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Jan Wood Poet Laureate15 Minute Adjustment:
Revising Poetry

Copyright ©2009 by Jan Wood

This is the third in a series of short articles in which Poet Laureate Jan Wood shares valuable tips for poets.

End Lines

Most often one is tempted to take the ending line of a poem and repeat it in some fashion to be assured the point is made. The challenge is to manipulate the end lines so they open the poem in a new dimension that invites an immediate second rereading which in turn discloses a thin new layer in which alternative interpretations might occur.

Quick Check:
Chose some poems you are working on and highlight the last two lines of each. Underline the last complete thought in each poem. Trace the path of that thought through the poem.

Try to imagine another direction for that thought to travel. For example, if the poem sums up a year, it might end “the year is gone.” Adding another direction, the poet might say “so are my umbrella and your rain boots”. (This gives a hint that the weather/relationship during the year was not sunny.)

Sometimes a new insight can be forged by presenting an opposite into the final line “the year is gone”… e.g. “another looms." Sometimes the last line can be pressed even deeper into its own statement “the year is gone”… “let it go.” When using this particular technique the tendency to sum up the last line in synonym/personification is always a temptation. e.g. “the year is gone”… “it  waved goodbye.” This only encumbers the poem and doesn’t enhance its meaning. Carefully examine your poem to check for this type of repetition. Occasionally a leap can be made from the existing summation line, “the year is gone”… “it’s time I cried.” This can change the direction and the perspective of the poem opening it up to a larger audience.

All examples (from Lynda Monahan's What My Body Knows):

…but we would not / take a bite
          From "those dark hours"

…how much less / you would have known
          From "easier"

…I push you under / hold you there
         From "no warning"

…a small round scar / he told no one about
         From "Fire Stories"

…dark as a secret / staggering as love
          From "incessant"

…break me in half / see if i don't come true
          From "wish"

…set on foam squares in little blue cardboard boxes / that worthless
          From "more stone than water"

…for her children to hold
          From "durable"

…even when i pushed you would not fall
          From "even when i pushed"

Lynda Monahan : Canadian Poet 1952–

• Monahan’s  first book of poems, a slow dance in the flames, was printed by Coteau Books in 1998.

• She has been published several times in a variety of literary magazines.

• Several of her poetry suites have been broadcast on CBC Radio One.

• She teaches creative writing classes at SIAST in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

• She facilitates workshops for small groups and classrooms.

• She is an active member of the Saskatchewan Writer's Guild.

• Her second book of poetry, what my body knows, was printed by Coteau Books in 2003.

• Monahan has the ability to refine the shape of a poem into its bare necessity.

• Her poems are sharply defined and often arrive at a conclusion in the second last line.

• as shown in the quote from an untitled poem from what my body knows (Part I); 
           only in death
           it seems
           have you become significant

this concludes the thought line in the poem quite adequately but Monahan cleverly adds
           taller now
           than all of us
giving the poem another layer of meaning and another choice in direction for emphasis.

• Monahan's work can be viewed at www.roommagazine.com.