Friday, December 11, 2015

Free Verse & Cutting Unnecessary Words

Scene from a Bookshelf
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Like last week, this week I find myself writing from an object, this time with a bit more imagination.  Lying by our heater, warming my feet, I looked up and saw the below painting that our daughter Hope did in school when she was in eighth grade.  She had brought objects from home and painted: a vase that her Aunt Heather made, a poofy orange bandana, a ball, a box, and the orange wooden horse that my Great Aunt Kay gave to my mom many years ago when I was just a little girl. You can see mousie tracks too, from where a mouse lent a paw to the painting as it dried in school overnight.

Looking at the painting, I fell in love with the painting again, and too, with the orange horse.  I took it down from its shelf and held it in my hands, remembering how I would take it down from Mom's china cabinet where it lived with fancy porcelain eggs and crystal bowls and delicate figurines.

I thought about how the horse had belonged to Great Aunt Kay, to Mom, to me, and how our chidlren love it and maybe how someday their own children will too.  I imagined what the horse thought about watching generations of humans growing up around him.

And I wrote.  I began to write in rhyme, but then I decided to instead push myself to write in free verse, to just capture this brief snapshot of the horse.  A simple snapshot was my goal.

My first drafts had more words.  Take a look at this below draft, and find the words that do not appear in my final poem.  You will notice that the final line breaks are different too.

Photo by Amy LV

Revision can mean cutting words  Streamling.  Here are the words you see in the handwritten draft above that do not appear in my final poem.

"The" has disappeared from my final lin line 1.  I have learned from Lee Bennett Hopkins to cut any "the" I can.

"Only" has disappeared from my final.  I realized that "six" implied young, and "only" was not necessary.

"Outside" does not appear in my final.  "Real grass" is always outside, and so "outside" was a filler word.

Try rereading your own writing for extra words.  Feel comfy with cutting.  It may feel difficult to you at first, but the elegance of your writing will shine best with fewer, not more words.

And look around your house for old objects with stories.  I find so many ideas this way!

At my other blog, Sharing Our Notebooks, I welcome educator and author Tanny McGregor.  Her notebooks just blew me away, and I welcome you to come take a peek.  You can also discover who won this month's giveaway of the great Peter Catalanotto's books.

Tara is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at A Teaching Life.  All are invited to come, read poems, find new friends, and hang out in our weekly poetry clubhouse.

Please leave a comment if you wish.


  1. I have that horse as well. One of my favorite treasures too. I adored your poem. I shared it with my kids and they "hey! I have that too."

  2. Aw, Amy. This time of year I'm awash with nostalgia (and from Swedish descent), and this poem & post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  3. I love seeing your favorite things on the shelf, imagining you looking just as you wrote in your poem, Amy. What a nice thing to think about future children loving that horse, too.

  4. Amy, I always enjoy reading your poems and then your explanation of how they came about. I leave thinking - I could do that. It's a good sendoff for any teacher or poet to give a reader.

  5. Excellent! Some great lessons here, Amy. Thank you for sharing your editing process. Do you know the ethnic history and meaning of the "orange" horses? I just mailed my mother-in-law's set of 12 in varying size to my brother-in-law for a Christmas treat.

  6. Thanks for sharing (as always) your process! I learn so much from you, Friend!

  7. Amy,
    This poem makes me think of the horses I collected growing up. Some of them were china, but I would still take them outside and play in the grass in the summer. I love reading about your writing process and seeing your notebook. I learn so much from other poets! Thank you!

  8. I loved this poem. The last lines "she let him gallop through real grass" made me want nostalgically sad... I wonder what my porcelain horse remembers...

  9. Once again, I love hearing about your writing process. Cutting words is a good method for finding the little golden nugget of a poem waiting for you. I can imagine Great Grandma trotting the horse through the grass.

  10. Lovely.....I hear writers say....the true work is in the revision. But oh, how I hate pruning. It's hard. I want to save every cutting and re-plant it somewhere. Thank you for sharing.


  11. Amy, I love the image of that little horse romping through the grass one long-ago summer day. Your advice about cutting unnecessary words is so important, and something I need to get "comfy" doing! Looking forward to having a minute to go read about Tanny's notebooks!

  12. Love the sense of realism you brought to your subject, Amy. And yes, it's important to cut all those unnecessary words...particularly "the," as Lee has suggested to many of us!


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