Thursday, June 28, 2012

Closing Out the Residency & a Revision History for One Poem

90º ~ yep, it's 10:15 and we're into the 90s ~ highs in the trip digits forecast for the next three days at least ~ not a wisp of a chance of rain on the horizon


Well, yesterday, I thought that my appearance at the Arkansas Governor's School might be a good way to end my self-imposed homestead writing residency, and today my mind is whirling from national events (way to go SCOTUS!), so I'm thinking, yeah, "the end."

In wrapping things up:

~~~First, a huge shout out to Wesley Beal and the other English Language Arts faculty members at the Arkansas Governor's School for hosting me and James Katowich.  I had a fabulous day being back on campus and interacting with the talented and inquisitive rising-seniors.  The students (and faculty) were an excellent audience.  I read some poems from Blood Almanac, some from the weather book, some fairy tales, and ended with two of the sickly speaker poems.  Then, we did a Q & A, and I got asked the best question ever:  "Does being a Cubs fan help you in your life as a writer?"  (A little backstory, some of these students had C. for AP US History last year and know of our love of the Cubs; also, I had a Cubs coozy on my water bottle given how much everything sweats in the heat.)  Now, I'm always telling my students that being a fan of the Cubs is essential to my ability to brush off rejection (there's always another game, another series, and another year!), but here was someone asking before I got to say it!  (And no, I didn't plant that question!)

A giant thank you to the students who purchased a copy of Blood Almanac.  Forever indebted!  I hope the book brings you some enjoyment and teaches you something about the world along the way.


~~~Second, wow, many thanks to the editors at Linebreak for publishing "Fevers of a Minor Fire," one of the first sickly speaker poems to be written, and huge thanks to Sandra Beasley for her amazing rendition of the poem.  This is one of those cases of a quick, quick turnaround.  I submitted the poem two weeks ago, and boom, there it is! 

When I posted on Facebook about the publication, I decided to also post a link to my draft notes. I was stunned to see how much the opening had changed.  Well, maybe it's not that big of a change, but I swear I had no memory of beginning with "Feminine form of Lord."  Looking back at my hard copies (I save each major draft revision), I see that nine days after the initial draft, I cut that first bit, and I'm so glad I did!

Then, two months after the initial draft, I broke the initial set of three stanzas of eight lines each into quatrains. 

On January 15, five months after the initial draft, I reworked the first stanza entirely, which included some of the shortest lines in the draft and lacked the musculature of the rest of the stanzas.  I ended up rearranging line breaks and adding one line all together.  At this time, I also extracted a few extra adjectives and a few conjunctions & prepositions.

One of the things I've seen as I've pruned and revised lately is that I often need to do the most work on the beginnings of the drafts.  One of the first lessons I learned way back in undergrad was that I have a tendency to stumble into the piece, to write a lot of hesitation lines before I get to where I need to go.  Must keep a vigilant eye on those cumbersome openings during revision!

It's interesting that in the first draft I used an ampersand for every "and."  I'm sure this is due to the fact that I was reading Lucie Brock-Broido the day I drafted.  Slowly, most of those ampersands were replaced with the word.  Now I have to re-think the whole issue again, in terms of the book-length project!


~~~Third, I had another acceptance of one of the sickly speaker poems I sent out this past month, so I'm thrilled.  (Will let you all know the who, what, where, when, as the poem becomes available, but it will be online!)  So, I've had six of these poems accepted.  The first four are in print journals, and these last two are online.  Of the six, four of these are epistolary poems to the speaker's mentor.  Of course, it is wonderful to have this kind of affirmation of the poems; however, that joy is tempered by the fact the all but five of the weather book poems achieved publication in national journals, and that book languishes in terms of publication as a collection.  I'm trying to ride the wave of happiness that the sickly speaker is getting out there in the world and not think to far into the future for the project. 


