“How to Write a Poem,” chapter 7

“A Change for the Better: Revision.”

I like revision. Oh, sure, there’s always a slough of despair when I realize what I’m writing is not yet what it needs to be and I have no idea how to get it there. But when I have that spark of an idea, I enjoy the hard work of getting that fire going and then keeping it from consuming everything in sight. And then, when it’s perfect, I tweak it some more. So it should be no surprise that this chapter on revision was my favorite in Tania Runyan’s book.

“I would argue that revision is the highest form of respect and soul-nurturing you can give to your poetry.”

As anyone reading this series and reading the comments knows, I’ve revised the heck out of this poem. I started blogging through Runyan’s book thinking my poem was finished. Here’s that draft:

Roadside Oddity (#5? #10?)

Tire tracks dissolve

into pasture streaked by yellow tape:

“Do not cross.”


We cross drought-bleached grass

sift debris. The earth

curves away


though there’s nothing odd

about a cross beside a highway

in a dry county except


this cross is not white. Entwined grapevines

rise toward ivory sky.

Praire wind lifts our zephyr skirts.


Thankfully, time passed between reading chapter 7 the first time and reading it again to blog about it. I printed the first draft of my poem, the one some folks had liked the best, and laid it next to this most recent draft. I read each one aloud. Then I reread chapter 7 and made changes in pencil. I do my best work with a pencil.

I decided that although the poem above corrects some of the flaws in the first draft, it’s too tidy. It lacks emotion—it’s like the reader is looking at the cross while driving 75 miles per hour down the interstate instead of trudging through the grass.

So, I give you draft No. ?. The final (for now).


Roadside Oddity


There’s nothing odd

about a short cross beside a Texas highway although

this one is not nestled in some Dead Man’s Curve

in a dry county. This one

is not white. Entwined grapevines

rise out of pasture so flat you can see the earth curve

toward ivory sky.


“Careful, there could be snakes,” she says,

but there’s no water. Tire tracks dissolve

into pasture streaked by yellow tape:

“Do not cross.”


We cross drought-bleached grass.

Prairie wind lifts our zephyr skirts.



  1. Jack Swanzy says

    “Do not cross.”
    We cross…
    That repetition snags me every time, stops me in my tracks, makes me think there’s a better word for the second “cross”.

  2. Personally, I love the double use of ‘cross,’ but then . . . that’s me. I like what you’ve done this time. Very much.

  3. You are so awesome! Oh man….I forgot to get Dennis’s latest poem to secretly show you. (He wants no one to see it but you must see it.) 🙂