Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dedicated to Student Success

77º ~ gray cloud cover after several days of total sun, a juvenile cardinal looking all scruffy is learning to fly from the tree outside my window

Today and tomorrow, I'm 100% college instructor, so the poetry will have to wait until Friday.  We are hosting our fall Student Success Fair where all of the offices on campus show up in one space and distribute information to students.  Our academic division has joined the fray to promote our programs.  It's been two weeks of preparation (you should have seen the boxes stacked in my office!) and now we are ready to go.  Thankfully, I have lots of great colleagues who will help cover our table all day today.

See you all on Friday when the poetry drafting resumes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

From Draft to Publication

84º ~ bright sun, barest hint of a breeze, high and dry thinking of those in the path of Irene

Given that several instructor friends have mentioned telling their students about this blog, I thought I'd provide a set of links for some recent publication.  For each poem, I will link to the publication where the "finished" poem (no poem is ever really finished) appears online and then link to the blog post in which I describe how that poem began.

While there is no magic five step process to drafting a poem, I know that when I was a beginning poet (and even still today) I loved to see how a poem unfolded itself on the page.  I hope my notes might provide just a glimmer of insight for those students out there working to find the way from draft to poem.  Of course, what is missing is a description of the hard work of revision along the way.

"Backdrop for an Archetypal Bloodline" appears in Anti- Feature # 68.
Draft process is here.

"Urban Archaeology: Reading the Remains" appears in Anti- Feature # 68.
Draft process is here.

"Requiem for the Girl with Sparrow Wings for a Heart" appears in diode 4.3.
Draft process is here.

"This is Not my Body, This Body that Refuses" appears in diode 4.3.
Draft process is here.

"The Wife Who Wanders Explains her Actions" appears in diode 4.3.
Draft process is here.

"The Starving Saint" appears in The Rumpus.
Draft Process is here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Draft Process: This Vigil I Keep

72º ~ while a third of the nation waits for Hurricane Irene, we revel in a return to more normal temps and a lowering of the god-awful humidity that has plagued us for so long, clear skies, the sun tips through the leaves over my left shoulder, the time of daybreak arriving noticeably later these days

Hello to any students from Al Maginnes' class.  I hope you find something useful here!
Hello as well to any students from Matt Foster's class at Central High...go Tigers! 
Many thanks to Al and Matt for suggesting the Kangaroo as a resource for their student-writers.

Today, I came to the desk on rocky footing.  It's been a hell of a week.  I've taken on several new responsibilities at work, and I'm feeling the stress of starting up several projects at once.  Time is at a premium and I wake up two to three times a night with my brain racing.  I keep a "to do" list by the bed so I can add to it as new tasks become apparent.  So, I'm stressed and tired and anxious about what awaits me at school today.

And all of that has the makings for an excuse to not write.  These are the dangers in a world where most poets do not make their living from writing poems.  We have jobs and families and friends who all need us.  So, I'm happy today, that I kept my BIC (butt-in-chair) and prioritized poetry for these few hours.

Here's a picture of what my process looked like today.


There is coffee, because it gets my brain snapping out of the fog of sleep.

If you've been following along, you know that I've fallen into a very workable habit.  I read the work of a poet I admire and gather (ahem...steal) words from them that are full and ripe.  I gather strong nouns and verbs and the occasional adjective, although I know I'm adjective heavy in most poems so I try to steer clear as much as I can.  I used to gather these words in regimented rows and then number them and use a random number generator to create pairs that would spark lines.  The process has changed over the last few weeks.  Now, I let the words fall where they may on the page, and they seem to be generating their own energy there. 

I read until I come to a line that feels like it has enough power to become a title, enough suggestion to hint at a complete poem.  Today, I've been reading from a little pocket book I picked up a while back.  It's Rilke's Poems from the Book of Hours translated by Babette Deutsch.  It's more philosophical and spiritual than the Brock-Broido and Baggott that I'd been using last week and the week before.  Still, there were some stunning words there.  In the poem "If Only There Were Stillness," I found the line "the vigil I would keep" and I was off. 