~~~Fourth, THANK YOU to the Kangaroo readers for following my residency.  I'll be around the rest of the summer but probably not posting quite so often (whew!).  May your reading and/or writing be plentiful!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

These Final Days of June

85º ~ yesterday we set a record at 105º, today cooling down to 95º as the projected high, the humidity continues to remain low, which helps in the heat but means drought, drought, drought...over 90% of the state has entered "severe" drought conditions


These are the dwindling days of my self-imposed homestead writing residency.  The residency is ending in the same way it began, as a niggle in the back of my brain rather than as a planned thing. 

Tomorrow, I'll be taking my one day-trip in June, heading over to Conway, AR to guest lecture and read at the Arkansas Governor's School with my friend James Katowich, a fiction writer.  We will do WITS exercises in the morning session and read our work in the afternoon.  I'm psyched for this on so many levels.  I taught at AGS for three summers after grad school, and it's where I met C.  Some of the poems in Blood Almanac were written while I was teaching at AGS.  Also, the campus of Henrix College is beautiful even in the sweltering heat, and the students (all rising high school seniors of exceptional abilities) are eager to learn.

Today, I did some more major revisions on the poems I composed at the beginning of the month.  I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't draft 30 new poems, but I have been letting my gut guide me throughout this whole exercise and at a certain point, it said "it's time to let things sit and then revise; it's time to get some perspective on the project as a whole."  I have no idea if this is the "right" thing to do, but I do not feel like I've squandered any of this precious time I carved out.  In the end, we all work to our own rhythms.

Oh, I also opened up the mss. document and did a "find/replace" for all of the ampersands, putting them back as ands.  I don't know why I'm fixated on this, but there you go. 

Stay cool, friends and fans of the Kangaroo, stay cool.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reading Journals and Some Notes on the Self-Imposed Homestead Writing Residency

95º ~ at 10:45 a.m. (projected high 102º) ~ nothing but "sunny and 99º" for the 7-day forecast


This heat is nothing new and nearly everything here in central Arkansas is air conditioned; still there is an emotional exhaustion that ensues after so many days without rain and so many days to come without rain (the same is true in seasons of flood when we yearn for the sun).

A sod homestead, 1886, click for link
If you follow me on FB, you know that I spent yesterday reading journals (especially Grist #5, about which I could not stop posting).  I've followed up with more of that this morning.  One of my goals for this residency was to read a book a day.  I didn't meet this goal quite as well as I met the drafting and putting together of the sickly speaker manuscript.

Having reached a lull in writing, and having spent several days focused on revision and submitting, I decided yesterday to begin to whittle my stack of "to-read" books and journals.  I'm happy to report that I've "read" all of the loose copies of journals that were floating around the desk of the Kangaroo.  I put "read" in quotation marks b/c I read journals very differently than I read whole books of poetry.  For one, if the journal covers multiple-genres, I confess that I skip the prose.  I do so not b/c I don't enjoy prose but b/c I have such an overwhelming stack of books/journals to get through.  (One exception is when I see the name of someone I know on a story or piece of nonfiction, then, I pause to read the piece.)

When I read the poetry in journals, I do not finish every poem, again often due to the sheer number of pages that hover around me. I have no problem stating this.  One of the things I love about contemporary poetry is the diversity of craft & voice.  If something doesn't snag me up, that's cool; it probably appeals to another subset of poetry readers.  Also, by noting which journals provide an overwhelming number of poems that snag me up and keep me reading, I'm learning (always learning) which journals make my best audience.  (The one difficulty here is journals that come from MFA/PhD programs where the editorial aesthetic shifts widely from year to year.)

