Conscious Coupl[et]ing and Starting from the Ending—Editing Prompts

I will be honest here: I suck at editing. I certainly try, but often my tinkering just clogs the lines and makes even the strong statements hazier or—worse— annoyingly pretentious. As a result, I rarely offer editing advice of my own, although I may share others’ words of wisdom along with my own mistakes. So no advice, but here are two exercises to try on a poem you aren’t happy with.

For the first prompt, choose an old poem—maybe one that you’ve worked on before—and rewrite it in couplets. I was told that couplets were very popular a few years ago and that the couplets themes did not form complete images; instead hte lines ran on without regard. Try rewriting the poem in this way. How does that structural change affect the lines themselves? Does this slipping into the next couplet create a sense of falling?

If the poem does not work in couplets, ask yourself why. Do the couplets obscure the imagery, disrupt the sound, misalign the necessary pauses? Look where the couplet fails and regroup the lines accordingly. Better now? If not, did the exercise itself help you analyze your decision-making process? That alone can be helpful.

For the second prompt, take the last line of one of your poems you dislike and move it to the first line. Use it as the jumping off point.

Did you go in a new direction? Or did you simply get where you wanted to faster? Is the poem stronger? Does it avoid the “tying the bow” ending, minimize unnecessary exposition, or just screw it all to pieces?

Please let me know if you find these exercises helpful! Good luck!!!