How to Write a Poem About a Weeping Peach Tree (Part 2)

Revising and Revising Again

In Part 1, I observed a weeping peach tree outside my window, writing descriptions in my diary, until an idea for a poem popped into my head.

Now that I’ve written the first draft, it’s time to let it sit. Much like I’m sitting in my bathtub, relaxing in a pool of warm fragrant water. But I did bring my diary into my bathroom, so I can’t help but peep through my many messy pages and wonder how the poem will turn out.

As I’m skimming, a line catches my eye:

Not the primroses’ blush,

But war paint—

Oh, how I love your gaudy colors

This sounds like a haiku. It’s not quite one yet. A haiku is 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. This is 6-3-9. But I bet I can get it into a 5-7-5 form, if I try. I begin to move around the words, counting the syllables on my fingers.

Not prim-ros-es’ blush

But ma-gen-ta war paint. Oh,

How I love your—

No, that didn’t work.

Not prim-ros-es’ blush.

You wear ma-gen-ta war paint.

I love your gau-dy—

Nope, not that either.

After a few more tries, I realize, at last, that it’s the stupid word “primroses” that’s throwing off my whole poem. I cut it out. Now, I have more syllables available. I play around with the smaller words and come up with:

You wear, not blush, but

Magenta war paint. How I

Love your gaudy joy.

This is a cute little haiku, and I’m pleased with it. But it doesn’t encapsulate that feeling I discovered toward the end. That bittersweet feeling of lost magenta-youth. So while this is a perfectly fine poem, it’s not the one I want.

* * *

It’s the next morning, and I’ve typed in the whole first draft of the poem into my Word document. And now I’m just messing around. I’m re-arranging the order of the lines, breaking it into stanzas, and changing some of the words. I have the first line down. I have the emotion, I know where I want it to go. Mostly, it’s a matter of weeding out the excess; ruthlessly throwing away the stuff that goes nowhere, the stuff that doesn’t fit.

Magenta (Draft 1)

Did no one tell you nature should be subtle

Like those primroses, wearing palest blush?

Not you. You don magenta war paint.

Rolling into town like the circus,

Exploding into fireworks,

Stealing all the bees for yourself.

Your potency cannot last.

This is a limited run, a show coming to an end.

Such joyous, raucous youth.

Was there ever such a time for me?

Most of the time I was a primrose.

But there must have been times I was a peach tree in spring

Where life flowed through me so much, I thought I must burst

—and I did!—

A wild, brief joy—

And then it was gone.

Beneath the svelte, twerking branches,

stands the rough, weathered trunk.

You are older than you look, mature in whites and grays.

Maybe youth returns each year in short, seasonal bursts

Maybe there are times I go magenta.

I would call this a poem. It’s decent. But it seems… sort of plain. I don’t know what it is, it just doesn’t seem “poetic” enough. It has the potential to be so much more.

So, I’m going to cheat. (It’s not really cheating.) I’m going to incorporate a formal poetic structure. Like a haiku, but something longer. Maybe something with repeating lines. I mean, I’m already repeating the word magenta. Why not make that repetition even more intentional?

Okay, I need to do some research. What poetic structure utilizes repetition….?

* * *

A villanelle.

That’s what I decided on. A villanelle uses both repetition and rhyme. (The rhyme makes me nervous, but I’m not one to back down from a challenge.) According to the article I found (“12 Types of Poems: How to Recognize Them and Write Your Own”), Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” is a villanelle, and I like that poem. That is, I like that almost trance-like feeling you get when you read it. I’ve re-read “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and I think a villanelle will be a good fit.

The article says a villanelle contains: 19 lines; 5 stanzas of 3 lines each; 1 closing stanza of 4 lines; a rhyme scheme of ABA, ABA, ABA, ABA, ABA, ABAA; Line 1 repeats in lines 6, 12, and 18; and Line 3 repeats in lines 9, 15, and 19. This is all very confusing to take in, so first thing I do is put this information into a structure I can see.

