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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ross Gay on his Revision Process for Poetry

[I]n the revision process[,] I’ll get a sort of feeling for what a poem’s going to be, and then I’ll go back into it and try to find cracks or openings where something might happen. It’s almost always the case that what feels really interesting to me about a poem arrives through the long and slow revision process — really sitting at points where I’m stuck in the poem or not telling the truth, and then finally, hopefully, arriving at the thing that opens the poem up to me. That actually is the moment... that transforms the poem into a thing that transforms me. Sometimes it’s a pronoun, literally — and it takes me months to figure it out. 
I have a poem called “Glass” in my second book, and I was working on that poem almost daily for a couple months... I was doing things along the way — but what I needed to do was change a “they” to a “we,” and once that happened the poem materialized. I was banging my head into this poem so hard, and then that happened, and it felt like, oh my god, this is what I did not know until now. 
The first [draft] feels like I’m being more verbose[.] I’m including is what’s available in my mind at the time, and that could feel sort of big and wild. The way that a revision might open up to include things is very different. 
[T]hat “Spoon” poem... went through many drafts, and it took a couple years to write it. At first, that poem was... about a spoon. It ended in a sort of sweet, boring way. And then I broke it back open, and I realized there was more, and then I broke it open again, when I realized that I could not get to where I thought I was going to get. [T]hat was a turn in the poem where I got to understand something about my poetic process or my imaginative process, but also about this more complicated relationship with people who are no longer with me.
--interview with Callie Siskel at LA Review of Books

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