Saturday, 16 January 2010

Editor's Ague

his is my first post in two weeks, as I have been entirely absorbed in editing my recent work for assessment by my tutors at Sussex University.

Editing is a process of condensing, of removing all extraneous, soft material; so that one is left with rock only. I now look back over my poem's Prologue and realise that I cut it from its original thirty lines to just eight, and it benefited from every cut I made. That it could ever have been thirty lines seems a wonder now. Here's the original second stanza:

Come screeching in on Matchbox tyres, cut
the corners, crash into the cat (repeat
the crash at least three times in action replay).
Bring your shoe bag and your lunch box. Bring
your thermos, though the glass is smashed.

Of all those words, only 'and your lunch box' still stood by the end. I enjoyed writing about crashing into the cat (is this evidence of some repressed sadism towards my cat, Flo?), but it was also a distraction. I found that the eight lines I ended up with took my reader straight to the action of the poem, which had nothing to do with crashing into cats. The poem as a whole follows quite a rambling journey and it didn't benefit from an equally rambling Prologue.

One of the most difficult aspects of editing seems to be knowing when to stop. This is the finished Prologue, or rather, this is how it now stands:

Wake up, child past and stir my memory.
Put on your uniform, tie your shoes
and bring your lunch box: I have Wagon Wheels.
We're going back. I'll drive us through the woods,
past Deacons Farm. We'll course through Horsted Lane.
We'll sneak up Smugglers Row, glide past the church,
and finally, stop dead beside the butcher's shop.
Then, looking left and right, we'll cross the road to school.

Just eight lines of iambic pentameter with an extra foot in the final line. Could I have cut it further? Perhaps I'll return in a few months' time and reduce it to a single couplet.

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