Title

1 A (Important!)

2 B

3 A (Important!)

4 A

5 B

6 A (Same as Line 1)

7 A

8 B

9 A (Same as Line 3)

10 A

11 B

12 A (Same as Line 1)

13 A

14 B

15 A (Same as Line 3)

16 A

17 B

18 A (Same as Line 1)

19 A (Same as Line 3)

There. Now I know what I’m working with.

Two lines get repeated throughout most of the poem, which means I need to pick out my two most important lines. Oh, and they need to rhyme, I’ll worry about that later. I skim through my previous draft of “Magenta” and decide that the two most important lines—the ones I really want to emphasize—are:

Not you. You don magenta war paint.

A wild, brief joy—and then it was gone.

The first line creates this youthful image of this thick, bright pink make-up. The second one tells of this intense happiness that cannot last. This is my poem in a nutshell. At first glance, the lines don’t rhyme, but I notice that “don” rhymes with “gone,” so with a little re-arranging, I get:

The magenta war paint which you don

A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

And now I can just insert these lines into my structure.

1 The magenta war paint which you don

2 B

3 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

4 A

5 B

6 The magenta war paint which you don

7 A

8 B

9 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

10 A

11 B

12 The magenta war paint which you don

13 A

14 B

15 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

16 A

17 B

18 The magenta war paint which you don

19 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

I’m concerned about line 2, because whatever I choose for the last word, that will be my B rhyme for the rest of my poem. But putting aside the rhyme, what do I want to say? In my previous draft, I actually began by contrasting the color of magenta to the more subdued colors found in most of nature. I can still use that idea, if I rephrase it a bit.

The magenta war paint which you don

Defies nature’s subtle—

Subtle what? Subtle laws? No, that’s too strong? Subtle rules? Still too strong? Subtle conventions? I’m never going to find enough words to rhyme with “conventions.” Okay, I’ll leave that alone for now.

Let’s go back to the “A” rhyme. I’ve got “don” and “gone.” What other words rhyme with “–on”? Con, dawn, fawn, spawn, lawn, drawn, withdrawn, on, awn, brawn, pawn, wan, yawn. I like these words, they have potential.

Right off the bat, I can find use for the words “lawn” and “dawn,” because the peach tree is literally on my lawn and because I typically first see it in the morning light. Not that I wake up at dawn, but I’ll take poetic license. And so I add in:

1 The magenta war paint which you don

2 Defies nature’s subtle (???)

3 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

4 You—a peach tree on my lawn

5 B

6 The magenta war paint which you don

7 Grows redder in the light of dawn

8 B

9 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

I really want line 8 to be “It brings a smile to my face.” It just fits. “The magenta war paint which you don/ Grows redder in the light of dawn./ It brings a smile to my face./ A wild brief joy—and then it was gone.” It’s a bit sing-songy and simple, but it works so well!

But if I use that line, I’m committed to that B rhyme. Are there enough words that rhyme with “face”? I start going through a list: race, space, lace… Ooh, lace! I can use lace to describe the way the flowers look when sitting on the tree branch. Pace, brace, case… There’s plenty of good rhymes, here, but I still need something for line 2—

Taste!

Defying nature’s subtle taste.

That’s perfect! I mean the rhyme’s not perfect—it’s an approximate rhyme—but it’s close enough. The word “taste” shows that the peach tree is defying, not so much a law of nature, but a convention of style. Oh, this is so perfect! Okay, I’ve got my rhyme scheme.

In fact, I think I’ve got the first half of my poem.

1 The magenta war paint which you don

2 Defies nature’s subtle taste

3 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

4 You—a peach tree on my lawn

5 Encased your boughs in tutu lace

6 The magenta war paint which you don

7 Grows redder in the light of dawn

8 It brings a smile to my face.

9 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

Now that I’ve figured all that out, it’s time to get cooking. And it’s really not too hard to come up with the next few lines, either, because I have my previous poem. I know what I want to say.

First, I need to compare the peach tree to my own feelings of youth. (“Fawn” is a good word to use. It’s a baby deer. It connotes youth.) Then I need to mention that I don’t necessarily feel that way now, that I’ve lost some of that feeling. But then I need to say that I still feel hopeful. Because, you see, the peach tree blooms every spring (“Each season always holds the space”), and so this youthful joy is meant to come again, in brief, intense bursts. And since I’ve got about 6 more lines to say all that, there’s no room to mess around.

10 Did I once caper like a fawn

11 And feel the pulse of my heart’s race?

12 The magenta war paint which you don

13 From my complexion has withdrawn.

14 The length of age cannot encase

15 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

….

16 And yet, throughout the age’s yawn,

17 Each season always hold the space.

18 The magenta war paint which you don—

19 A wild brief joy—and then it was gone

Now, I have the poem. All that’s left is to comb through the words, make sure each one matches the rhythm and tone I want. Take out all the unnecessary “a”s and “the”s. I don’t really like the word “brief” in a “wild brief joy.” It’s redundant. If the joy is leaving soon, then it’s brief. What’s a better word? “Intense.” I’m not sure I like that word. Let me check my thesaurus.

Finally, after a couple hours of fiddling, my poem is done.

Magenta

Magenta war paint that you don,

Defying nature’s subtle taste—

Sharp, wild joy—soon to be gone.

You—a peach tree on my lawn—

Dress your boughs in tutu lace.

Magenta war paint that you don

Glows redder in the light of dawn.

It brings a smile to my face.

Sharp, wild joy—soon to be gone.

Did I once caper like a fawn

And feel the pulse of my heart race?

Magenta war paint that you don

From my complexion has withdrawn.

The length of age cannot encase

Sharp, wild joy—soon to be gone.

And yet, throughout the epoch’s yawn,

Each season always holds the space.

Magenta war paint that you don—

Sharp, wild joy—soon to be gone.

You know, there is a chance that someone can read the poem and not know it was about a peach tree at all—even though I explicitly said it in the 4th line. Which is ironic, considering all the work I put into describing the tree in my first draft. There’s also a chance that someone reading it might not understand the feeling I’m describing. In playing with this new form, I’ve lost some of the clarity of the previous draft.

I’ll risk it. Poems are not really meant to explain feelings, they’re meant to create them. I feel like this poem creates a feeling. To me, it feels youthful and joyous and urgent—which does represent the tree. So I will stop there. This is my poem, and I am satisfied with it.

* * *

Tips for Revising a Poem


  1. Put it Aside

After you’ve written a rough draft of a poem, put it aside for a day (or at least a few hours) and look at it later with fresh eyes. In the heat of writing, it’s easy to think that everything sounds good or everything sounds terrible, but you’ll be better able to judge more impartially after a little time’s passed.

2. Find the Heart of the Poem

What do you want your poem to be about? A poem doesn’t have to be about one thing, but too many random tangents will make the poem lose its power. As you re-read your poem, think about what you to emphasize, whether it is an idea, a feeling, a memory, or a description. Choose what you want to keep and cut out the rest.

3. Choose the Right Structure

Do you want the poem to be long or short? Do you want to utilize rhyme scheme or free verse? How about stanzas? How you organize your words will have a big effect on the reader. If you want, you can try a specific poetry structure like a haiku, a cinquain, a villanelle, or a sonnet? Choosing a specific structure might be more challenging, but it can also help your poem feel more like a poem.

4. Choose Words Carefully

What is the best word for your poem? Blue might a good word, but how about aqua or azure. When choosing word, you might want to think of the tone (attitude) of the piece. Or you might play with sound, for example, alliteration (the first letter of two or more words are the same) or assonance (a repeated vowel sound). Poetry and brevity go hand in hand, so as you look at your poem, strongly consider replacing or cutting out words that don’t add anything to the poem. This can include passive verbs (“be, is, am, there was, there is”), redundant words (the ancient old man) or words that don’t add anything (rectangular door).

5. Use Your Tools

If you’re struggling to find the right word, try a thesaurus or a rhyming dictionary. For that matter, use a dictionary, if you have a word you’re drawn to, but aren’t quite sure if the meaning is correct. Poetry needs precision and these tools can help with that.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it I’d love to hear from you in the comment. As an independent author, I’d really appreciate it if you checked out my novels or poems, which you can find them on my website: http://www.rebeccalangstories.com/

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