Oh, and I also used a few of my inspiration cards to mix a few images in.  This helps me not be tied too closely to the book I use as a leaping off point.  For more on the inspiration cards, go here

The draft became "This Vigil I Keep for Comfort" and falls in line with the speaker I've kept returning to since the beginning of August.  This is the speaker who is ill and grappling with a body that will not heal.  (Again, I'm fine.  Mom, don't worry!)  The poem begins:

These hands cradle the fragments
of hushed gestures.  They possess
a stammer and a tremble,

The poem ended up being eight tercets, which is right in my sweet spot.  Per the usual, I'm in love with the draft at the moment and keep reading it out loud over and over, savoring the sounds and making minor adjustments.  In a few days I will hate it, so I'm going to revel in the love as long as I can!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No Fairy Godmothers

71 degrees ~ wonderful thunderstorms rolling across town, drove home through a serious downpour, celebrating the RAIN!

Amidst the fury of busy-ness this week, I'm very happy to link to my guest post at Escape Into Life.  Poetry editor Kathleen Kirk invited me to write a bit about why I ended up creating my fairy tale poems.  It was great fun to draft the post, and it helped me say more concisely what the project is all about. 

If you have the time, I hope you'll click over and read.  It's a short one!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No Time to Say Hello, Goodbye

79º ~ thunderstorms in the offing, an amazing one last evening with lots of jagged lightning and impressive thunder, a few more days of upper-90s and then looks like more normal temps (i.e. 90-ish most days) ~ humidity swelling all doors

from creativecommons.org
From: Alice In Wonderland
Music: Sammy Fain
Lyrics: Bob Hilliard
I'm Late, I'm Late
for a very important date,
No time to say hello, goodbye,
I'm late, I'm late, I'm late

So goes the song of the White Rabbit and so goes my life (all drug references excluded, please).  School is in full swing and I'm committed to several extra projects this week and next. 

I WILL be here Friday for my drafting time, and I'm squeezing in some other work time when I can.  I'm still whittling down my stack of submissions, and I've been working on answering some interview questions for an upcoming publication. 

I'll catch you all on the flip side.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Draft Process: Fragile Breathing

73º ~ it's early yet, on the way up to 97 - 100, mostly clear skies, the sun beginning to break through the leaves above the roof lines over my left shoulder, near calm

There's a reason I do my drafting and other poetry tasks first thing in the morning, Dear Reader.  This first week of school proves again that by the afternoon and evening, I'm wrung out, done, unable to compute.  So, I'm happy to report that this morning was a success.

As with my last several drafts, I went casually word gathering to start the day, although I switched from Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters to Julianna Baggott's Compulsions of Silkworms & Bees.  Still, as I word gathered, I kept an eye out for a line that might suggest a title.  For some reason, this way into the drafts keeps working (knock wood), so I'll keep exploiting it. 

Baggott's style is distinctly different from Brock-Broido's, with Baggott's tone more down-to-earth than Brock-Broido's, I think.  While at first a bit uncomfortable, after a bit, I was glad in the shift of gears.  When I came to Baggott's poem "For Theodore Roethke," I found my title in the following line, "this garden of our fragile breathing." 

The draft for today is titled "This Garden of My Fragile Breath." It is, again, an epistolary poem, this time set in tercets (nine total).  My speaker remains a sickly woman, although no fever this time.  Instead, failing lungs.  As my grandfather died of COPD, I found myself drawing from some of the images surrounding his experience with lung disease. 

Bronchial Tree of Lungs from SPL
I've found a groove in writing these poems in which the sickly speaker addresses a healthy "other," the "you" in the poems, who might offer her comfort.  Again, I'm not going through any major illness right now, so I'm surprised by how much I have to say about the matter. 

Strange muse, but I will not turn her away.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tales from the South

87º ~ great little thunder shower this morning, now bright sun and humid air heating up

Last night I had the great pleasure of attending Tales from the South and hearing good friend Hope Coulter read.  Tales from the South is a locally produced radio show featuring southern writers presenting stories from their own lives.  These are often humorous or poignant or a mix of both, as was Hope's tale, "The Lake."  Raised in Alexandria, LA, Hope spent many summer days of her youth on the lake, and this tale led us through her learning to water ski, accounts of the adults in the group staying up late with a few adult beverages, and one hungover uncle's toppling into the lake the next day.  Beneath the humor and coming-of-age details, Hope laced just the right amount of nostalgia without falling into the dreaded over-sentimentality.  There was also an acknowledgement of all the difficult times yet to come in her life that she could only feel vaguely encroaching as she grew closer to adulthood.  Beautiful.


