Writing drunk, editing sober (and then editing again after going to a performance poetry event and being inspired)

For this post I’m going to try something new and post all the different drafts I went through to get to a ‘finished’ poem.

First some background. At some point during the second week of term I went to a club with a small group of people. After a few drinks I was in a great mood but a couple of people in the group just weren’t having a good time, and we all kept losing each other in the maze of crowded rooms. Overall it was a bit of a disappointing night, and when I arrived home just after 3am – head spinning and ears ringing – I found myself hastily typing something like a poem into the notes app of my phone. (Warning: it’s pretty bad.)


All I want is for everyone to be happy

The birthday boy, the mum, the tall guy, the italian –

I want to see smiles light their faces in the darkness of the room

I want to see them move and once in a while stop to share a glance

Share their moment in a nod

Then return to their world

A little lighter

All I want is for us to be on the same level

But the tall guy’s in the basement

And I’m stuck on the ground floor with the mum and she’s looking round for the italian

Who’s probably high as fuck.

All I want is for us all to be happy

But we’re all going up and down

On a merry-go-round

And our emotions never collide.


Looking at this the next morning, I noticed a lot of problems. To name a few, there’s the awkward repetition of ‘share’; the confusing codenames for the people I was with (I used ‘mum’ to mean a responsible person, but I realised that a lot of readers might take it literally, particularly as it was next to ‘birthday boy’); the irregular punctuation and the horribly long line towards the end of the poem.

But I liked the unfiltered honesty of it, and I thought the section about everyone being on different floors of the club had potential. I made some quick edits and came up with the following. (Warning: it’s still a bit bad)


All I want is for everyone to be happy;

The birthday boy, the tall guy, the blonde girl, the Italian.

I want to see smiles light their faces in the darkness of the room.

I want to see them move without reservation

But once in while share a glance that says

are you okay yes I’m great this is amazing I love it now let’s get back to the dancing.

 

All I want is for us all to be on the same level.

But the birthday boy’s in the basement, I’m stuck by the bar with the blonde

And she’s looking around for the Italian

Who’s probably high as fuck.

All I want is for everyone to be happy

But we’re all going up and down

On a merry-go-round

And our emotions never collide.

All I can do is smile into space and hope it catches on.


For a long time I left the poem like that. I thought it was okay; it did the job, it had a decent ending, so I could call it finished. But there’s a feeling you get you write something that’s true to the original idea or feeling that first prompted to pick up your pen (or your phone), and I didn’t get it with this. There was something missing.

Two weeks later I went to a live poetry event at a local pub. It was the first time I’d seen performance poetry other than on YouTube, and it was pretty incredible. I loved the way the lines spilled over one another, unrestrained by meter and bursting with energy and emotion. I loved the subtle internal rhymes and changes of pace. I loved how repeating phrases took on new meanings with each iteration, and gave their poems a sense of structure and momentum. I wanted to give it a go myself.

A day or two later I started rewriting my ‘drunk’ poem into something that might work well when read aloud. The following version took me a good week to finish, because I agonised for a long time over the ending. For a while I was too tied up in making the poem sound good that I lost hold of its meaning. Another problem was that I’d set up some questions that I genuinely didn’t know the answer to. I didn’t really know why I’d felt so strangely happy that night, or why exactly the people around me didn’t seem to be having a good time. But the thing I love about writing is that it can help you work these things out, and eventually I came up with some explanations which I worked into the poem and used to conclude it.


Night out

 

All I want is for everyone to be happy;

The birthday boy, the tall guy, the blonde girl, the Italian.

I want to see smiles light their faces in the darkness of the room.

I want to see them move without reservation in their own worlds

But once in a while share a glance

That connects them.

 

All I want is for us all to be on the same level

But the tall guy’s cut his night short,

The birthday boy’s in the basement, I’m stuck by the bar with the blonde

And she’s looking around for the Italian

Who’s probably high as fuck.

 

All I want is for everyone to feel the same

But we’re all going up and down

On a merry-go-round

And our emotions never collide.

 

All I want is for everyone to forget

Everything that’s in their heads

And have a good time.

 

I wish I could divide my elation in five and share it out in smiles

But it seems my disease is not contagious.

 

I wish I could take everyone’s troubles to the cloakroom

And accidentally-on-purpose leave them there at the end of the night.

 

I wish I could make everyone feel at home

But this club is only playing house.

There’s a bit of grime, but the blonde girl tells me it’s not like in London

Where the lines are ingrained in every young person’s mind.

 

I don’t see why she’s complaining.

There’s no Scottish folk here and I’m doing fine

After six drinks I think I’ve known these songs and these people all my life.

 

I know that this alcohol glow won’t last

But before it passes all I ask is

that for a moment everyone forget the things they’ve left

Because behind their glassy eyes everyone’s dancing with friends and family

And loneliness is a crowded club where no one’s quite happy.


For now I’m really happy with this poem, but I can’t say for sure that it’s finished. I recently shared it with people at my university’s writing society and I got some really helpful feedback, so before long I will probably look into making more changes. But I’ve finally got that feeling – that I’ve captured my original fleeting idea as truthfully as possible – and for now I’m content.