I took a Masterclass with Roo Borson, Griffin Poetry prize winner from Toronto, through the Manitoba Writers’ Guild in November. It was freeing to realize, as she says, that “any given poem could be so many other poems.”
She gave us a list of small changes to try out in a poem that can make a big difference:
1. Tense: past creates nostalgia; future, a sense of foreboding; present, immediacy
2. Person: I, you, she, we, they
3. Punctuation: take it out, put it in, move it all around
4. Line breaks: try long, try short, expected/unexpected
5. Make it a prose poem: take out all the line breaks. What does this allow you to say?
6. Switch the order of the lines or stanzas: rewrite it backwards line by line or stanza by stanza.
7. Change the articles: a/the
8. Make it all negative: I saw becomes I didn’t see
I’ve tried most of these before, but I’ve always thought of them as things that may be wrong in the original; Roo re-framed them for me as a toolbox for experimentation.
We played with our poems. Roo had a specific exercise for each of us. Mine was to take the strongest line of the poem I brought, which happened to be the last one, and write a new poem with that line at the beginning. I expected to write a better version of the original; instead, I got a draft part two!
I went to the class feeling discouraged because I’d just received a rejection from The Fiddlehead, stating that my images “lacked depth.” In my next post, I’ll tell you what Roo dreamed up to help me.