Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Draft: Basements and Rooted Things

68º ~ a bit hazy and sky full of white cloud cover, but still predicted to hit 80º today, a chance at 90º tomorrow, uhm, summer ~ wait your turn!

I confess, Dear Reader, I am on a drafting high today that is higher than normal.  I've been super busy with work and lots of little things going on around the house.  My to do list never seems to get shorter. And after last week's disaster at the desk, I really didn't think today would come to anything.  In fact, as I tried to think about drafting a poem last night (my pre-visualization exercise), I kept telling myself not to expect any results.  (hmmmm...self sabotage anyone?).  Then, this morning, I told C. that I didn't think it would work but I was going to sit down at the desk anyway.

I had decided last night that I would start with a word bank exercise based on Traci Brimhall's Rookery because I had loved the book so much this past week.  See my review here.  As I was opening my journal to start gathering words, I flipped past a page where I had taped in little pieces of paper with Midwestern icons scribbled all over:  hawks, grain trucks, lightning, creek/river, silos, land swells, walleye, monarchs & milkweed, and many more.  See, when I was driving up home over Spring Break, I got a notification that Kristin B-A had left this comment on my last blog post: "Safe travels--may you come back refreshed, with ideas for more fairy tale poems."  It just flicked by in my email as I checked it at the gas station (no I don't read and drive!)  But that was enough, I started noticing things right and left and grabbed my mini-notebook from my purse (I do jot notes and drive, but I'm very careful and the handwriting is very bad).  THANK YOU, KRISTIN!

So, I'd glimpsed these words, but I went on with my word bank from Rookery wondering if I had any more fairy tale/cautionary tales left in me.  Here's a shot of the word bank (which includes the book and the finished draft just spewed out of the printer).

Per the rules of the game, I went to and used the random number generator to create word pairs from the word bank.  The shot below shows the pairs and the resulting beginning of the draft, although those scrunched, short lines lengthened on the computer.  Here's the thing, as I watched the pairs materialize I was drawn to some of Brimhall's images, in particular, a revolver that kept turning up, and then there was what turned into the key word "basement."  It appeared in the third to last pair and set me off.

I had the image of the humid but cool basement of my youth, a place we spent a lot of time in the summer because my folks didn't get A/C until after I left for college.  While northeast Iowa isn't the steaming south, those summer days can get pretty uncomfortable.  So, I decided to start with an image of that basement and I thought I'd have the speaker find the revolver there, but that is not what the poem wanted to do.  Nope!

It starts,

Once there was a girl who spent her summers
in a damp basement, the air there cool
but mildew thick.  Her mother built a set

of pallets beneath the stairs where the family slept
or waited out the threat of another possible tornado.

The draft just poured out of me in less than 30 minutes.  I never did get the gun in there, probably b/c I don't have any real experience with guns and they weren't a part of my history.  Sure, I could make stuff up, but when I tried to get the poem to go that way, I ended up with cliches and stumbling blocks.  The poem became a cautionary tale all on its own and it turned out to be rooted in my Midwestern background, although I hadn't jotted down "basements" on my drive home.  Still, all those jotted words reminded me of home.  So, the draft is now called "Cautionary Tale for Girls Kept Underground in Summer" and ends with this "the foreign tongue of rooted things." 

We shall see where things go with it in revision.

Now, I'm off to school.  I'm participating on a panel today about the choreopoem For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf.  PTC produced this play last month to sold out performances and has been having events about it all semester.  I'm honored to have been asked to talk on a panel today about the poetry of the piece, and I'm thankful, too, because this has given me a chance to re-read and re-appreciate Ntzoke Shange's work.

Once last note: I'll be grading now for quite a bit but hope to have time for poetry along the way.


Kathleen said...

Oh, a wonderful process account and a totally scary poem title! Yay! And eek!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen. Glad the title had the intended effect!

Kristin said...

Hooray for inspirations! I can hardly wait to read these poems in their entirety.

Your posts about drafting often inspire me, so thank you in advance.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, again, Kristin. Hope the inspiration results in a poem.