Raoul Fernandes lives and writes (and makes music) in Vancouver B.C. He was recently nominated for the Bronwen Wallace Award for emerging writers and is currently beginning his first poetry manuscript. For a taste of his poetic take on the world, follow his thoughts at the assiduously insightful a misunderstanding of crows.
How do you work your way through revisions? Do you have any tricks or theories to removing commas, words or lines? Any special chairs or states of mind you like to work from?
Raoul Fernandes: I’m glad you said chairs because they are objects I tend to get a little obsessed with, at least symbolically. I think the idea of a chair as a state of mind, is a useful way to locate oneself; it suggests a quiet attentiveness. I don’t really worry much about what I’m sitting in when writing, though I should worry about my bad posture.
With revision, I’m in the put-everything-down-and-then-cut-away camp. The cutting away usually requires finding the heart of the poem and using that to instruct what it needs. I try not to think too hard. I could probably explain rationally why I’m discarding particular words, fragments, etc, but I like to give the subconscious more control during that process. The chair should hover at least few inches off the floor.
Robert Lowell wrote that “Revision is inspiration.” To what extent do you think that’s true? How would you rewrite Lowell: “Revision is __________”
Raoul Fernandes: Lowell sounds like he enjoys it, which, well, good for him! Its hard work for me, though (“Revision is perspiration?). There’s a reason that 90% of my writing at any given time, sits unedited. I’d rather make something new than try to rebuild some old broken thing. I’m trying to be better about that.
Do you feel any difference/make a distinction between editing a single poem all by its lonesome and editing a series of poems for a collection?
Raoul Fernandes: Its been a while since I’ve put together an actual collection, but I’m going to have to face it soon. I think I’d like to see a collection in a musical way. Like, this poem has the right momentum to be a bridge towards the next poems’ chorus, or after the gentleness of that piece, it would be good to throw in something noisy or discordant. And then listening for echoes and harmonies; when a similar line or idea pops up somewhere else, is it adding to the music or is it just being redundant? I’m almost certain I will over-think all of it and drive myself totally nuts.
Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to editing your own work or someone else’s?
Raoul Fernandes: I have bad habits with redundancies and over-explaining. I recently re-read a poem where I had the phrase “a burning fire”. Like, what else does a fire do? Seriously. But I love editing other people’s work, as long as I have a good sense of what they are trying to achieve. If I’m totally lost with someone’s work, I won’t really be able to suggest changes, only ask questions. Which is probably what a lot of editing should be, anyway.
Are there any lines from an early draft of a poem that you’d like to share? What ideas, principles or gut feelings guided you through those changes?
Raoul Fernandes:Oh, I forgot to mention earlier how important it is to read aloud! I’m terrible at it, I think because I tend to forget about possessing a physical body when I’m in the midst of writing/editing. But so much becomes clearer when you speak it.
Ok, here is something as it was gushed out in my notebook:
“The young hedges planted in the front yard of the house to block the noise of the highway, to sparse at first, but grow and thicken over the years, the hedges that bear no fruit or flower, or who’s fruit or flower is silence, the roar dispersed in the leaves, the trees intertwined with each other against the noise, that collects the dust and exhaust on each leaf, washed into the soil after every rain, growing and thickening over the years, the softening of the sound in our ears, that i can hear you humming or breathing a across the room, better every year, just a little better, thank you…”
So basically that’s a big sloppy riff, but it gets it all out. I reorganized, gave it a quieter voice, and took out some of that fruit/silence metaphor action. Its going to probably go through further edits, but here it is at this point:
We plant young cedars in rows
in the front yard of our house
to block the roaring noise of the highway.
They are too small and sparse at first,
but over the years they entwine and densen,
get coated in car exhaust, dust,
and grime – the rains wash into the soil.
They grow through this, despite this.
In our home we listen to the sounds soften;
every year the silence gets more creamy
and I can hear you hum a little louder,
this much clearer, across the dappled* room.
*My partner is an awesome editor and I can see her wanting to take out ‘dappled’ from there. She’ll say ‘too pretty’. I’ll make a face, but eventually and grudgingly agree.