I find revising difficult, and revising poetry at times all but impossible. Like performing brain surgery on yourself by inserting a coat hanger into you ear, to repeat something I posted in one message forum. When you’re in there monkeying around, you’re far more likely to make it worse than make it better.
It’s so much simpler when there’s no time to overthink. If there’s a deadline, for example, or when I was writing all those cancer poems I couldn’t stand to look at.
Most of the time, though, there’s plenty of time to look, and lots of stuff that misses the mark on the first shot. When I’m not sure how to proceed, I’ll write a couple different versions, but it’s not always obvious how to proceed from there. It can be like, “Great, now I have three poems I don’t know what to do with!”
Looking at two problem poems this weekend, I noticed that what I really liked about each poem was some kind of vision I thought was really neat. Unfortunately, that vision hadn’t gotten translated into the words. Saying that now, it sounds so dorkily obvious, like, how did I miss that? The tricky bit is that words are all you’ve got, and moving words around while revising isn’t any more perfect than re-bending your coat hanger before surgery.