St. Valentine’s Day Aftermath

Bullet Holes

If you’ve been following my posts the past several days, you’ll know that I’ve been working on a Valentine’s Day sonnet, prompted by ideas suggested from my Georgian buddy John Cochrane. I’ve also been using the project as an opportunity to discuss the writing process: 1. Prewriting, 2. Drafting, 3. Revising, 4. Editing, and 5. Publishing.

I covered prewriting in two separate posts: “A Valentine Sonnet in Progress” and “Valentine Sonnet Prewriting 2.”

A draft of the first quatrain can be found at “Valentine Sonnet Draft – Stanza 1,” and a final draft of the entire sonnet at “A Valentine’s Day Sonnet for an Old Couple.”

Note the repeated use of the word “draft.” It’s too early to call this a completed poem. I’m still too close to it myself and have had very little critique from other people. So, despite the fact that it’s had some revision (the couplet, for example has changed from “They’ve left us here, caretakers of a time / that’s past, but still preserved in this, our rhyme” to “caretakers of an age / that’s past, but still preserved here on this page” to its current incarnation), and I’ve edited pretty carefully (spelling, punctuation, correct word usage), I remain suspicious of a few things.

For one, I worry about the first stanza ending with “teddy bears.” Is it trite? Or does the list and sentiment stand?

For another, as much as I like the idea of “the words twist in my mouth” (and an alternative “the words twisting my mouth”), I wonder if it’s heavy-handed, especially following “teddy bears.” The shift from gentle melancholy in the first stanza to grief in the second may be too strong, and “twist in my mouth” may be too odd a phrase to bear the weight of an ending line.

The third stanza has one line I worry about as well: line 3. Grammatically, “lines” cannot be “laughs” or “tears,” they are the result. Will this liberty jar grammar purists?

And the couplet gives me three causes for concern:

  1. It is generally not good form to end a line on a weak word like a preposition or (God forbid) an article. “Of” gets a lot of attention here, and while I like it (perhaps perversely so), others may complain—especially as it’s in the couplet, the very climax of the poem!
  2. I’m not sure about the treatment of “Love.” Although the entire poem is in second person—a narrator speaking to his partner—this is the first direct address, and it’s the last word of the poem. Again, that puts a lot of weight on the word, drawing attention to the capital letter. Technically, I think this should be lower-cased, like “sweetheart” or “sugar,” a descriptive term rather than a proper noun. But lower-cased seems too weak here. So I’m in a quandary.
  3. More importantly, I’m concerned that the “caretakers” idea may not be prepared for enough earlier. Does the message make sense to anyone besides me?

All of these are “revision” questions, things that may mean replacing phrases or tearing out entire lines, recasting ideas, and then painting over with new rhymes. Then one more edit for the crunchy stuff like spelling and punctuation, and the poem may be ready for submission somewhere.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this ongoing discussion of one writer’s process for building a sonnet. Please don’t hesitate to post comments or questions. As you can probably tell, I love this stuff!

—Les

2 Comments

  1. john cochrane

    You bring to mind to me a lot when you ask when a poem is done. As we’ve worked together, there’s so much I still have to do regarding my own writing of poetry, that it seems silly for me to comment to you, a mentor.

    “The words twist in my mouth” is indeed wrenching and jarring, but in this case, couldn’t it construed to be purposefully so? But yes I noticed the change in intensity.

    I actively like the capitalization and weight of “Love” as the final word of the couplet. Where better than the end, to close with a bang?

    Parents are so often (always?) caretakers, this seems axiomatic to me.

    Thank you for your work on this and for also giving us views on behind the scenes.

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