Sharon Olds on revision


I write a lot of poems, always. And most of them, no one ever sees. My average is a little better now than it was twenty years ago.


I was trying things out a lot. I was making a lot of mistakes and I was making egregious errors of taste, which are some of my favorite errors. I couldn’t tell if a poem I was writing would come to anything or not until the last line was there. That's always been my method. I may have revised less than some other poets, but I think I write as much crap as anyone.


It's a business where, in order for an editor to take a poem, they have to really like it. They don't have to just think, "Oh, this is from someone we've heard of and it's not too bad, so we'll do it." They are practicing an art, and so they exercise their judgment. And I also learn things. When I get a poem rejected, I always look at it with my pen in hand, looking for what's wrong with it.  


And if I can't find anything that I think is wrong, okay. But very often, knowing that it's come back, I'm inspired to see how I could maybe make it less worse if I agree that it has problems.