Sunday, June 3, 2012

Draft Process: The Slow Tonnage of My Previous Crime

85º ~ the heat returning, the sun sharper, harsher in its glare

And so the goal I mentioned the other day begins to be exposed. I hope to write a poem a day during June in an attempt to figure out how the sickly speaker's story ends. Endings are always the hardests things for me when I attempt to write short stories, and I suppose I'm running up against that same problem here. How does one decide where the story ends? Unless the character is dead, there's always something else to say (sometimes even after the character is dead!). I suppose this story has a built-in ending, the speaker's release from the hospital/institution. The first few poems of the series are set in the days just before her admission, so I have an idea to have her released and then write the last few poems on her first day on the outside. Yet, she has become such a part of me that I am reluctant to let her go. What will become of her and her mentor? Will she reunite with "the woman [she] called mother by mistake"?

Today, I had a rougher time of it, and I expected that. I don't do well with writing a poem a day, but I wanted to use this one month as a type of writer's residency at home, so I pushed through. I started with a definition poem, using the word "cell," which contains many layers that I could use. I started in the journal, putting the words down and then scratching them out. I opened to "donor" and thought about combining the two definitions in one poem. I wrote and scratched out some more. Then, I flipped to a list of notes I'd made a week ago after reading through the whole series. I'd noticed that there were some subjects that I brought up in the beginning poems that hadn't made an appearance lately. Here's the list.

More plants
"My mysterious" - who is this?
Fever-more poems?
Mystic for teeth
Other patients?

I've already figured out that I have enough fever poems, and I wrote the poem about the return of her period, so I could cross those out. For some reason, the suitors called to me today. They are only mentioned in the opening poem, which is a letter to the speaker's mentor. Today's draft has the speaker looking back at her life just before her illness. This feels natural to me as she is healing and must begin to think about the outside world again. The poem also brings in her appetite because in one poem she reveals that she had cultivated a heavy body before the illness and is upset by how thin she has become. Today's draft begins:

Once, before this body failed, several suitors
courted me, interest they expressed
from a distance, eyes cast down.

The poem led me in a new direction as I discovered that the woman she called mother by mistake was trying to get the speaker to lose weight before she would get to receive the gifts from her suitors. This led to her appetite for sugar and bread and her desire to hide in her plump body. The poem is currently four stanzas of six lines each and I'm pretty unsure of it. This one is probably going to need a ton of revision, but there it is. One of my reasons for not doing the poem a day thing in the past is that I know a percentage of thos drafts will fail. I am at odds with this and yet I know that those failed poems are not a waste of time. I fight against my own impatience.

For a title, I turned to Quan Barry's Controvertibles and turned almost immediately to the poem "the landmine as opiate" and found this line: "w/the slow tonnage of their animal sadness & the evening sky / aerial, thickening." That phrase "slow tonnage" rang true for this draft, so I picked it up. At first I tried to keep the "animal sadness" as well, but it didn't fit. So, I would up with "The Slow Tonnage of My Previous Crime." I've been thinking about how some people begin to believe they must have done something wrong when they become serioulsy sick and how that might feel like having committed some crime. Just another layer to the puzzle.

As always, thanks for reading. I'll try to add some non-draft process posts along the way. I'm also trying to catch up on my reading, but in order to have time to draft, I don't have time to post my responses to all of the books. Instead, I'm posting mini-mini-responses on Facebook as I read. I'm ever thankful for a job that allows me this kind of time!


Justin Hamm said...

It's really interesting to read these posts and watch you sort through this project, Sandy. I'm kind of between projects right now and so I've got that feeling of awe an outsider gets while watching an artist concentrate so intently on making a big thing. I especially enjoy the way you describe each of your little character discoveries and show what parts of the previous poems are the starts of the new poems.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Justin. Sometimes these draft notes feel quite self-absorbed. I'm glad to know I haven't bored you to tears!