The shows are taped on Tuesday nights at Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock, and are broadcast on local NPR on Thursday nights.  The show reaches more than 130 million listeners worldwide on World Radio Network, airing at 9:00 a.m. CST on Sunday mornings.  If you get a chance to listen, tune in.  You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Counting the Ways: Submission Process Notes

73º ~ ack, just saw a 100º forecast for Saturday, looks like our brief "cool spell" with highs in the upper-eighties and lower-nineties is on the wane, still, today's sky is clear and the breeze is not at all oppressive

I've got a new schedule at school this semester that allows me two hours at the desk of the Kangaroo before I have to head up to campus.  I think I'm going to like this.

This past weekend through today, I spent time drafting a guest post.  When the post goes live, I'll let you all know where to find it.  What I learned, again, is that with prose, I definitely need the guidance of a solid editor, and I'm thankful for the one I had this time around.  My prose tends to get all loosey-goosey with extra words and purple phrases, as I've just demonstrated.   I can still recall the notes in the margins of my college essays reminding me to "condense" and "tighten."  In poetry, I'm cool with that.  In prose, not so much. 

This morning was really just polishing, so I had time to turn to poetry submissions.  I got sidetracked on August 1 submissions because I was doing a draft a day.  One lesson that I think is important for beginning writers is this:  yes, you need to do the writing, but if you want your work to be read by more than a handful of people, you also have to do the work of publishing, which means researching markets, sending out packets, and managing data.

Here's my process:

I keep an ever evolving Excel spreadsheet.  It lists the title of the journal, whether they take simultaneous submissions, reading periods, number of poems per packet, and a list of acceptances and rejections that is dated so I can see my history with a journal in one glance.  This prevents me from submitting too often or too soon after an acceptance. 

I keep far too many file folders in a large file cabinet.  Each poem gets a file folder and that folder contains significant revisions and the "final" version I'm submitting.  Each journal gets a folder and that folder contains all of my submissions and correspondence with the journal.  Some of these folders are quite fat now, after a decade of submitting.

I do realize that there are now online services to help with all of this, especially Duotrope.  I like the idea of these services, but my system works for me.  While I do think services like Duotrope can help keep a writer organized, they cannot replace the years of research I've done with each of the journals in my stacks.  I've got lists of names of past poets published that I keep on notes in the journal folders.  I've got my own notes on editors or particular themes / styles that a certain journal might favor.

Now, when it comes time to submit, I print off my spreadsheet and check off the journals that have existing submissions.  Then, I go through and highlight each journal with an open reading period and check to be sure it's been 8 months to a year since I last submitted, unless the editor asked for more work (another item noted in the spreadsheet).

Next, I gather all the files for the individual poems that are available for submission.  This means checking if they are currently out at other journals (simultaneously submitted) and if so, to how many journals.  In the past, I used to send one batch of poems to 10 - 15 journals accepting simultaneous submission.  Now that I have a bit more success, I limit each batch to 5 - 7 journals.  I sort through the available poems and create submission packets of 3 - 5 poems.  These I arrange in a row on my desk, as it usually ends up being 3 - 5 groups. 

Then, I turn back to my spreadsheet and gather the folders for all of the journals that fit the criteria.  These I lay out over the groups of poems, matching each journal to the group I think will best "fit" the tastes of the journal. 

It looks like this.



Finally, I scoop them all up in a tower so that I can grab one group at a time to work on.  That looks like this.

I used to have marathon weekends where I'd tackle the whole tower in a day and a half.  That's exhausting and doesn't really work with a teaching schedule like mine.  Now, I can spend an hour or two here and there and whittle down the tower until it's gone.  Obviously, that's where I am in the process today as I get ready to head to campus. 

In the next few days, I'll work through the stack.  Right now I have 4 groups with 5 poems per group and 5 journals matched up with them.  If patterns from the past hold, I'll find several journals that have changed their reading periods or are running special themes or other such details to derail the submission.  Would I rather be writing poems?  Maybe, but then those poems would gather dust in a drawer rather than finding an audience.  It's all a matter of balance. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

We Will Sell No Line Before Its Time


83º ~ the weather returns to its proper order and we are happy, thunderstorms have ceased for the time being, the leaves are plumping up, the air is easier to breathe

Those readers of a certain age will recognize the parody in the title of this post.  For those who don't, check out this video.

