THE ART OF REVISING POETRY: 21 U.S. POETS ON THEIR DRAFTS, CRAFT, AND PROCESS, edited by Charles Finn and Kim Stafford. Bloomsbury Academic, 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK, 2023, 156 pages, $20.96, paper,

For this week, a departure from the usual one-poet book. I came across The Art of Revising Poetry last year while in Livingston, Montana, where I bought On a Benediction of Wind: Poems and Photographs from the American West—poems by Charles Finn, photography by Barbara Michelman (I will have a post on this book next week).

When I looked up Finn to learn more about him, I discovered that he and Kim Stafford—a poet well known to me—had collaborated on an anthology of poems and essays about revision, not yet released. I put it on my wish list, and in December I found it at my library. (I’m going to have to buy my own copy.)

The opening essay is worth the price of admission, and includes a list of 12 suggestions for revision. The first:

  1. How could the poem’s title be more intriguing, prophetic, indelible? It’s been said the title of the poem holds about 20 percent of the poem’s overall effect. How can a poet tinker until the title alone compels? (p. 3)

The 21 poets include Finn and Stafford, also Abayomi Animashaun, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Hirshfield, Joe Wilkins, Shin Yu Pai, CMarie Fuhrman, Prageeta Sharma, Frank X Walker, Beth Piatote, Sean Prentiss, Shann Ray, Philip Metres, Rose McLarney, Yona Harvey, Paulann Petersen, Todd Davis, Tami Haaland, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Terry Tempest Williams.

(I had planned to offer a sampling of names, then I just kept going.) The list includes poets known to me and unknown. The approaches to revision are as diverse as the poets. They echo one another, of course—they’re writing about the same topic, after all—but each poet adds something unexpected. Not one disappoints.

As I read, I kept writing out passages in my notebook. “My revision process is, overall, one of inquiry,” Rose McLarney writes in “Identifying Gems” (p. 57). In “Finding the Language, Finding  Story” (a gorgeous essay that is also about raising a child), Joe Wilkins shares a strategy I honestly had never thought of:  “I usually write in couplets (you can’t hide anything in couplets, all that white space forces you to interrogate every word)” (p. 18).

In “Emptying the Zendo,” Shin Yu Pai admits that she doesn’t revise very much, then elaborates:

Revision, for me, is like polishing a gem to bring out its beauty. However, this working and reworking of the stone also changes its rawest qualities and alters its energy. The place where I decide to put down the pen and stop fussing with the poem is not the place another poet, teacher, or scholar might choose to end. Ultimately, we find our own relationship to our voice and our objects through reading, practice, and deep listening. In this way, we are our own teachers. —Shin Yu Pai

This might be good advice for life, as well as for writing. We find our own relationship through using our own voice, but also reading, practice, and deep listening.

For each poet, we encounter first a photo of an early draft, usually hand-written, then a typed “first” draft, next the final version, and finally a short essay about the revision. Here is Animashaun’s final draft:


When the last immigrants
Walked out the gates

Fireworks lit up the sky
Horns and sirens blared

From every window
Flags draped

The country at last
Was itself again.

At the park, townsfolk
Celebrated new liberation day—

They cheered as foreign clothes
Were burned in piles

Danced when ethnic foods
Were flushed down sewers

And monuments to migrants
Were lassoed and pulled down

Including statues
Of the town’s founders—

Immigrants some say
From the horn of Africa—

Whose clay heads now dangle
From a rope in the heart of town.

—Abayomi Animashaun

In his essay, “Discipline and Unknowing,” Animashaun writes about the journey he took with this particular poem, and about what happens with every poem:

I never know where the writing will lead, but I accept the gift of each word, of each phrase, with the faith that each will yield in its own time as long as I continue to listen and remain steadfast . —Abayomi Animashaun

(To learn more about Animashaun and his books, visit his website:

I find myself wishing I were teaching a class where I could assign this book and discuss it. I’ll shut up now and let you find your own copy. The publisher is currently offering it at a discount:


Local Poets Read

For me, the fun part is just being at home and writing in my sweatpants. And then being like, “I wrote a poem and I like it.” There’s nothing that compares to that. Nothing. Not The New Yorker, not The New York Times. I feel like that’s something that sometimes gets lost in our culture, where everything’s about building a brand before you even have an established creative process. Please, don’t be a poet unless the number one thing you like to do is write poems. And read poems.


If you’re a poet looking for more poets to read (or listen to) — here are three offerings by local poets today.  All events are free, or for a token donation.

