Wake: Up to Poetry
Little Change, Big Change
Proofing for Harry Clifton we slowly realized that somewhere between the original hard copy and the more recent copy he sent us, a few changes had been made. Some of these changes are minimal: a new comma, or a period replaced by an ellipse. But other changes are significant enough to alter the meaning of the line, or the entire poem. A couple sentences have been reworded, which sounds like a simple move, but in action it can be tricky to ensure that the stresses and syllable count remain the same. There are also several instances where a word has been replaced. In Mate-Drinking,” the hard copy’s phrase “…from the other side of war/ And intermarriage” is changed to “…from the other side of war/ And orphanhood.” That’s a pretty big change. But he made it. The Map of Becoming features a change in the opening sentence, switching from “here” to “there.” It’s only one letter, but it alters the setting of the entire poem. One of the most drastic changes Clifton made is in The Deserted Wife. The original copy tells the poem from a third person point of view, referring to the subject all along as “she.” The newer version switches to a second person point of view, now calling the subject “you.” The change is profound and gives a much more personal and emotional feel to the poem. It amazes me how the smallest change makes the biggest of difference, and how Clifton was so clearly inspired by the power of words.