For me, the revision process is often a matter of building up, rather than whittling down. I usually begin with a single phrase or metaphor and then let the rhetoric, rhythm, or imagery carry me through the first draft. Often, this first draft is spare and disjointed, but by the time I reach the end of it, I have a much clearer idea of where the poem should go. After that, I can move forward by adding necessary material and shaping the form. Of course, many of the details I add to intermediary drafts are subsequently removed, but my final drafts are usually both larger and tidier than my initial drafts. In this poem, I began with an image of the window breaking itself and let that be my guide, but I didn’t understand what the image meant to me until I got through a couple of quick drafts. Then I realized that I actually wanted to address the issue of distance and autobiography in poetry. I’d been writing a lot of poems that transformed personal memories into new scenes and voices, so I was feeling a bit anxious and guilty about manipulating the truth in poems—especially poems that dealt with traumatic or taboo subjects. (Some people tend to assume these kinds of poems are entirely autobiographical, but in a post-Confessional context, that’s not always the case.) There is an odd dissonance and self-doubling that occurs in this process. So by the time I started working on final drafts of the poem, I understood that in order to do this I needed to more fully establish a first-person speaker whom I could separate from “the Poet” who makes things happen on the page.
Rochelle Hurt is the author of a novel in poems, The Rusted City (White Pine, 2014). Her work appears in Best New Poets 2013, Crab Orchard Review, Mid-American Review, The Southeast Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. She is a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati.