Friday, August 5, 2011

Draft Process: Minor Fire & Lucie Brock-Broido


92ยบ ~ what is there to say, really?  the heat goes on and on and on, the humidity is there to lick the skin to sweat in five breaths, the sun - merciless

Today, the road to a new poem draft was a long and winding one.  It was C.'s first day back at school for professional development days, and I return on Monday.  The energy in our house shifted yesterday.  I felt it.  There is a renewed sense of purpose and the hope that we will create better habits this year than last.  For teachers, the return to school may be a bit like January 1 for the rest of the world, a time of goal-setting and looking-forward.

After C. departed for his meetings, I piddled a bit, needing to do the laundry before the full heat of the day began to tax the energy infrastructure.  We've been asked to reduce our demand during peak hours from noon - 9 p.m.  I also took care of several bits of paper hanging out on my desk, and, oh, I ordered new shoes online, another marker of the new school year.

Finally, I sat with a clear desk and a fresh journal (wahoo).  I turned on the classical music (the only music I can use while writing) and...NOTHING.  A BIG FAT ZERO HAPPENING IN MY BRAIN.  I did hear the cicadas again today, but it seems the length of their rattling is shorter each morning.  Also, I went back and forth with self-talk:

"You HAVE to write a poem today, you are doing one draft a day through Sunday and that will be seven new possibilities!"

"Ah, I could slack today, I've done so well the last few days...snooze...it's cool."

I cheered when my better angel won but still didn't know what to write.

Eventually, I decided I just needed to mark up the fresh journal in any way possible and began a stream of consciousness doodling.  This led me to money.  I scrawled down four key moments from my childhood that had to do with money (of course, I might be making these up, as my fictive memory is now legend in my family).  I tried to write a poem about money and got nowhere...to essay-like. 

I got up and wandered around some, moving wet laundry to the dryer, giving the cat some treats, looking out the window at the heat, etc.  As I wandered back into my office, it struck me that I should re-read Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters.  I've had Emily Dickinson's letters on my brain for a few days, and Brock-Broido's book is inspired by the three "Master Letters' discovered on Dickinson's death.  I love Brock-Broido's deft use of unconventional language.  There is a spark in my body when I read her work, and it did not fail me today. 

As I started reading, I also jotted down words in my journal.  I wasn't thinking of a word bank, in particular; I just wanted words that felt good on my tongue and in my gut.  The second poem in the first section, "Also, None Among Us Has Seen God," contains the line "the fevers of a minor fire."  I scribbled that out and knew I wanted to use it as a title for a poem, but I wasn't ready to draft yet.  I kept reading.  I only made it through two more poems, getting to "Unholy."  This poem is an epistolary prose poem addressed Dear Master--.  As I read, churning in the back of my mind was the patriarchal address used by both Dickinson and Brock-Broido.  My draft clicked.  I wanted to write an epistolary poem (though not a prose poem) to my masters: Dickinson & Brock-Broido.

Another great photo source, Science Photo Library

I did use the previous line for my title: "Fevers of a Minor Fire."

August 5th

Dear Madam--

Feminine form of Lord, I address you
with a tongue calloused & lumbering.

The poem turned out to be three stanzas of eight lines each, with the date, salutation, and signature, adding three extra lines.  I did end up using several of the words I'd "stolen" as I read, so I guess I fell back on the word bank model without setting out to do so.

Drafting this poem made me happy because I felt lit up inside and while every line didn't just magically appear, the drafting was rewarding once I got started.  I know I borrowed this feeling from Brock-Broido's work, and, as always, I am in her debt. 

2 comments:

Kathleen said...

So glad you were lit up on the inside and that the minor fire was poetic and not...a heat-induced conflagration. Heat has lifted a bit here so we can have windows open again! And still breathe/sleep at night.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen.

Windows open, really? I don't think we'll get ours open until October!