Thursday, January 20, 2011


For Poetry Friday I thought it might be fun to put on my editor's hat.

It has been my privilege to serve as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal for the past (gasp) almost TEN years! It's a great job. I love reading submissions, love being inspired, love the worlds I get to explore through other people's stories.

What I don't like is sending those rejection notices. It's awful. Sometimes the work just isn't ready. Other times, it's just a matter of lack of space. Every time, I detest it.

But every now and again, something wonderful happens. One of those striving poets writes me back and asks if I might possibly provide some feedback.

So I do. And more often than not, I also pass along the following fabulous poem on revision. Big shout-out to poet Marianne Worthington for first introducing me to this poem... it still resonates after all these years.

Hope it resonates with all of you, too. Don't forget to check out Poetry Friday Round up: Tara at a Teaching Life Happy revising, all!

Poetry Workshop
by Jim Wayne Miller from Vein of Words (Seven Buffaloes Press, n.d.)

Try to think of your first draft as a creek
in flood time, roaring out of banks.
There’s been a night storm on your mind’s headwaters
so the poem comes trash-filled, tumbling,
full of chicken coops, barbed wire,
tin shed roofs scraping down over rocks.
It’s tearing along through trees on either bank,
dropping fertilizer sacks and two-by-fours in branches.
It’s swirling and standing out in bottomland.

Now you work with it until it drops
every tin can and bottle and runs clear
again between its banks. Of course, you’ll want
to leave a few surprises, so the reader,
out in your poem like a trout fisherman in waders,
rounds a bend and comes on a piano
lodged high in the forks of a sycamore.

photo found here.


  1. that is so gorgeous and true. oh, that final line...thanks for sharing it, Irene.

  2. Oh, wow! GREAT poem and how did you ever find that picture! Perfect!!

  3. Great poem, Irene! Wonderful imagery.

  4. I love this - must copy it out and put it up above my desk. Thank you.

  5. I love how that chaotic sense of urgency comes to rest with that final, unforgettable, image. Thank you for sharing this, Irene!

  6. What a great image! Both the poem and the photograph. I have a creek in my backyard, the trash that piles up after a storm is a bit more citified, but just as remarkable. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Oh that poem is wonderful. A keeper for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I like the rush and mess and the idea of scaling back... but leaving some surprise. Inspiring! Thank you!

  9. Wow. That poem leaves me breathless. I sent a link to your post to a writer friend of mine for her admiring glance. Such a great piece. Thanks for sharing.

  10. If you haven't read Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, you must. It's not for the faint of heart or the judgmental of demeanor, but it is transcendent and surprising and beautiful.

    This poem and photo directly point to its opening chapters, or vice versa.

    It's an interesting metaphor for writing poetry. As one who does, I must go ponder whether it feels apt for me, lovely though it is in conveyance here.


  11. Love this! My first drafts tend to be boring trickles, so I have to go out and dredge up those pianos to stick in there:>)

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