Radical Revision by Helen Heath

Helen HeathIn 2005 Nick Twemlow and Robyn Schiff led a one-day poetry workshop at the IIML. The workshop explored the possibilities of the revision process. I was lucky to be one of the eight workshop participants. One of the things we explored was how some poems start life in free verse but can express themselves better in a form. I brought along a fragment which wasn’t anything much and I didn’t really know what to do with it. The fragment was:
0 = Empty
1 = Mother
2 = Love
3 = Child
4 = Magic

What, we discussed in class, is this trying to do? How can numbers be assigned words? How do we find meaning from this? This funny little scrap was trying to work things out; perhaps it was really an equation? And so with the idea of an equation as form I went on to create the final poem.

I guess from this I learned that form expresses content but also that form does not need to be a traditional poetic form. Also to have the courage to take an idea and follow its internal logic, blow it out to its furthest extent, its biggest possibility.

Another version of Radical Revision can be found in The Exercise Book, available in all good book stores or online from VUP.

Helen Heath’s first collection of poetry – Graft – was published this month by VUP. She is currently working toward her PhD Creative Writing at the IIML. Her research project explores how science is represented in poetry. She is using this research to write poems about the intersect between people and technology. Helen won the inaugural ScienceTeller Poetry Award in 2011 for her poem ‘Making Tea in the Universe’.