Monday, December 12, 2011

Draft Process: Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country

42 ~ 70% cloud cover with bright highlights where the sun breaks through, no sign of the territorial robin and the window now un-draped ~ winter inches closer & the heat runs on & off, on & off, on & off

Today's draft process requires that we 'go round by Laura's house' a bit.  (This is a saying in C.'s family for when his mother gets overly involved in telling a story and doesn't get straight to the point...I happen to love it when she does that, as I do it too, plus you get all kinds of bonus details.)

Yesterday, I sorted through the pile of loose papers that had grown and mutated over the course of the semester.  Many of them went to the recycling bin as I couldn't remember why on earth I'd saved them.  However, I found one print out of the rules for the Poetry Society of America awards.  I've been a member of the PSA for years and have never taken advantage of the waived fee for members submitting for these awards. 

While I still didn't enter any individual poems this year, I did decide to enter a group of the sickly speaker poems for the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award for a manuscript in process.  This led me to re-reading all 17 of the poems I've written so far, and to revise a few along the way.  As I sorted through the poems and tried to come up with an order, I realized several things. 

1) Writing these poems will require me to work more with a fiction writer's mind than I have done in the past, if I want to create a collection that tells the story of this speaker, which I think I do.  I also think I want to tell the story over the course of a year, with the dates that head the epistolary poems as markers of this.  Perhaps she will remain confined for the whole year or perhaps she will recover and return to her home and the poems will explore that as well.  I'm not sure yet. 

2) Most importantly, I need to work harder to distinguish the different women in her life.  It is easy to note the doctors and nurses, and then there are the 'mystics' who are non-medical but associated with the hospital in some way.  The two primary women are the mentor the speaker addresses in her letters and 'the woman [she] called mother by mistake.'  In looking at the group of poems, I realized that I couldn't include the two poems about the pseudo-mother in the sample I sent b/c the readers would not have enough information to distinguish the two characters and I didn't want any confusion to taint their reading of the work.

As I went through my morning rituals today, I toyed with the idea of drafting a poem.  It's 'break' time and I want to be productive, but I have to fight the inertia that tries to take over when I'm not on a schedule.  It helped when I realized that I didn't draft anything on Friday.  (How did that happen???)  So, I went back over what I described above as I set about reading Quan Barry's Water Puppets.  Since I haven't used the word banks much in the past few drafts, I didn't stop to write down words; I just let the poems wash over me.  About five or six pages in, I read a phrase about the speaker being 'born again' (in a non-religious sense), and I started to mull that over with my speaker's situation.  Pretty soon I had to put down the book and go to the page.

The draft begins:


When the fever shifts and loosens,
I understand absence, being born again
to solitude, the population of my hallucinations

elusive and in hiding.


What happens is that whenever the speaker 'wakes' from her fever, this is when she misses the mother figure in her life.  So the poem is a way to provide some history and backstory about their relationship.  As I scribbled in my journal the lines were all over the place and out of control.  When I went to the computer, the lines immediately suggested this tercet form with each line slightly longer than the one that proceeds it in the stanza.  It was weird how easily the poem drafted itself into this form.  Rarely do I figure that out so quickly. 

After I had the poem drafted, I went back to Barry's book for a suggestion of a title.  I flipped to the last poem in the book, "ode," and found this line, "Thus refuge here in the blasted moonscape."  When I first read it, I misread 'refuge' as 'refugee,' and I knew I'd found what I was looking for since my speaker is a bit of a refugee.  No one visits her, no friends, no family.  By the way, I figured this out because I had to write a paragraph of description when I entered the sample in the PSA contest. In any case, I rephrased the beginning of the sentence and came up with my title "Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country."  This fits with the poem's focus on the pseudo-mother b/c she is the one who brought the speaker to the hospital.

From Science Photo Library, click for link
Well, my speaker refers to the doctors as 'whitecoats' not 'bluecoats,' but I love how these doctors seem to be peering down at the patient/specimen, which gets at the 'refugee' feeling.


I'm hopeful for more poems over the next three weeks and more time to read and be inspired. As ever, thanks for reading and keeping me company on this journey.

6 comments:

Kathleen said...

I do love to follow your thought process as you compose!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for your support, K.

Tawnysha Greene said...

I love hearing about your sickly speaker and how you write about her. Can't wait to read the collection when it is done!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Tawnysha.

Molly said...

Such an interesting set of issues to write around with your sickly speaker. I, too, am looking forward to reading them.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Molly.