GRRRRR.  Blogger won't let me embed the video from YouTube.  Click here for the classic wine commercial to which I refer.

This morning, I've spent my writing time in two ways.  1. Preparing the manuscript for the first round of fall submissions.  2.  Revising the drafts from the past few weeks.  In both cases, I struggle to remember that, for me, the writing and revision process requires lots of time.  I do not get it right on the first try. 

This is frustrating and means I usually start sending things out too early.  In the case of the manuscript, that is especially true.  Would I be so worn down by rejection if I'd only waited another year before beginning?  Still, when I first sent the book out, I felt confident in the work.  I'm more confident now.  It seems I am always stuck in the Roethke line "I learn by going where I have to go."  The manuscript is in its seventh version and weighs in at 63 pages, exclusive of front matter.  Wahoo.

As for the poem drafts, I am totally psyched to say that I have nine drafts produced between July 29th and today.  As most of you know, my summer plan to draft and draft and draft was derailed.  Had all gone according to plan, those poem I'd drafted in June would have been simmering away on the back burners of revision and might have been ready for submission.  This morning, I had to keep reminding myself to not leap to the submission process.  Several of the drafts from the past two weeks feel really strong to me.  However, I must remember the cycle:  Day 1, draft a poem and usually feel a high that makes me love the draft; days 2 - 7 approx., re-read the draft and question my right to call myself a poet, revise, revise, revise; days 8 - 14 approx, re-read the draft and fall in love again while continuing to revise in tiny ways.  This cycle is contingent on being able to have lots of quiet desk time.  During the school year, it will lengthen to weeks and months.  The danger is falling in love with a draft without letting it sit and age.  I cannot count the number of times I've submitted a poem before its time and been embarrassed when I received the quick rejection and re-read the poem, only to see the flabby bits sticking out that needed to be trimmed or the glaring cliche I missed in my moon-faced lovey-dovey time (my two most usual problems).

So, while I might not have a slew of poems ready to go for those magazines that open their reading periods on September 1, I am happy to do be doing the work and I will let the voice of Orson Welles remind me that sometimes its okay to be slow.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Draft Process: Alchemy & Mortality


70º ~ oh sweet relief of thunderstorms rolling over us for the past three days, bringing much needed rain and heat relief, that pesky high pressure system that had us trapped has lumbered to the west where it belongs

It's been a busy school week, friends and fans of the Kangaroo.  Full-time faculty reported back on Monday, and I've had meetings and prep work filling my schedule until today.  I also forgot that it takes a few days for the body to adjust as well.  I found myself drifting off at 2:00 or so, another indication that I really need to keep a schedule in the summer to keep me fighting fit.

This morning, I went back to what's been working well, reading The Master Letters by Lucie Brock-Broido and letting words fall on the page of my journal willy-nilly, some drawn from the book, some from the ether.  I read and word gather until I come to a line that feels like a title, something strong enough to hint at a poem.

Today, that line was "the alchemy of my merely / Mortal form" from "His Apprentice."  I did adapt it slightly this time to "The Alchemy of My Mortal Form" as the 'merely' seemed unnecessary in a title.  The first line uses the first word I noted in my journal this morning, "quickens."

At my wrist, the mottled skin quickens
at your touch, doctor.  Do not trust the pulse.

Symbols of Alchemy from Science Photo Library

It seems I'm stuck on the idea of a speaker consumed with fever, as it happens again in today's draft.  That fever weaves into my general knowledge of alchemy and the use of fire as transformation.  I'm also still working in couplets, although the couplets today are more traditional, with more fully end-stopped lines at the end of the couplets.

I promise you all that I am healthy.  I suspect that all the feline medical terminology & tests of the summer are bubbling up in the poems these days.

More gratitude to Lucie Brock-Broido, as her work, like Emily Dickinson's, is full of leaps and arcs.  After writing such strictly narrative poems this summer for the fairy tale series, it's been thrilling to return to the lyric form where I am most at home.

Monday, August 8, 2011

RAIN! and Announcements


100º ~ the rain cooling didn't last long, but at least we got 1/4 inch in the gauge

It's the week before classes at school, so my posts may be sporadic, but here are some announcements.

~ Mary Biddinger selected my childhood library (Waterloo Public Library) as one of four libraries to receive Saint Monica and a lifetime subscription to Barn Owl Review.  I love that Mary donated books to libraries based on nominations and I hope to do something similar soon.

~ In other Mary B. news, check out "Saint Monica Wishes on the Wrong Star" on Verse Daily today.

~ In a World Made of Such Weather as This racked up another semi-finalist nod today.

~ I'm thrilled to say I've got two poems up on Anti- as well.  This is one of my favorite online journals, and I am so thankful to the editors for supporting my work.

Stay tuned, y'all.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Draft Process: Ungentle Sleep


100º ~ oh, yes, that's a trip-digit BEFORE NOON, friends and fans of the Kangaroo, I discount all forecasts as they've been on the low side for days, meteorologists dreaming again

This morning, we experienced an internet outage and it was perfectly timed.  I had been futzing about on the web, reading blogs and generally wasting time.  I say 'wasting time' not because the blogs are a waste but because my goal was to finish my seven-day poem-a-day self-challenge.  Rather than push myself to draft, I was letting the blogs distract me.  When I get back into my school schedule, I won't have time to drift around the blogosphere.  I'll have to draft within a certain time in order to get to school on time. 

So, while C. grumbled about the lack of an internet connection, rather than join him as I usually do, I swept all of the extraneous paper from my desk, grabbed my journal, plugged in the classical music, and got to work.  Since I've enjoyed two good drafts using the Lucie Brock-Broido book, I returned to it again.  Today, I decided I would read until I came to a line that suggested a title and then go from there.  I couldn't restrain myself from stealing words; however, I've seen a different result if I place the poems randomly around the page rather than in columns.  The columns work very well for a word bank and random pairs, but if I just toss the words onto the page, knowing I'm not going to number them, then some unexpected sparks appear.  Plus, certain words call to other words or cause me to write down words of my own. 

Today's title is "I Have Gone Shimmering into Ungentle Sleep," which comes from Lucie Brock-Broido's poem "From the Proscenium."  Oh, and the fever is still present today, just in the lines of the poem rather than the title.  It begins:

This fever is my tutor.  It lectures
scarlet on my cheeks, pale quarter-moons

on all my fingernails...
The Poet's Fevered Pillow
I had an interesting experience with form as I drafted today.  Once I'd gotten about nine lines on the page of my journal, I felt the momentum strong enough to switch to the computer.  After I'd drafted two chunky stanzas there, I realized the form and the content were at war.  Something wasn't right.  I decided to let the white space in by indention and hard returns.  The image of the poem became familiar and comfortable, but when I read it again, the form and content still weren't married.  Back to the drawing board, I wound up with couplets straight through.  One thing that adding the indention and extra returns does for me is help me see where I want the lines to break.  All that extra white space makes me pause more when reading the draft out loud and I can see more clearly where I want the pauses to actually be. 

Tomorrow is return to school day.  I'll be on campus from 8:30 - 4:00.  If I'm up for it, I may try to extend my draft-a-day, but I'm not betting the farm on it. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Draft Process: Day 6 of 7


94º ~ three more trip-digit days in the forecast and then a 'cool down' to the upper 90s, some small breezes in the upper branches, closer to the ground all is listless

Today's draft was much a repeat of yesterday's process, and a writer loathes nothing more than ineffective repetition.  I'll just nod my head in thanks once more to Lucie Brock-Broido.  Again, I used a line from one of her poems for the title of the draft.  "Seized with a Small Fever" comes from "To a Strange Fashion of Forsaking."  Again, I used some of her words, but today more of my own.  I even had some inspiration cards splashed around for image jolting. 

Yes, both yesterday and today, the lines I chose for titles contain the word 'fever.'  No, I'm not sick, but perhaps this unrelenting heat influences me more than I notice.  Also, I like the fact that fevers can bring an altered state of mind, which lets me find more magic in my speakers. 

Today's poem begins:

The linen here is burgundy, well-laundered.

This vessel rests beneath a gold-leafed
chandelier dimmed to sweetness.

