Revisive Surgery

The blog urspache by JforJames presents a great collection of poetic aphorisms. This entry in particular was pointed out to me:

How often when we revise are we performing elaborate cosmetic surgery on a corpse?

I’ve been making dough of this thought for awhile. I’m currently finishing up a fiction-writing class, and am revising with rabid craziness. This is much more complex in a story than in a poem, in my mind anyways. Regardless, the act of creating literature (really any art for that matter, but for me, literature) is extremely ethereal as the unknown, the spiritual, the Greater-than-me, the out-there tries to rip itself from my inner being. “Alien! Alien!” (Squirting guts sound as an over-sized meal-worm-poem flops onto the table)

Most of the time, this original draft needs some kind of work–at least a rewrite to explore possibilities. By the time all is said and done, is the piece dead? After weeks of thinking I’m not sure that’s what the phrase above is getting at.

Instead, I wonder if the primary revision consists of simple cosmetic-surface-level revisions, then maybe the piece is dead to begin with. Is it any good operating on dead driftwood? I feel like the tone of phrase suggests this, and I oppose that notion!

There comes a point when revision turns to hatred–seething Cain hates Abel hatred–and the poet/writer just wants to staple the thing closed and move on. To the writer, out of familiarity and frustration, the piece is dead. But then there is this interaction of the poem with a reader, and if well written, it suddenly begins to take life–granted, a bit differently then originally intended or planned–and become its own entity. This is the power of literature to me: that something with a lifespan (me) has the potential to create something beyond the means of a human life, joining the known and the unknown, the breath and the vacuum.

Fortunately, we have the label of creativity rather than deathivity, and so is it the poet killing the idea or the idea killing the poet in his attempt to materialize this endlessness?

Either way, to look upon the creation of a poem or a story as wrestling a corpse seems misguided to me. When my first draft comes out, and it is a corpse, I know I need some resuscitation.  I hope, a cliche now in hopeless American politrics, that I can carry said corpse in some sort of anti-dirge, and over time allow the poem or story to stand on its own legs, resurrected and alive.


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