John L. Wright, Thursday, April 29th, 2021    6:30 – 7:30PM EST / 3:30 – 4:30 PST

The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association is delighted to present a live poetry reading with Physician and Poet John L. Wright. His poetry explores humanity’s relationship and place among the fauna and flora of the natural world. Singer-Songwriter Linda Sussman will perform her original songs live. Join us in celebrating Poetry Month on Zoom! Register for this event here.

Kim Stafford, Sy Hoahwah, and Kathleen Flenniken, April 29, 2021 6:30 – 7:45 pm.

Books in Common NW Series–a reading and conversation with Kim Stafford (Singer Come from Afar, Red Hen Press), Sy Hoahwah (Ancestral Demon,University of New Mexico Press) and Kathleen Flenniken, jointly sponsored by three great Northwest book sellers — Paulina Springs Books (Oregon) , Madison Books (Washington) and Country Bookshelf (Montana). 6:30 – 7:45 pm PDT.  Free. Follow the link to find the registration. And notice that this is a series, airing every Thursday.

And finally, this from Tacoma Public Library:

Thursday, April 29, 2021
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm PDT
Online event

Join local poet Kevin Miller as he reads from his new book, Vanish, the winner of the Wandering Aengus Book Award and Kevin Miller’s fourth book of poetry. WAP Poetry Editor Tina Schumann says of the poems,

“Kevin Miller’s collection Vanish exists in the quiet certitude of lives lived moment to moment, hour by hour and generation to generation. These poems illustrate that it is the varied stuff of this life that makes us whole—farmhouses, sparrows and mackerel, smoke from a cigarette, candles in a window, a question asked over dinner—illuminating each small gesture and ache as they vanish into time, but permeate the living and the land they occupy.”

Kevin has received grants from Artist Trust, Tacoma Arts Commission, and was a member of the Jack Straw Writers Program. He was a Fulbright Teacher in Denmark and taught in the public schools of Washington State for thirty-nine years. He lives in Tacoma.

Kim Stafford

Today’s blogpost comes to you courtesy of Bellingham poet, peace worker, and my tireless friend Carla Shafer.

On Tuesday, 27 April 2021—6:00pm to 7:00pm—Village Books hosts Kim Stafford for the Bellingham launch of his latest collection, Singer Come From Afar. (Click on the link to go to Village Books.) This event is part of the Nature of Writing Series run in partnership with the North Cascades Institute.

I love this book. Kim Stafford writes from a deep well of gratitude and human goodness. Some of his poems are furious, some are sly and funny, some are simply beautiful, and all create a space for readers to catch their breath and reflect on the glories of this lovely, reeling planet and the sins against it. What greater gift could a poet give a worried, weary world?

—Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Earth’s Wild Music

Kim Stafford is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College, and the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including Having Everything Right (a collection of essays); Early Morning (a biography of William Stafford); We Got Here Together (a children’s book), and The Muses Among Us (a book about the practice of writing). In 2018-2020 he served as Oregon’s poet laureate, and he has taught writing in Mexico, Scotland, Italy, and Bhutan.

Here’s a poem from Kim’s website.

Home School Thoughts for All of Us

In the pandemic, what should we all be learning?

Self reliance
How to cook a meal. How to clean a house, a porch, a yard.
How to plant a garden. How to use tools. How to fix
broken things: sew a button, mend a hole, do laundry,
wash dishes like a pro.

How to be sad and get over it. How to find the music
that restores you. How to walk so your troubles fall from
your shoulders. How to write your troubles to make them
visible, then manageable, then smaller, and finally funny.

How to know a true friend. How to let go old friends
who make you feel bad about yourself. How to give
generously to a friend by listening, asking, wondering.
How to feed a friendship so it roots, deepens, grows.

How to think something through. How to question
your fears, interrogate them, talk back to them. How to remember
something so precious you are less afraid. How to make clear
what most calls to you, what you love, what you will do to sustain it.

How to have a dream toward a life worth planning for, saving for,
working for. How to design ways to make steady progress toward
a worthy goal. How to identify a dream that is so important, you will
let go lesser things to achieve it.

How to know what you need. How to pare away what you do need—
objects, habits, false wishes, propaganda coming at you that is foreign to
who you are—so you can give your energy to what you really want.

How does it feel in your body when love is real—love for a person,
for a place, for a feeling about who you really are, a longing for
what you most want to do with this life? This is your compass,
your inner landmark, your truth principle. Only you can know.

Health. Rest. Calm. Breath. Patience. Affection. Humor. Active hope.

—Kim Stafford