Bren Simmers Author Photo-Photo Credit Vivienne McMaster

Of Bren Simmer’s new collection of poems, Night Gears, Rhea Tregebov says, ” “Whether she’s attending to the workings at the heart of small towns, or the archaic mechanism that is a moose stopped at the side of the road, Bren Simmers is attuned to the intricate machinery of the world, within and without us. Here is a poetry committed to the human and the natural, and to the intersection between.” As testament to Simmer’s commitment to essential details, even her website shows concern for the world, suggesting that people purchase Night Gears at their local independent bookstore before the quick click to amazon et al. If you’re interested in supporting local poetry from the ground up, you might want to attend the Night Gears launch on Thursday, October 7th at 7pm at Montmartre Café, 4362 Main Street. (The talented Lisa O’Neill will be playing music after the readings.) In the meantime enjoy this interview with Simmers on the topic of editing:


How would you characterize the process of revising your own work? Do you have any special tricks taking out commas, words or lines?

I take a long time to revise a poem, often a year or more. I work on it, then put it away for a few weeks. Each time I revisit it, I have a better sense of what I’m trying to say. I’ll keep tinkering with a poem until it feels right.

Occasionally, poems come out close to done, but not very often. When I’m writing a new poem, it’s like I’m listening for it. Sometimes I get a clear transcription; other times my thought gets interrupted and I receive only fragments and need to piece them together.

When revising, my trick is to read everything out loud. Extraneous words or awkward lines are easier to flag that way.

Robert Lowell wrote that “Revision is inspiration”. To what extent do you think that’s true? Is it ever easy to say, “Revision is hell?”

For me, revision is less about inspiration and more about clarifying the poem’s central idea or intention. Kim Addonizio talks about how early drafts rarely are brilliant. You need to keep working them. Poems, she says, have an inherent emotional intelligence, but after a few drafts, the brain has to come in and work on the logic of the poem.

Revision is frustrating when I’m overworked a poem and it’s lost something in the process. I have to be careful not to pare or to polish too much. To leave a few loose edges, some of that initial urgency in the poem.

What are three pet peeves when it comes to editing your own work or someone else’s?

I don’t have pet peeves—they’re more blind spots. When editing my own work, I know have certain tendencies that I have to watch out for, such default line lengths or forms. (I’m partial to the left-justifed one stanza special I call the “uniblob”.) When transferring the scrawl from my journal (yes, I write first drafts by hand) into the computer, sometimes I can be lazy and drop the text into one of my default forms, rather than thinking about what shape the poem calls for.

When editing other people’s work, I need to be mindful of where their poem wants to go, not where I think it should go. Sometimes, I like my editorial scissors too much. I can be too quick to suggest cutting something out, rather than asking what’s not working there. Maybe it’s the line above that’s causing the problem, or something needs to be added to help clarify a line or a stanza.

Are there any lines from an early draft that you’d like to share? What ideas, principles or gut feelings have guided you through those changes?

I rarely show people early drafts. I try and take a poem as far as I can before sharing it with someone. For the most part, I rely on gut feelings to guide my revisions. I used to have a list beside my computer of things to look for when revising such as form, line breaks, or diction, which was helpful. These days, I just steep poems until they sound right.