Lynne Potts on Editing Process in Poetry

Have you ever asked yourself when you write a poem: How do I know that this poem is good enough? If you find yourself wondering about how good your work is or why your poetry may not be making the cut in the lit world yet, the Editing process is what you’re thinking about.

Writing poems is not enough- you have to work on them and then work on them again.

Many poets have discussed the writing process @ this blog. Here’s one interview where we look exclusively at the editing process.

I talked  to Lynne Potts, presently the poetry editor @ AGNI to understand more about the process of polishing your work until it shines .She advocates that every serious poet must build his/her poetic instinct by working hard. I asked my favourite question about whether digital poetry means literary suicide. But that is in Part 2 of this interview.


Work by Lynne Potts has appeared in Paris Review, Nimrod, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Southern Humanities Review, Oxford Magazine, Southern Poetry Review, DrumVoices, New Orleans Review, The Journal, Cincinnati Review, Art Times, 2River, American Letters and Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Broken City, New Millennium Writing, Seneca Review, Karamu, SPEC and many other literary journals – more than a hundred poems in all.  She won the Bowery Poetry Club’s H.D. Award in New York and was the winner of the Backwards City Review 2007 Poetry Contest. Her work has won finalist prizes from New Issues Press, Alice James, Ohio State Press, Colorado Review,  Marick Press and Crab Tree Press.  A poem from Paris Review was selected for Poetry Daily.  Virginia Colony for the Creative Arts, Moulin a Nef (Fr.) and Ragdale have all awarded her fellowships to their colonies.

Lynne was a featured poet on WKCR and Poetry Daily.  She has read at the New England Poetry Club and venues in New York including Poets House, Cornelia Street, Ear Shot, Gallery 440, and Columbia University.  She began the poetry group BY INVITATION ONLY at Boston University and has taught poetry as an adjunct in New York and Morocco.

She lives in Boston and New York.


How should a poet edit her own poem before submission? There is one view that too much pruning can spoil the energy of the poem. Another is that if you incubate a poem for a long time, you may rewrite it in a completely unflattering style. What can the writer do to save her poem?

This is hard to answer.  Really, you have to develop an “instinct” to know when your poem is done.  No one can tell you.  Some poems come out almost “finished”; others you may go back to and change over a period of years.  Just no rules in poetry.

How important is knowledge of form before you embark on experimental poetry?

You can never read other poems too much.  Learn about everything! You can’t “experiment” if you don’t know what you’re experimenting “against”.   I contend you have to understand what a poem is before you can make one – of any kind!  Experiment or no.

 What is the difference between editing a single poem and editing an entire manuscript of poems?

It’s different and it’s not.  You work on a single poem and that’s your focus;  you work on a whole MS and that’s your focus then.  In both cases you are trying to “polish” – make the work shine.

 What kind of metaphors make the editor in you sad? What do you think contemporary writers should continue to do and to rephrase that differently what should they Never do?

Avoid the familiar, the cliché!  Don’t say things the way everybody has said them for eons. Good poems bring fresh perspective and fresh language.

 Describe your own editing process. It would also be interesting to know  the way you edit your own work as opposed to the works of other poets.

I do the same thing editing my own work as I do when I’m making suggestions to other poets.  Make the work zing.  If it doesn’t, put it down or throw it out.  Please don’t send poems out when you haven’t been reading other poets.  It’s like trying to ride a bike with no chain.

Have you started throwing out your poems yet? I sure have. Thank you Lynne for demystifying the poetry editing scenario!

Look out for Part 2 where Lynne talks about perfecting the poem, digital poetry and what the editor is really looking for.


neelthemuse@ 2013


4 thoughts on “Lynne Potts on Editing Process in Poetry Leave a comment

  1. love that first first answer :

    “This is hard to answer. Really, you have to develop an ‘instinct’ to know when your poem is done. No one can tell you. Some poems come out almost ‘finished’; others you may go back to and change over a period of years. Just no rules in poetry.”

    beautifully said, glad i finally got to come take a look at this interview, thanks neelima! 😉

Leave a Reply