As I read through the journals in my stack, I had the question of ampersands in the back of my mind.  My report: 98% of the poems I read were ampersand free.  I'm not sure if this means I'm going to change the way the sickly speaker uses them, but it adds more to my thought process about the whole situation. 

~~~~~

Some thoughts I've been having about this self-imposed homestead writing residency.

~ The other day I ran into another Little Rock poet and she was working on her latest book at Starbucks.  I offered that I have a hard time concentrating on writing / revising at a coffee shop (esp. one as busy as my neighborhood's Starbucks).  She offered that she is too easily distracted at home by things like laundry, movies, spending time with her pets, etc. 

This is to say that I see her point and I'll admit that I've had to work at ignoring the house beyond the desk of the Kangaroo.  Some days this has been harder than others (insert cats loudly asking for play time).  Force of will is a crucial element.

~ I'm running out of steam.  I am thrilled, absolutely thrilled, with what I've accomplished in the past three weeks but wondering if there is much left in the tank for this last week.  I'm a huge advocate for rest periods to let things settle and ferment.  I sense I need that now. 

~ This whole process has been more instinct than plan.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Revise, Submit, Response, Revise, Submit, Response, &etc.

92º ~ an air quality alert for the day, although the humidity has sunk to 35% and breathing was hot but easy an hour ago when C. and I ventured outside for a bit, thankful for the breezes that have accompanied the heat each day


In the past few days, I talked about revising on two different levels (the pruning of newish work and striving for consistency over the range of the manuscript).  Today, I went in another direction, the revising that happens as a part of the process of submitting poems. 

First, these are the poems that are well-pruned and settled. Upon re-reading (out loud) there are no stutters, stumbles, or bogging down. These poems hold fast.  After I decide on the packets I'm going to send out and to which journals, I work poem by poem.  I am revising with a singular focus here and not really thinking of the project at large, hoping that the attention I've paid to the entire manuscript in the past will insure that I don't revert to some inconsistency.  As I worked through the first packet today, I found myself getting rid of a few more "ands" or "&s," catching a few cases of passive voice that easily made the move to active, and, in one case, changing a fragment back to a clause because it no longer held up on its own. 

I often bemoan the amount of time it takes to submit poems and keep up with responses from editors; however, today, I'm reminded that, for me, the process is crucial to my revision process.  It's a time when I am even more able to look at the poems with the healthy skepticism of a good editor.

One slight difference today is that I'm sending out a good number of sickly speaker poems that have never made the rounds before.  Later, as the responses come in, there may be more revision.  An acceptance is no guarantee that the editors might not make a wise suggestion for a cut or a tweak.  I've also learned that an acceptance is no guarantee that, when the time comes for the poem to work in the book as a whole, it won't need another tweak here and there.  The accumulation of a number of rejections usually means another combing through to find any snarls.

So, it seems I've learned to love the wheel inside the wheel inside the wheel of revise, submit, response, revise, submit, response, &etc. 

Gear Wheels, click for link

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Question of the Ampersand

86º ~ edging into the high 90s by the turn of the weekend, lows not daring to dip into the 60s, last evening, one of those terrible jokes played by the gods & goddesses of weather ~ a sudden darkening of the sky at 6:30 p.m., gusts of wind shifting the weathervane in fits, terrible pressure on the sinuses, all signs pointing to a storm, then...nothing...sigh


This morning, I bring you the question of the ampersand, dear readers.  I've just spent a solid chunk of time with the entire manuscript, reading from start to finish, but darting to the computer to make minor tweaks for consistency throughout.  One involved the phrase "the woman I called mother by mistake."  Sometimes I'd italicized and sometimes not.  I went with the italics. 

The other inconsistency I noticed was my use of the ampersand.

From Wikimedia Commons: An ampersand (&) is a logogram representing the word "and." The symbol is a ligature of the letters et, which is Latin for "and."

From this definition I'm startled by the words "logogram" and "ligature."  Logogram simply because I'd forgotten it and think it's a cool word; ligature b/c I watch too much Law & Order and associate it almost entirely with a method of killing (i.e. strangulation), but when looking it up again, I notice that it applies to typography and to music as well.  The music definition I once knew and had forgotten, the typography definition seems new to me.

