For me, part of writing a poem is saying it out loud. You have to discover what the rhythms of the words are doing and find out where you want short and maybe longer pauses.
Sometimes you discover that the phrase you’ve written is particularly fun to say – or particularly awkward. If it’s fun I might consider repeating it or using it as a chorus. Or I might see if I can change other lines to make them more fun to say too.
If it’s awkward, then I’ll rework that bit of the poem – unless I’m writing about awkwardness, in which case I’ll have managed to write about awkwardness in an awkward kind of way and I’ll be really pleased.
When I read my drafts out loud I try to say the words for all they’re worth. I exaggerate the bounces and dips, I think about whether the words seem to want to go fast or slowly. This is about discovering the music the words make and it matters a great deal. The sound the words make is like the background music to the sense they make. You don’t want a sad meaning with a jolly bouncy speeded-up soundtrack, or a happy poem that sounds like a miserable snail crawling over a damp brick.
I do this with all my poems. I perform them as part of the writing process. I’m usually on my own in the house so I can be as daft as I like – but I have been known to tap out rhythms and mutter them under my breath on the train. Maybe that’s why hardly anyone ever comes to sit next to me…