Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Evolution of a Poem: Reaching the summit of revisions to "La Cumbre"

On Saturday, February 2, I posted a poem, "La Cumbre/The Summit," based on a postcard from La Cumbre restaurant in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I thought the poem was finished, and in fact felt pretty good about it.  That is, until a friend wrote and said it was too sappy.  I read it again, realized she was right, and began revising.

Here's the postcard:


This was the original version that I posted:

LA CUMBRE/THE SUMMIT


We bask on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and grilled meats
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.
We are here, in our future favorite place,
savoring each other,
feasting on the chance to be together.
Oh, I know that this dinner eventually will end;
that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.
But, for now, let me savor a dream
and get lost in a vista that is only you.

Okay, yes, sappy.  So, what to change?  The first lines to go were the fifth and sixth:  "savoring each other/feasting on the chance to be together."  It didn't take long to also realize that the last two lines were pretty sappy.  These two changes left the following:

LA CUMBRE/THE SUMMIT


We bask on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and grilled meats
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.
We are here, in our future favorite place.
Oh, I know that this dinner eventually will end;
that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.

The poem was now free from its sappiest lines, but it didn't seem to flow very well.  The fourth line, "We are here, in our future favorite place" didn't seem to fit well.  But, I really liked the phrase "our future favorite place" since it tied in with the caption on the back of the postcard.  I tried it at the beginning of the poem:

Here, in our future favorite place,
we bask on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda....

I tried an alternative opening:   "On the sunwashed veranda of our future favorite place..."

Neither of these felt right.  But, I really liked "future favorite place."  What to do?  There comes a time in the evolution of a poem when tough decisions must be made.  I realized the line had to go.  I also deleted the word "restaurant's" simply to reduce by a few syllables.  This left the following:

LA CUMBRE/THE SUMMIT


We bask on the sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and grilled meats
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.
Oh, I know that this dinner eventually will end;
that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.

Six lines forming two tidy sections to the poem.  But, now it seemed to end too abruptly.  The poem didn't feel balanced.  I got rid of the "Oh, I know that" in the fourth line, then added "I know that" back to the line.  I tried different approaches to the line:

I know, though, that this dinner eventually will end...

Eventually, though, this dinner will end....

But, I know this dinner eventually will end...

You get the drift.  Nothing was working.  At this point, the only line I felt confident about was the third:  "mingling at the summit of our imaginations."  I really liked that line, and had received positve comments about it from others.  After staring at the poem a while, it became clear that "mingling at the summit of our imaginations" needed to be the final line in the poem.  It was the best line in the poem and it conveyed the essence of the poem-- the day-dreamy, imagined scene.  The last three lines conveyed reality.  At the end of the poem, they were like a brick wall that we slam into.  But, if placed at the beginning, they give the poem a different feel-- a feeling of resignation and acknowledgement of reality.  So, I flipped the two sections, and to help transition between the two sections, split the original first line into two lines:  "But for now we bask/on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda" ("restaurant came back into the poem to establish locational context).  Also, I dropped "The Summit" from the title since it really wasn't necessary to translate the restaurant's name.  A few final changes-- trading "let us bask" for "we bask" and replacing "grilled meats" with "savories"-- and I arrived at the final version, which was deemed "no longer sappy" by my friend:

LA CUMBRE

Oh, I know this dinner eventually must end;

that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.
But, for now, let us bask
on the restaurant’s sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and savories
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.

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