from Creative Commons, click for link

So, apparently, there are people in the poetry world who have strong feelings about the ampersand.  My most vivid memory is from an interview I found once online that included Jeanne Leiby (may she rest in peace), who at the time of the interview had just become the editor of The Southern Review.  What I remember is how adamantly she spoke against the ampersand, claiming that poets used it frivolously and should just type out the word "and" b/c it wasn't saving any syllables so it must be a purely visual thing and she thought that detracted from the poem itself.  One brave student in the audience (it was an interview at some grad program) offered that she used the ampersand in homage to Larry Levis, but I can't remember Leiby's response to that.

I confess, I love the ampersand.  I love the symbol and the word.  I love how it looks on the page and I do believe that I read it slightly differently than I read the word "and" but I'd be hard pressed to prove that.

As I was reading the manuscript-in-progress this morning, I saw that I had sometimes used the ampersand and sometimes not, so I really started looking at the why and how of it.  It seems to me that the ampersand works very well when grouping two nouns or verbs in a way that they become nearly one word and their distinct definitions blur together a bit in the mind.  I also think it works to speed the pace of the poem, but again, I can't prove that. 

I do remember that when I was putting together a group of 10 of the early poems to submit to some fellowship application or whatnot, I took all the ampersands out b/c I was afraid whichever reader got my application might be one of those ampersand detractors. 

What do you think?  Do you think an editor or reader for a fellowship/grant would dismiss a group of poems for the use of this symbol or do you think I'm over-thinking this? Does the ampersand bug you or feel right at home in the poem?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Today Revision Means To Prune

87º ~ for conditions, see every post from the last week, and so it goes


Today, I set out to read the 48 poems I've accrued (43 in the voice of the sickly speaker and 5 in the distant voice of definition) for this project in order to get a sense of what is missing and what is weak.  Dear Reader, I confess, I never made it past the first poem.  When I placed the definition poems, I ended up placing them first, middle, and last, with the other two halfway between first & middle and middle & end. 

So, the first poem I read this morning was "The Definition of a Febrile Body."  I didn't make it to the second stanza before I started pruning in my head.  I tore the sheet down from where I'd taped it yesterday and went to the computer to begin.  As I pruned, I also decided to toy with italicizing each of the phrases that I got from the dictionary, just to see.  And, yes, this worked too, which led me to revising all five of the definition poems, which led me to think about revision.

from Wikimedia Commons

~ after the initial gusto of the first draft, and then the resting time, be it a day or a month or more, I absolutely must be ruthless in my pruning ~ the extra words tend to stick out like so many sore thumbs, but it's taken years of writing and re-writing to develop this instinct

~ in all acts of revision it is important to read OUT LOUD to hear where the word/line trips, skips, or bogs down

~ I welcome the voices of my one or two trusted readers even if they haven't seen this particular poem ~ I am able to hear what they would say about  the weaknesses of a certain poem, again only after years of exchanges

~ knowing one's own weaknesses is paramount ~ mine = too many adjectives and too much over-writing ~ I must approach all lines with editorial suspicion

~ sometimes a linebreak that I crowed over while drafting the initial poem, the break I thought so witty as to be perfect, wilts after the settling and must be destroyed for the sake of the poem

~ check each "and," each "this" and "that," every prepositional phrase...prune what isn't necessary ~ clutter will kill the forward progress of the poem

~ read it through out loud again and again, always on alert for where the writer brain is making corrections to smooth out the flawed ~ the writer brain will try to trick the editor brain every time

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Physical Act of Putting Together a Manuscript

83º ~ too much wind to call this the doldrums and we aren't even close to the dog days yet, but the repetitive weather pattern, sunk in on partly sunny and hot, hot, hot, wears one down, still someone said the word "solstice" on a blog this morning and my first thought was "no, no, no, no, no, no..." I am not ready for the light to begin leaving us already ~


