “and
I tried to explain that all stories can coexist and I am many separate things”
was also one line and so one of the other folders that I have open is a Word
document this one here, which has all of the poems
in so I can play around with form in this and then send the edits that I want
over to my editor. So this is the first line here, so ‘when I try and tell my
story I take a deep breath and vomit saplings of myself that tell
translations of the same story” so what I’m going to do is put a line
break here so this is what it will look like “when I
try and tell my story I take a deep breath and vomit / saplings of myself that
tell translations of the same story” what I could have done is put a line break
after deep breath, and if I’d put a line break there it would be encouraging the
reader to take a breath, because it is the end of the line, so it would reflect
what the words say. So I could have it like this “when I try and tell my story I
take a deep breath / and vomit saplings of myself that tell translations of the
same story” however, that is not where I want the reader to pause. I don’t want
them to pause after “breath” because that implies some kind of calming… I want them
to pause after vomit, like, do we really want to have a space to pause for being
sick? Ha. I mean, I’m not encouraging the reader to be sick but that is the
emotion that I want to get from that… that nervousness, so “when I try and tell
my story I take a deep breath and vomit / saplings of myself that tell
translations of the same story” it’s a very, very subtle difference because of
course the words are the same it’s just the pause, the very slight pause because
there’s no punctuation there, falls in a very different place. Then we
have “saplings of myself” on a line of its own which implies some kind of whole…
like you’re maybe cupping them in front of you, it’s like you can see them and it
also creates this switch in imagery so taking a deep breath and vomiting, that
is not a very nice image, I apologize for talking about sick here by the way, but
it’s not a very nice image but then “saplings of myself” it’s always like you
have thrown up little Anastasias… little little spider plants… it turns something
gross into something curious and that is the tone that I want. I don’t want a
calmness, I want some kind of surprising… something that is unusual. So the next
part where I need to change the line break is here so “and I try to explain
that all stories can co-exist and I am many separate things / that disagree with
one another / and that is OK” the reason currently that the line break
after many separate things is to have a break to separate one line from the next
to physically show separate things as I have shown in this document. It can’t
all fit on one line so I need to change it, so, I could put the line break here
okay “and I try to explain that all stories can coexist / and I am many separate things / that disagree with one
another / and that is okay” and that’s probably where you would be most tempted
to put the line break because it’s before an ‘and” you’re linking two parts
of a sentence that isn’t jarring; it makes sense to have a line break there
but again I don’t want to go for something that feels comfortable, because
this poem is not about feeling comfortable; this poem is about feeling
like you’re a complicated being and that, as this line says, you have many
different feelings and emotions that can contradict each other and that’s okay. So
I don’t want to go for something that feels calming, so I’m not going to put
the line right there, I’m going to put it here so: “And I try to explain that all
stories can coexist and I am / many separate things / that disagree with one
another / and that is okay” again like with the new line break I put in the previous
stanza, this is a very small change but it’s a jarring line break that will ask
the reader to take a double take so “and I try to explain that all stories can
coexist and I am” you can stop there. “I am” like I exist “I am, I am here,” but then you
run on and I think that having “many separate things” on a line of its own
reflects “saplings of myself” which is also on a line of its own and so that is
what I will edit this poem to, so that it looks slightly cleaner. All right, let’s
find another one; let’s find another line that has run over. Okay, so I’m just going
to show you one more because otherwise I well… I wouldn’t be showing you the whole
thing, actually, because there aren’t that many instances of this happening I think
it happened about maybe eight or nine times in
the entire book but I don’t want to show you too many poems inside the book
because it’s out yet. So this poem is called Memories of Your Sister in a