The poem alternates between single-line stanzas and couplets.  Also, I use the word 'antipyretics.'  Not one of the words I found in Brock-Broido's poems, although she reminds me that I can use Latinate words if they fit the tone of the rest of the poem.  As a composition instructor, I'm constantly warning my students against using the "ten dollar words" to try and sound "smart."  We are working in those classes for logical communication, straight-forward arguments.  A poem is something all together different, and while I love a poem grounded in everyday speech, it's also fun to stretch my wings and see what I can do with a more academic diction.  Brock-Broido certainly brings it out in her poems, and it doesn't hurt her 'accessibility,' at least not for me. 

And here is Lou-Lou (gaining health every day), adoring The Master Letters as I try to work.


One more day of my mini-poem-a-day self challenge.  I can't believe I have six possible poems waiting in my 'In Progress' folder.  Tomorrow, that could be seven!  Can't wait to dive in and revise. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Draft Process: Minor Fire & Lucie Brock-Broido


92º ~ 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. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Draft Process: Inventing Rain


92º ~ rain to the north and west of us, not likely to head our way, the skies already lightening from dense gray to hazy blue, angry at being passed over again

In case you've missed my quite obvious obsession, I do not do well with long stretches of extreme weather.  This past spring, we had flooding rains for weeks and weeks, which included the unprecedented closure of the interstate between Little Rock and Memphis.  Now, we have record breaking heat.  Yesterday, we topped out at 114º before the heat index was calculated.  Today, we are supposed to get to 106º.  I've lost track of the number of 100+º days.

As I set about writing a draft for today, I couldn't shake my obsession.  As I sat at the desk with my BIC (butt-in-chair), staring at the sad leaves on the tree outside my window, I noticed something.  No cicadas.  I have no idea if they are gone for the season or not, but they've been my accompanists these past weeks, and now, silence.  Thus began my drafting.

Listen.  Today the cicadas are silent.

No drilling, persistent rattle,
but plenty of perfect skin-forms
still cling to the siding and trees.

(Eerily, just as I typed the above, I began to hear the cicadas again...I hope I haven't angered the cicada gods, as I'm not fond of the little buggers or their skins.)

The poem became "Inventing a Rain Spell" as the speaker went about collecting the skins and creating her own ritual to get it to rain.  The poem alternates between single-line stanzas and tercets, beginning and ending on single lines. 

from creativecommons.org
Close friends know that I am, frankly, freaked out by these skin-shells.  My husband, C., likes to collect them in his man cave.  They give me the willies.  Too perfect for me to believe they are dead tissue, I imagine them flicking back to life at any second.  So, the poem was a bit of a departure for me as the speaker actually handles the skins.  Also, just getting the picture for the blog today was grossing me out.  I can't really look at the image directly.

For something prettier, I finished my journal today.  Here's what it looks like.  BTW: I realize there's some thing going around the internet about "putting a bird on it" and how women should stop doing that.  Well, pppppplllllllllbbbbbbbbbbbttttttt (raspberries) to that.  I love birds and I won't stop just because some hipster thinks they've become a cliche.  So there.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We Interrupt This Program


111º ~ with heat index = 117º ~ I do not lie

Yes, I did get a draft under my belt this morning but nothing new to deliver in terms of process notes.  It was all BIC and time to stare out the window word-gathering.

What seems more urgent just now is this.


I clipped this from The Weather Channel's info on Little Rock just moments ago.  Dear Lord, it's enough to make one reconsider living in the wintery bluster of the north.

Please, please, please make smart energy choices, friends and fans of the Kangaroo.  Mother Nature is showing us the error of our ways, and I don't like it. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Draft Process: How to Write about the Death of Your Pet Without Mentioning Your Pet


97º ~ heading up to 103 before the heat index is figured, grab an oxygen tank, friends and fans of the weather, it's getting hard to breathe out there, the dirt has turned to concrete beneath our feet despite attempts to keep things watered during the night hours


I'm happy to report that so far, I'm on track for a poem a day through Sunday.  Whee.  I'm still starting with Meeks' Biogeography and letting the poems there help my mind loosen up.  To do justice to Meeks, I'll need to re-read the book with more concentration later.  Right now, I'm just letting the words and lines crash over me like waves of sound (I tend to read out loud). 

No surprise, then, that today's draft is "Biogeography: 8/2/11." 