Fact: Writing is a physical act.  No matter how one writes, there must be some physical act that gets the words on paper.  I think of all those folks who draft in long hand whole novels.  I think of several friends whose bodies no longer allow movement and how they either dictate the words to a confidant or use a specially adapted keyboard.  I think of my own fingers, first curled around the pen and then tapping, tapping, tapping.  There is much going on between mind and hand (or mouth), and yet, the body is mostly still.

Yesterday, the stillness reached a breaking point and I couldn't keep my BIC.  I confess that I did not draft.  I did not revise.  I did not look at the sickly speaker poems.  Instead, I worked in the yard a bit, scheduled and got a hair cut, went to the farmer's market, and both read and watched the TV.  It appears that Tuesdays have become my day of rest from the desk of the Kangaroo.

Last night in the nearly sleeping time, I was thinking about how I'd printed off the poems in A Fever of Unknown Origin on Monday and how I should probably read through all the poems today.  I also remembered a blog exchange.  I think it was with Molly Spencer, but for the life of me I can't find it now.  One blogger friend (Molly?) mentioned reading some other blog in which a poet mentioned being at a writer's residency and being able to pin all of her poems up on the wall and then sleep with the draft of her mss. floating above her.  At the time, I knew I wanted to do this but was fixated on the pinning part and couldn't figure out how to make it work in my house.  I dreamed of putting cork over an entire wall but never followed through.  Then, last night, just as I was falling asleep, I realized that I could use what I already had: my two sturdy bookcases and a roll of Scotch tape. 

And voila:
* See note below
This morning, I got physical with the manuscript and taped (not pinned!) each poem in the current order.  I miscounted on the first row, so I have one sad poem all alone on the bottom rung, but that seems good to me now, given that I have no idea if there will be more poems coming from the sickly speaker. 

I'm thrilled with this breakthrough, and I found myself taking lots of time with each poem, feeling the weight of each piece of paper in my hand and while not reading every word, skimming titles and knowing the essence of each poem, getting a feel for if the poems belonged the one next to the other.  The pieces of tape might not be as easy to rearrange as pins, but I can still see that I'll be able to move the pages as necessary.  This makes me happy.  I feel a shift in the work for the remaining 10 days of this self-imposed homestead residency.  I want to think of the mss. as a whole.  I want to revise what was written earlier this month.  I want to contemplate where other poems are needed.  I want to be okay with knowing I didn't write a draft a day but that I was getting the work done regardless.


*What you don't see in this picture is the pile of junk I took off the top of the shelves and from in front of many of the books.  That's all piled on the floor now, but also a good thing, as I'm sure it needs to be sorted and either used or recycled or what-have-you.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Revision and the Magic Formula of Manuscript Making

85º ~ high temps inching toward the middle 90s rather than the low, aside from that I grow bored with repeating that "partly sunny, slight breezes, birdsong, dry dirt" refrain


Particle Physics!  Click for link.
Fact: There is no magic formula for creating a book of poetry.  If anyone tries to tell you differently, they lie.

This morning as I drifted through my routine, I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with my writing time.  At one point, I thought I'd re-read The Master Letters by Lucie Brock-Broido and work through the difference between inspiration and imitation (I even saw a blog post for today on the subject).  I also thought about using the day for revision.  Throughout these thoughts, the same feeling of being swamped by the project kept surfacing.  I felt like the poems were growing out of control, too many drafts have sprouted so quickly.  As most of you know, my typical speed is a poem a week.  Today, the full weight of having 16 new drafts in 17 days nearly knocked me down, nearly prevented me from getting to the desk.

So, I decided to try and take a look at the project as a whole.  This means that I went through each of the poems still in the "In Progress" manila folder on my desk and added them to the body of the manuscript in the file on the computer, even though I knew they weren't "ready for consumption."  For the older poems, the ones from the beginning of the month, I did some revising. Again, I felt the pressure of "too fast, too fast," as I'm used to letting poems sit, but as this project is barreling along, I also really want to get it completed.  (I'm a bit of a mess, really.)

