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How to Edit Poetry: 10 Tips for Editing Your Own Poems

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

A poet’s work is a personal expression that uses figurative language to create imagery with words. But as with any creative writing process, poetry requires careful editing to ensure you’ve conveyed the theme you envisioned in a clear, concise way. Once you’ve finished your first draft, it’s time to begin the poetry editing process.



Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing PoetryBilly Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

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10 Tips for Editing Your Own Poems

Whether you’re submitting your first book of poetry to literary agents or self-publishing your own poetry collection, editing your work is an important part of writing poems.

  1. Put the poem away once you’ve written a draft. Just like writing fictional short stories or novels, poetry writing is hard work. When you’ve put all the words down on the page, the first thing you should do is put your poem away and take a break from the creative process for a few days. Come back to it with fresh eyes and a fresh mind. This helps you approach your poem more objectively as you begin to edit.
  2. Review your whole poem. One of the first revision strategies you should do is simply to read the poem in its entirety. When you’re done, jot down the first thoughts that come to your mind, like any words or lines that feel off. Think of the reader’s experience with this poem. What would they come away with? Did your theme come across? Is your writing clear? Whether you wrote in a particular poetic form—like haiku or free verse—determine whether the poetic structure worked or if you want to rewrite your poem in a different form altogether.
  3. Read your poem aloud. Editing poetry is as much about revising for readability as it is for its oral quality. How does your poem sound? Listen for rhythm, flow, and the placement of breaks throughout each line. As you scan the lines, see if the meter works well with your words. As you make changes, read your edits aloud to make sure the revised poem is good on paper and pleasing to the ear.
  4. Go over every line. Good poets craft verse that is unified by a central theme. As you read, make sure you’ve crafted lines that support the meaning of the poem, creating a consistent point of view. If a line doesn’t fit, rework it until you find the best words to create a strong, coherent verse.
  5. Begin and end with powerful lines. Pay particular attention to your first line and last lines of your poem. The opener will set the tone and mood of your poem, the last line should leave a lasting impression.
  6. Look over your language. Poetry is a medium of few words, but each one contributes to the bigger picture a poem creates. Review your word choice to make sure each one is a fit for the theme, structure, rhythm, and rhyme. If you have to, pull out a thesaurus to find the right words for the story you’re trying to tell.
  7. Incorporate poetic techniques and devices. When writing poetry, get creative and take different approaches in how you put words together. Use poetic devices in your work—like alliteration and consonance. Play around with language to assemble words in ways that give your poem new meaning.
  8. Test your line breaks. Look at the end of every line. Review how one line ends and a new line begins. If each thought is complete at the end of a line, marked with a period or semicolon, your lines are end-stopped. If one thought continues from one line to the next, you’re using enjambment. Read the poem through to hear how your poem flows from one line to the next. If the poem feels clunky, try the opposite type of line break to see if it’s a better fit with your words and rhythm.
  9. Look at your poetry on the page. Poetry has an aesthetic quality in addition to the imagery and emotions it evokes. Print out your poem and look at its layout on the page. Notice the amount and shape of white space around the poem. Look at the stanza breaks. Poems that follow a metric pattern should have lines of similar lengths.
  10. Do a final pass. You might have to work through several drafts before you finally feel like every word and every line is in place and your poem is complete. Before you submit the piece to literary journals or get it published, do one last round of proofreading as the final step in your revision process, reading it aloud for good measure.

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