For better or for worse, I’ve always been a compulsive revisor of poems. Compulsive, perhaps to a fault. Even after a piece appears in a book, I never seem to be able to leave it alone.
Lately, I’ve been consciously re-visiting (and subsequently revising / updating) a number of older poems (previously published or unpublished). This process of updating is a result of tweaks that have revealed themselves through years of re-reading or performing them. It’s often a matter of looking through reading copies of previous collections and adjusting a poem to reflect the edits, re-wordings, or overhauls that have piled up in and on those published pages.
In some cases, the revisions are as minor as a punctuation change; others involve different physical presentations like a new breaking of lines or an overhauled stanzaic pattern / approach. There are also pieces that underwent more substantial renovation.
At present, the plan is to gather these ‘refreshed’ pieces into a new collection: not exactly a selected poems, but more a ‘selected & revised’. Right now, the working title for this new mms is simply a fist made and then un-made.
In any case, here’s an updated version of a poem that first appeared in the “scleroderma” section of A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking (Insomniac Press, 2000). In this case, the edits were relatively minor tweaks that reflect how I’ve been delivering the poem at readings for the last number of years. Enjoy:
13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT FISH, AFTER
at another time or place the other dozen might
be more readily available, but for now, cooking alone,
all her kitchen will allow is this
one version. and so i think of fish
as simply the way in which my hands become my mother’s –
summer-slick with august, flour,
spices. and all the while there is the sizzling
mimicry of cast iron and butter; a cool
moon fading into the dark, dark
heat. so standing at the counter between
the sink and the stove, i hesitate; refuse to rinse my hands
and instead let the breading cast
and harden. but in the interim
the butter has melted away, and i can reach only for
something transparent and black
at the edge. it’s only after the slap and
sizzle of the fillet that i rediscover the butter, notice
flakes falling away from between my fingers.