Dear Readers, I confess that I've been wallowing in a blue funk for the past few days and trying to figure out the cause.  I know I'm having some back-to-school stress, but I also had to admit to myself, finally, that I'm still mourning the death of Libby, our beautiful tabby cat.  At the time Libby died, Lou-Lou, our black & white frisky cat, was fighting for her life against an unrelated disease.  Now that Lou-Lou is getting better and is more her old self, the grief for Libby is setting in.  It's such a minor loss when compared to friends who've recently lost human loved ones, but it's what I have going on in my heart right now, so here I am.

Once again, I managed to take the emotions and facts about the cat and place them in a poem without mentioning Libby.  The last time I did this was when I started "Fairy Tale for a Girl with a Fever of Unknown Origin" and I used some details from Lou-Lou's medical files for that, applying them to the girl.  Today, I let my sadness for Libby guide me.  I began with noting the environmental conditions (drought), in large part because of Meeks' influence, and then, I let the poem drift to "This I've labeled a killing summer, / although the heat was not / to blame / for a faulty heart / long undetected." 

from the National Drought Mitigation Center at U of NE Lincoln


At first, I had two chunky stanzas, one of eight lines and one of nine.  I have a habit (bad? good?) of wanting balance in my stanzas but on re-reading there was nothing I wanted to add to the first or remove from the second. This got me to questioning why I'd broken the lines and stanzas as I had.  I re-read (out loud) and realized the poem has a lot of nature in it and a lot of meditation and my mind drifted to Charles Wright and some of his poems with lots of indented lines spread over the page.  I started working through the poem adding more white space and breaking up the chunks.  It turns out, this unlocked even more drafting for me and I was able to trim some of the excess language as well.  Much happier with it this way, even though I recently read someone giving advice to poets by telling them to stay away from the tab key.  To that I say: to each her own!

~~~~~

On a happy note, I had an acceptance for a poem in my inbox this morning.  Wahoo!  Maybe the acceptance dance will also serve as a rain dance today.  A girl can dream.




Monday, August 1, 2011

Draft Process: Another Biogeography


87º ~ 100, 101, 102, 100, 100: thus read the predicted highs for the week ~ sigh ~ sweat ~ laundry ~ sigh ~ sweat ~ laundry ~ impossible to even run short errands without feeling it

Today's draft post builds on my last draft post (7/29/11), in which I discussed Sandra Meek's Biogeography as inspiration.  I've read half of the book now and while my poems are drastically different from Meek's, which take on a more global view from time to time, I am indebted to her for the idea spark.

Today, as I was reading more from Meek's book, I had my notebook open and ready, not sure where I would go, but wanting to try to draft a poem a day for this week.  So, I kept repeating "I will write a poem" all morning and I held that thought in the back of my head as I read.  One of the things I wrote down in my journal was this:  "Embrace the I."  For a while now, I've tried to distance myself from the "I" in my poems.  I have worked to avoid autobiography and simply write poems inspired by the things I've heard, seen, done, experienced, etc. without telling the facts of my life.  I've done this as a conscious attempt to subvert the idea of confessional poetry. One of the ways I've done this is to use the third person almost exclusively.  Of course, with the nursery tales, that also fit the form.

However, as I've been reading lately, I've been watching how other poets I admire, Meek among them, work with the "I."  And you know what...I could care less if they are revealing "facts" about themselves or if they made them up.  I like the closeness of the "I," the revelation of the speaker. 

After reading another section of Meek's book, I started having an inkling of where I wanted to go but needed one more push.  That push came by reading over the draft from the 29th.  Again, nothing came pouring out of me and there was a lot of hemming and hawing, but still, I got down a draft: 10 stanzas written in couplets, "Biogeography: 8/1/11."  It begins:

Traveling to the house of born and raised
is slow going.  I dredge a map from muscle memory

that says north by northeast and tells me
when to turn, when to stop and gather strength.

my childhood home, from a recent real estate listing

For now, I'm just happy to have gotten something down, whether it lives or not.  Good blogger & poetry friend Karen J. Weyant reminded me of this when she reported that she'd written a poem a day for July and at the end found she had 16 drafts that might be poems.  Duh!  Headsmack!  I'd let myself fall back into that trap of thinking every draft I began had to lead somewhere final.  I am now reminded that there must be room for failures, for drafts that die on the page; otherwise, the pressure of perfection stifles all the words in my head.  Snuff!