Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Draft: Midwestern Daphne Tale

62º ~ the air liquid, heavy with the threat of storms, consistent gray skies, a good breeze churning the wiry branches, all the lights turned on inside in an attempt to push back the gloom

Today's draft owes a debt to two particular poets, Josh Robbins and A. Van Jordan.

First, to Josh: while on the flight to AWP, I'd read Josh's long poem "A Patterning of Fire, A Patterning of Ash" in Copper Nickel 15 and was blown away.  As many of you know, while I can meander on and on in the prose of these blog posts, I'm hard pressed to write a poem longer than 20 lines on most days.  That first night in DC, Josh and I had the chance to talk and I brought up the poem.  I think he told me that he wrote it either because another poet friend had inspired him or challenged him, can't quite remember.  In any case, I said, okay, I'll go home and write a long poem now, and Josh cheered my promise.  Confession: I forgot my promise until a recent email exchange with Josh in which I was reminded.  So, yesterday, as I repeated my "tomorrow = drafting day" mantra, I actually wrote these words on the notepad on my desk, "Write a LONG poem, 2 pages." 

Now, to A. Van Jordan: last night I had the great good fortune to attend A. Van Jordan's poetry reading at Hendrix College in Conway, AR (watch for a longer post about that later).  I was familiar with Jordan's work from journals but hadn't yet read a full-length book of his.  After last night, when I bought two of Jordan's books, I'll be remedying that ASAP.  The reading was fantastic, and of course, I had my notebook with me.  I was caught up by the reading and hadn't even written anything yet, when Jordan was either reading a poem or introducing one and he mentioned the speaker "being held captive."  ZING!  I wrote down "Fairy Tale - Captivity: What keeps Girls there?"  For regular readers, I hope you see the beginnings of today's draft, another tale of my Midwestern girl, but this time, something was going to keep her captive.  As Jordan read "Nemesis Blues," I also jotted down, "FT G who Fall for the Gospel Choir/the Blues."  That one will have to keep for a future drafting session.

Finally, you might be wondering how Daphne fits in, given today's title.  Well, as I toyed with the idea of what would keep a girl captive to the Midwest (this was either last night going to sleep or early this morning), I didn't want her to be held captive by a man or by the pastoral beauty of the land.  Instead, I realized that this time the girl would be wanting to get the hell out of there, but her parents would want her to stay, so the poem begins,

Once there was a girl who longed to leave
the small acres of her family farm, the dirt
beneath her nails, the smell of manure

the wind picked up and hurled.

Later in the poem, she does try to flee and her parents chase her into an alfalfa field where they curse her, in the oldest tradition of that word.  She is struck by dry lightning and transformed into a bur oak (the state tree of Iowa) and thus held captive there.  I recognized immediately, of course, that this echoes the Daphne myth, but I hope it complicates the traditional pursued/pursuer paradigm.

Also, bur oaks are not known for their lithesome beauty.  Nobody's making crowns of oak leaves for Olympians.  This is the tree that survived everything the prairie had to throw at it (fire, flood, drought, pestilence) because of its "gnarly" tough bark and tenacious roots.  Not the most romantic of trees, but still beautiful to me.

So, at the end of the session, I have "Haunting Tale for Girls Held Captive" and I'm thrilled to say that it contains 13 tercets for 39 lines and does indeed stretch onto the second page, if only by two stanzas.  Who knows what might happen during the revision process!


Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Nice way to push yourself Sandy. I wonder if you can get to a full two pages.

I double-dog dare you.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Ooooo, a double-dog dare. Hard to resist!

Erin said...

Good job getting to two pages! I struggle with writing long poems myself and will take on the challenge now that you've inspired me...

Sandy Longhorn said...

Yay, Erin. Good luck!

Kathleen said...

Ooo, gnarly!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Like, totally, Kathleen!