Last week, a friend sent me a poem she’d written about a recent bereavement, asking for some suggestions. I immediately agreed. I copied the piece into Microsoft Word and switched on Tracked Changes, then looked through the piece line by line.
The first thing I did was check whether she’d followed generally accepted conventions, such as placing a lowercase letter where the start of a line isn’t a new sentence, and making sure a significant word ends each line.
When you read poetry a lot, you begin to build up a template in your head of what you like and don’t like, and what looks ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. So aside from the conventions outlined above, I considered how the piece sounded overall, and omitted or added words accordingly.
I made it clear than anything I wrote was merely a suggestion and could be ignored if she felt it didn’t work. Indeed, the poem was great to begin with, but someone else could easily come along and make different suggestions in accordance with their experience.
I don’t know yet whether this friend took my suggestions on board, but if she does, I believe it would improve the piece.