In any case, as I sorted through the drafts, I mostly just placed them in the order they were written and added on to the file for what is now called A Fever of Unknown Origin, but when I changed the name of the file on the computer, it came out Fever Unknown, and I thought that might become the collection title at some point.  Titles!!!!  Not easy for me.

When I got all the sickly/healing speaker poems in line, I was left with the five definition poems.  Adding them in was much harder.  Yes, I wanted them to break up the speaker's voice, but when it came time to do so, I hesitated. Regardless, to follow through with the exercise, I placed them.

When every draft was placed in the larger single file of the manuscript, I couldn't quite believe my eyes: exactly 48 pages, the bare minimum for most publishers.  I must be bad at math b/c in my last count, I thought I was only at 45 or 46.  Still, I've checked and double checked.  This does not mean the manuscript is "ready."  I still don't trust all of the drafts, and there is much revision needed in these June poems.  What it does mean, is that I can see the speaker's progression more clearly.  My next job will be to print the whole thing out and see where it holds and where it springs leaks, which drafts sing and which still need more time under the revision scalpel, which might have to be abandoned (yikes!), and where I might need a different, new draft.

Fact: Every part of being a poet includes listening to the gut.  From which word goes next on the line and where that line should break all the way up to which packet should go to which journal and in what order the poems should appear in the collection, it all requires some element of instinct over formula.  It takes time, study (i.e. reading poetry!), and endless efforts that result in failure before those few, those mighty successes build the voice of that instinct to a sure thing, something to trust and follow.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Some New Poems in Print

84º ~ conditions the same as yesterday and the day before and the day before that, and look to hold steady for tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, &etc.


In the midst of the self-imposed homestead writing residency, I've had some great mail days.  I'm not one to worry too much whether a publication is online or in print, as long as the editors are publishing work that I admire and are consistent with their standards.  That being said, this most recent group of "in print" poems all happen to be in print journals rather than online.  (In the end, I think my numbers work out pretty close to 50/50 in terms of print versus online publications.) Here's my recent crop; I've linked to the process notes for each poem through the titles.

~ "Cornfield, USA III" (missing draft notes) and "Inventing a Rain Spell" are in Sou'wester 40.2 (Spring 2012): The Weather Issue.  When I saw the call for this themed-issue, I nearly fell off my chair, as I was completely immersed at the time in writing weather poems.  I don't do well is writing to an assigned theme and often don't find my work fitting with other special calls for submissions, so this was a delight.  Other amazing folks in this issue: Sean Thomas Dougherty, Randall Horton, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Gary L. McDowell, Alison Pelegrin, and Benjamin Vogt among others.

I've long admired Sou'wester and was fortunate to work with Allison Funk several years ago when she published "Etude," one of the poems from Blood Almanac.  For these poems, I got to work with Adrian Matejka, which was a joy.  Sadly, Adrian is leaving Sou'wester (as he announces in his editor's note); happily, Stacey Lynn Brown will take over as Poetry Editor. 

~ "The Ashes of My Familiar" appears in 32 Poems 10.1 (Spring/Summer 2012). In the past, George David Clark (now Editor of the journal) had asked me to send some poems to him as a reader of this power-packed, poetry-only journal.  Those previous poems never made it through to publication, but when I had my first set of sickly speaker poems ready to face the world, I thought of 32 Poems, and I'm so happy that David picked this one.  Just a taste of the other poets included: Bruce Bond, Jessica Piazza, Dave Smith, Corinna McClanahan Schroeder, Ash Bowen (shout out for Arkansas!), Mary Angelino (and there's another Woo Pig Sooie!), Paul Bone (wait a minute, didn't he go to Arkansas?) and, holy cow! Les Murray...yes, I said Les Murray. 

Uhm, given that four of the 32 poets came out of the Arkansas program, I think this issue must be re-dubbed: Woo Pig Sooie!

There is a new feature on 32 Poems' blog starting with this issue: contributors' marginalia.  Each contributor was given the choice of participating by picking another poem in the issue and writing a short post about that poem, from anywhere on the personal -- academic continuum.  I am loving this!  Watch for my contribution in early August.

