Can You Teach an Old Poem New Tricks?


Can you teach an old poem new tricks? Let’s say you have a poem that’s

been around a while, maybe you’ve submitted it once or twice, but no

one’s snatched it up. (There’s no accounting for taste.)


Do you stuff it back in a drawer, move it to the “don’t hold your breath”

file, or – try to make it better? As writers we need to be honest with

ourselves. Are we willing to change what we’ve written? Not just

remove a word or add a comma, but really rework the piece.


Natasha Trethewey – Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Native Guard,

and recent U.S. Poet Laureate – teaches the importance of revision,

as in “re-vision.” Changing our vision for the poem. Maybe we need to

do some research, play with structure (e.g., long poem/short poem,

formal/free verse), experiment with tone, voice, mood.


I’ve heard that poets should read their poems “upside down” – no,

you don’t have to do gymnastics, but you might try starting with

that last line, ending with the first, changing the order of stanzas.

Yes, it takes time, but there’s something freeing about the process

(and, actually, it can be fun). So, let’s break out those biscuits and

teach some new tricks! Cindy




These tips may be geared more toward writers, but please know that we also

seek submissions from artists, including musicians and photographers.

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