Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Draft: Cascading Lines

44ยบ ~ a bit gray and overcast, some weak light budging through, leaves once bright and flaming, now dulled by damp

Well, Dear Reader, who would have guessed it?  Today's draft materialized with a kind of ease that always awes me.  I started the morning by spending some time with "Requiem for the Girl with Sparrow Wings for a Heart."  If you've been following along at home, you know that I drafted this poem back in June, but on returning to it this fall, I found it wanting.  In the last couple of weeks, I completely gutted the poem and rebuilt it from the inside out.  I have to admit that I'm so much happier with it now!

I quickly read through all of the drafts I've written over the past few months, and I was doing so, I remembered a line I'd thought of while making my coffee, "The devil sends his demons in the form of this disease..."  Here's the thing, last week's draft, "The Making of a Pious Man," is a character sketch poem that ends with a man on his deathbed not sure if he'll see angels or demons when he passes over.  I guess that idea is still lingering.  Of course the disease I seem to gravitate to the most is Parkinson's, as my father struggles with this daily.

And here is an aside.  While I was raised a Christian, I was not raised on demons and angels, but on the more practical aspects of trying to live a just and loving life in the spirit of Christ.  At this point in my life, I'm more spiritual than religious, and yet, these images keep coming up in my poems.  I suppose this results from a mix of my childhood and now living in an overtly Christian area and teaching students who tend to be either evangelical or Baptist, when they choose to reveal their ideology. 

But, back to the draft.  So, I'd jotted down my line and then finished up with the older drafts.  On Wednesday, I linked to the prompt at Big Tent Poetry for the week, to write a poem in a cascading form.  Outlined here.   Part of the reason this appealed to me is that I had invented a form during an exercise exchange with a poet-friend that was quite similar.  In my form, I wrote five, five-line stanzas, where my first line in stanza one became line two in stanza two, line three in stanza three, line four in stanza four, and line five in stanza five (with variation, of course).  This all resulted in "Glacial Elegy I," which appeared in Cave Wall awhile back and will be in the new book, if/when it ever materializes.  So, this form, proposed on Big Tent felt non-threatening and a bit whimsical.

Non-threatening and whimsical: not two words that would describe the result.  I started with my line and broke it in half to form lines one and two, then I added two more lines to come up with a quatrain.  So, the resulting draft is five quatrains, where lines one - four are used as the last lines of stanzas two - five.  I tend to incorporate variations when I repeat lines, although I know that traditional formalists tend to avoid this.  Somehow, I've never made the direct repetition blend smoothly to the poem...a reason I'm not a formalist, perhaps.

In any case, the result of today's work is: "Reinterpreting 'An Essay on the Shaking Palsy' by English Apothecary James Parkinson, 1817."  Again, I'd begun with some real life material, my dad's experience with Parkinson's, but as I drafted the poem, the character sketch of this man suffering from this disease mutated into "not-my-dad," so I wanted to capture a title that would make this clear.  It struck me that in all my research about Parkinson's, I didn't know for whom the disease is named.  It turns out that James Parkinson didn't actually suffer from it, but I was sure he must have.  Weird brain!  He was the "doctor" who first described it.  Makes sense. 
http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/Visualiseur?Destination=Gallica&O=NUMM-98765
 As I said at the beginning of the post, this draft poured out of me and into the form with very little of the usual fits and starts.  I'm intrigued by this, always trying to capture what makes a draft go well and what makes it difficult.  I suppose I'm foolish enough to believe, if I can pinpoint the "why," then I can recreate the situation.  Foolish, foolish me.

4 comments:

Kathleen said...

I so enjoy the account of your drafting process. I, too, vary lines when writing (or teaching), say, the villanelle or pantoum. Would love to try this cascading poem, or an invented/discovered variation!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen! This loose form certainly works for me. Hope the same is true for you as well.

Molly said...

Sandy, I always enjoy reading about your process. Your notes become a resource for me as I borrow prompts, jumping-off points, etc. Thanks.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Molly. I'm glad they help!