Full-body Wetsuit, and if you had purchased a copy of my poetry pamphlet
The Hungry Ghost Festival which came out in 2012
and is now out of print, we’ve sold out of all of the print runs and because I
have a full length collection coming out, we’re not reprinting that one, then you will have
seen an earlier version of this poem. I have tweaked it slightly so this is a
poem called Memories of Your Sister in a Full-body Wetsuit and it is about a woman
looking back on a teenager years, going on a car journey with her boyfriend whose
sister has a bodily difference and kids in her school call her selkie because of
the formation of the bones in her legs so there are two instances here where
lines that have run over, so let me show you what they look like in the original here,
we go here we go; so this is what it should have been before “you said you
used to visit before your mum found amber bottles / before your sister’s
operations, for she’d arrived in this world swimming / your dad hunting for
receipts. / Now kids call your sister selkie, trying hard to make it stick. / Her
left leg is weaker, only half the bones / and unknowns cry she must have done a
bad thing, back then, back when. / Like you can bottle karma and shower in it. Screw
it.” So this is in the middle of the poem and with the lines running on as they’ve
been shown here we end up with this “and I think it’s “back when” ah, it’s just “when”
just “when” on its own so that’s what it currently looks like, which I don’t like.
I have to say, though, I don’t mind this one, the implication is that she has
arrived in this world swimming as if this is a different thing to what other
people do, as though she is somewhere on the outside, on the outskirts, so putting
“swimming” on its own reflects that as if she is treading water in this vast
expanse that nobody else can understand so I am tempted to keep swimming
like that even though it is an indent even though as I mentioned before I
didn’t like the way in general run-on lines were formatted, I quite like that
because I like the implication of that new word placement, however, I do want to
change this bit here where it’s done a separate line, so” her left leg is weaker,
only half the bones / and unknowns cry she must have done a bad thing, back then,
back when” now I could do this… I could also do this and play around with space
to show time passing, but I don’t like that very much.
I think what I might do is do that so “now kids call your sister selkie trying
hard to make it stick. / Her left leg is weaker, only half the bones / and unknowns
cry / she must have done a bad thing back then, back when, like you can bottle karma
and shower in it. Screw it. So having this on a line of its own “and
unknowns cry” it helps highlight the rhyme here bones
and unknowns, also what they’re crying is this, crying as in they’re shouting, they
are shouting this line “she must have done a bad thing back then, back when” but
it also creates a meaning “and unknowns cry” so not that they’re
crying out and shouting but unknowns cry unknowns are upset because they don’t
understand the situation and outsiders might have pity, misplaced pity, so I
think it creates an interesting double meaning there. If you’re still here I
hope that you found this interesting thank you for listening to me ramble
about editorial changes. I’m going to go through and fix all the other rogue
lines have spilled over. If you’d like to find out more about The Girl Aquarium
I’ll link the book in the description box down below as I said it’s out in
April but it is available to pre-order now. I mentioned in a previous video that
I was doing an event in London to celebrate the launch of the
collection; that has actually now sold out but I am gonna try and arrange
another event in London for sometime probably in early May and I’ll let you
know details when I have them and I will be traveling around the UK doing various
different events so if you’d like to keep an eye on my events page I’ll also
link that in the description box down below as well. As I mentioned at the
beginning of this video I have a whole playlist of poetry videos which are free
to watch, I’ll link them down below, as well as a series on how to dissect
poetry and analyse it. If you’re a writer and you’re interested in signing up for
one of my writing workshops those are all online so you can take part wherever
you happen to be, you just need to scroll down to the individual workshop part of
my website I’ll link it in the description box down below. You can drop
me an email if you would like to take one of those courses. I’m going
to crack on edit the rest of this stuff I will speak to you guys later. I hope
you have a great week. Lots of bookish love. xx

