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Revision: Liberating Language

Walter Butts, MFA's picture
BFA in Creative Writing Blog
Revision: Liberating Language

 

The poet Allen Ginsberg has famously said, “First thought, best thought.” 

The inimitable Otis Redding, in the classic “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” laments “I can’t do what ten people tell me to do.” 

Here, in the BFA in Creative Writing program at Goddard College, you are encouraged to consider revision as integral to your writing process.

From peer workshops to advisor feedback to extensive reading and research, students seek to inform themselves about the possibilities and limitations inherent in language. 

The question is how do we, as writers, navigate from the spontaneous inspiration which triggers a given piece of writing to arrive at that point where the conscious and subconscious together find the words, images, metaphors, and symbols that replicate expressed feeling and thought particular to their author?

For me, as a writer, the task of revision has never been to “fix” a poem or story.  Rather, I see revision as a means to discovery.  What opportunities have I missed in that first draft? 

Regardless of genre or style, from the experimental, to the traditional, and even the formal, paying attention to what we have written can be a gateway to what we will write.

Certainly it’s true that sometimes the writing process is more immediate. We’ve all had those moments when we’ve been surprised by a passage, sentence, or line we’ve written. The point is, there may very well be more to uncover, and it seems to me it’s essential for us to explore that potential. 

After several decades of exchanging writing with colleagues, reading a diverse range of literature, attending an MFA in Writing Program, and the good fortune to have been involved in several poetry communities, I realize that while writing is necessarily an isolative experience, the shared passion for language we writers possess is a creative force that compels us to write beyond intent, to be willing to change direction, to go somewhere we hadn’t expected.

In an essay from The Triggering Town, the poet Richard Hugo advises students that when they’ve written a new poem, they post it in a visible place (on a wall, a refrigerator door) and see how people respond to it.  While I’m not suggesting that sort of risk (although it’s not a bad idea), I do believe that Goddard College offers a rare opportunity to come together as a community to share new work and see how classmates respond during the residencies.

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