If It Ain’t Broke, Break It

A great mythos of writing is that there is, separately, the writing process and the revision process. They are two rivers running parallel: the first is a creative force, the second a destructive force. But this binary binds us to a static vision of creativity. What if revision were deeply, unshakably, and radically creative? What if the revision process were not an attempt linearly to ascend Poem Mountain to some ultimate, incredible draft? What if it were more of a crab walk? In the way crabs have to walk sideways in order to move forward, we’ll take a more horizontal, equalizing approach to our drafting. We’ll make use of play, interruption and flipping form and, in the words of Franny Choi, trade “better” revisions for “richer, sexier, more-cut throat, more thicc, more blue” revisions. We’ll aim to destroy the preciousness surrounding drafting, to see that if it ain’t broke, break it—why not? Because in the reimagining of structure (or voice, syntax, perspective, etc.) we can best learn, leap and surprise ourselves. We can create two rivers that run into each other, where creativity and recreation splash and overflow.

To examine the question of how we know what kind of attention and revisioning each poem needs, Erlichman will lead participants through a transparent study of one of her poems that went through two drafts and another that went through 34. Supported by the ethos of Buckminster Fuller, Franny Choi, John Cage, Wislawa Szymborska, Ocean Vuong and more, we’ll honor the delicious flexibility of a first draft by practicing strategies of amplified tension, structure mirroring content, and purposeful interruption. Participants should have on hand 3–4 of their own drafts at different points of revision; they can be first drafts or fifteenth drafts, but they should have a sense of “stuckness” about them. Together, we’ll employ tactics to subvert blocks and reimagine a way for both of your rivers to run gleefully, and radically, over the rocks.

Craft Lab Details


Shira Erlichman
Shira Erlichman is a poet, musician and visual artist. She was born in Israel and immigrated to the US when she was six. Her poems explore recovery—of language, of home, of mind—and value the “scattered wholeness” of healing. She earned her BA at Hampshire College and has been awarded the James Merrill Fellowship by the Vermont Studio Center, the Visions of Wellbeing Focus Fellowship at AIR Serenbe and a residency by the Millay Colony. Her work has been featured in the PBS NewsHour Poetry Series, Huffington Post, Seattle Times and New York Times, among other publications. Her debut poetry book, Odes to Lithium, was published by Alice James Books in September 2019. She is also the author and illustrator of the picture book Be/Hold (Penny Candy Books, 2019). She has taught for Urban Word NYC, the Volume Summer Institute and York College–CUNY, and she has been teaching online poetry classes via her company Freer Form for the last nine years. She lives in Brooklyn.