35 thoughts on “How To Edit Poems

  1. Evening, folks! I hope you find this interesting. xx PS I caught the 'one other' error, don't worry, I've changed that to 'one another.'

  2. Intersting never actually thought about the negative space in a poetry collection. PS Katies proofs make me want the book even more. And your reading make me want the Girl Aquarium. Must pay rent first. Books are a wonderful addiction.

  3. This is so insightful! Not just for writing/formatting poetry, but also for "reading between the lines" as it were haha. I don't at all feel confident in my reading of poetry and often feel like it's all just going over my head and I'm missing super obvious, important things so it was great to get a little narrated peek at this part of the process. I'm glad you decided to bring this conversation to YouTube 🙂 xx

  4. I'm more of a story person than a poem person but I found this so interesting. 
    The details that goes into how to mold a text is something that one hardly ever thinks about but it's obvious that this is so important.

  5. "Like you can bottle karma and shower in in. Screw it." 😮

    I am getting the Girl Aquarium, I am getting it….

  6. “Rouge Lines” would be an excellent title for a poetry collection. Just saying 😜

  7. Very interesting. It never occurred to me that Poems need to be edited for the printed page.

  8. I love love LOVED this. It made me want to write poetry myself. The world doesn’t need that content though, so will wait patiently for your collection 🙂

  9. Wow, I'm definitely preordering "The Girl Aquarium"! Each new video makes me more excited about it.
    And I also liked the "swimming" part in a new line. It seemed to make it visually float/swim between the lines, which added a nice touch. Just my two cents… 😉 x

  10. It’s the “one other” instead of “one another” in the first poem that bothers me. Thanks for sharing! It’s great to hear how you think about editing.

  11. So interesting, Jen, and great to get an insight into your process. Can't wait to read the collection in its entirety! <3

  12. Editing poetry like this is the stuff I 👏🏻live 👏🏻for 👏🏻💕

  13. This was so interesting to watch! I know you probably don't have time to do things like these, but I'd love another video where you go through old (unpublished) pieces of yours and edit them to show they would look if you'd written them now, since writers keep developing and styles change

  14. Thank you so much for this! I'm currently waiting on proofs for my own poetry collection, so I imagine I'll soon be doing the same. It was interesting to listen to the reasoning behind your decisions, and in fact you broke the lines in the exact places I would have done. I love seeing behind the scenes videos about publishing and editing, and I'm very much looking forward to reading The Girl Aquarium (I've already pre-ordered it!).

  15. I keep forgetting that I pre-ordered it, and every time you mention it I get really happy that I did! 😄

  16. Good discussion. You mentioned the tiny pause that happens at the ends of lines even when there is no punctuation. I have talked to my students about this, calling it an "eye pause." We often can't help landing on these words with our eyes even when there's clear enjambment to propel us forward. Big choices you have made!

  17. Don't know much re poetry. However, utube now has poetrytube. What you think of that I'm not sure but maybe it'll boost my interest & savvy re that form of writing.

  18. I really enjoyed this, Jen. Thank you for sharing your process! I have already pre-ordered the book and very much looking forward to reading it.

  19. Hey lady – maybe a photoshop/digital arty person could organise your texts on page layouts to get the reading flow perfectly set out as it would be approached like a piece of graphic art instead? not sure if that helps but they will be used to sizing images etc, (excuse if that sounds really patronising & obvious) just is incase it hadn't been suggested before… if you find you're compromising how something reads in a way that hurts you too much to tolerate haha

  20. Totally loved this. Thank you so much for this. Never realised the line breaks would change in the proofs. After spending days deciding on a line break! This happens!

  21. I really loved this. I never would have given thought to the spacing and line breaks in poetry. But you're right that it does affect the tone and how the reader experiences the words. I feel like I learned a lot from this video. I am taking a poetry and drama class this semester at my college and I am very excited. I would love to see you do more like these! Thank you for the great video!

  22. Really loved this and I appreciate all your poetry videos. I feel like there aren't enough of them on youtube. This helped me think about my own poems and changes I can make. I can't wait to read your collection when it comes out. I'll have to pre-order.

    P.S. I got really excited when I guessed correctly that you would put the line break after 'vomit.' 🙂

  23. It's certainly interesting to hear about form from another perspective. Having a fondness for an ebb and flow within pentameters and tetrameters this isn't such a concern for me, although the way those are set together is still important, of course.
    The examples you used were captivating.

  24. Thank you for this. I always enjoy watching editorial videos such as this because 1) I enjoy seeing if the author will make changes the way I would (like where you mentioned in the first poem a lot of people would be tempted to put the line break at "and" and I totally wouldn't have, and 2) in a video such as yours you give so much explanation as to why you create your breaks the way you do and the effects it creates. It's very helpful to have that inner monologue in my mind when I do my own editing.

  25. Hey, I am a new subscriber! There's some really interesting things to play with and think about here. I did however anticipate that this video would be more tutorial like and also more general (instead of it being focused on mostly line-breaks and spacing in poems). I myself wanted to learn more about reworking first drafts, concentrating more on the writing itself. I hope you do another poetry editing vid which incorporates that! Thanks

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