Speech is not a means in the service of an external end. It contains its own rule of usage, ethics, and view of the world, as a gesture sometimes bears the whole truth about a man.
- Maurice Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology of Perception
A poets take to page and pen, as naturally as, a painter takes to color and canvas. Initial thoughts for both, whether they are easy to put to page or are difficult to wrap a line around are not likely to be any time soon thereafter, a finished poem or painting.
Art is a process, whether it be in the style of classical, modern or postmodern. The sketching of initial thoughts is the initial step. Following are molding and shaping that thought into form which requires conscious discerning and enduring assessment.
One of challenges of shaping and molding initial thought is for the artist, in our case, the poet to separate him/herself from the origins of his worded sketch. Without separating him/herself it will be almost impossible for the poet to distinguish what is best for the write, in contrast to, what is best for his or her's personal needs. Poetry is not a diary or personal journal entry. True poetry transcends the self and instills itself in the consciousness of its readers.
Poems begin in experience, but poems are not a detailed account of a personal experience. A poem must rise above the purely individual and engage the mind and psyche of its readers. Poetry is art and art is expression of intellect and emotive intelligence, its prime purpose to be shared with a public. Is that not why we post and publish?
M. Merleau Ponty wrote in his book Phenomenology of Perception: "...there is constituted between the other person and myself a common ground; my thought and his are interwoven into a single fabric...our perspectives merge into one, and we co-exist through a common world...
That common world is where Truth lies.
John Cheever an American novelist and short story writer once wrote, "I lie, in order to tell a more significant truth." That is what makes poetry unique - it is the significant truth. Raw truth that weaves the fabric of our common world.
The poet's experiences and observations are his raw material. From the moment those raw thoughts are put to page - the life of a poem begins. When shaping and molding his/her raw thoughts it is not the loyalty to his personal experience that the poet must be true to it is the poem itself. The poet must create an art form that can stand independently before its readership.
In the process of shaping and molding, the poet will place metaphor upon metaphor, details will decorate similes and the flood of descriptive words will cascade over the lines. Repetition will command the land and concrete words will build a paradise on the page. So many poetic peaks will have been reach that the poet becomes blinded by the intense light of written height.
It is time to start the discerning and enduring descent to the telos of truth - the form and content.
This stage is a strenuous one for the poet - revision. Revision is an almost never ending undertaking. The first stages of revision are the worst and the most difficult to carry out - "cutting". Although the act of cutting is the most difficult for the poet, it is the very air that will give the write its breath of life.
In every revision, I, myself, struggle with lines and/or phrases that in my mind are pure perfection - unique and mind-moving, but, their perfection does not compliment or serve the well-being of the poem . To let go of such lines would be an atrocity, to force them on the write would be an insult, and so, I found a solution. I have a "scrapbook" filled with all of the perfect pieces of thought that are waiting patiently to be placed in a proper poem.
Personally, I would say, on average, I revise 30 drafts of each poem I write before I begin to feel satisfied with it. Other poets do it in fewer drafts whereas others it takes more. Of course, there are those few and far between poems - flukes, that come to you in almost perfect form. I have never had the pleasure of having one of those. But, I have heard, although rare, it happens.
A true poetry is one that has been worked on and worked over many times, written and re-written until its truth is born.
A word of advice: know when to walk away from a poem that doesn't have the spirit of life to become a mentionable write.