~ "Cautionary Tale for Girls Kept Underground in Summer" shows up in Natural Bridge 27 (Spring 2012). Slowly but surely, poems from the group of Midwestern fairy tales I worked on last year are making their way in the world.  I'm so happy these girls are getting out there, even if they are a bit dark and ragged around the edges.  True to form, the editors have gathered an impressive group of writers, including but not limited to: Patrick Hicks (who shared some of the same undergrad classes with me and with whom I reunited at AWP...Denver I think), J. D. Schraffenberger, Jennifer Fandel, and my colleague and friend and fellow Arkansas grad, Angie Macri, who has four amazing southern Illinois poems in the issue.

This was a special acceptance for me because Natural Bridge was my very first publication during grad school.  That was over ten years ago, and I've submitted often in the meantime, always mentioning that I am a previous contributor.  It just goes to show, that connections and previous credentials don't really do a thing unless the poems are working and fitting with whatever the editors have going on at the time.  It's a thrill to get any acceptance, and a special little zip to get that second acceptance from the same journal after many years.

~ "The Way She Knows the World to Work" and "Cornfield, USA" lead off (wow!) Crab Creek Review XXV.1 (2012). I'm honored to have these two poems opening this issue of the journal, which contains so much good work.  I'm also thrilled that "The Way She Knows the World to Work" finally found a home, as it is one of the older poems I had circulating at the time, and it is one of the poems that underwent the most revision between drafting and publication.  This issue has one fantastic cover and a whole slew of writers of whom I'm fond: Marie Gauthier, Amanda Auchter, Jeannine Hall Gailey (conducting an interview with Dana Levin), Laura E. Davis, and Jill Osier, just to name a few.

My many, many thanks to the advance readers and the editors of these publications.  They do the unsung and often unpaid work of gathering together these words "for the love of the game." 

If any of what I've written above inspires you, please order the issue or subscribe.  If that's out of the budget, ask your library to do so.  If that doesn't work, let me know, and I'll see what I can do!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Draft Process: Cloaked in Darkness and in Health

87º ~ the heat is on (outside obviously), tho the humidity holds in the manageable ranges, still no hint of rain for the week that stretches out "mostly sunny," the birds are happy when anyone waters the lawn


Today, I did not think that I would draft.  I slept very late and I've mentioned in the past how disorienting that is for me. The same was true today, but I woke early with a splitting headache and retreated back to sleep.  I wandered through what was left of the morning and even the cats got shortchanged of their normal play time. 

I decided that I would cut myself some slack, that I would work on submissions instead of drafts, that I might not even do that, that I might, instead, spend the day on the couch with endless reruns of Law & Order or reading a memoir I picked up at the library last week. 

Then, in going through my usual breakfast routine of eating my Oat Squares while checking email, my blog feed, and Facebook, I stumbled on a reply to a post on FB from yesterday.  My good friend (and excellent poet!), Al Maginnes had commented on yesterday's draft, and I had replied about feeling worn out and unsure if I could continue.  Al wrote, "Stay with it as long as you can. There will be too many days without poems."  When I first read that, I felt a deep disappointment with myself for taking the easy way out today, but I didn't grab up my journal.  I continued to troll FB and the blog feeder.  I did some online banking. I went and made my cup of coffee.  I drifted into a bit of daydream...

And WHAM!  There she was, the sickly speaker, dictating that letter that I referenced yesterday, the one that announces her escape.  It begins:


Dear Madame--

I send this letter in advance of my escape.

The whitecoats hint at my release but offer
only obstacles. Their latest word is destitute.

from Wikimedia Commons, click

The draft continues for 22 lines, following the pattern of single line/couplet, but ending on a single line.  Now, how did I get to "destitute"?  

Well, I'm still working through the whole "escape" thing rather than the "release." And in this draft the speaker explains her impatience.  She KNOWS that she is healed but the whitecoats keep delaying.  So, I was thinking, why would they delay?  This combined with that little bit of online banking I mentioned above.  (No Mom, don't panic!  I'm not destitute!)  Without getting too personal, I don't believe in credit card debt, paying any balance off every month, but this month, my personal card has a bit of a steep balance. I was feeling a bit upset about this, castigating myself about not following the plan and having to dip into my savings. 

I'm sure this financial stress bled through into the speaker's voice.  Once I'd stumbled across the word, though, I knew it was perfect, as a huge percentage of the bankruptcies in America result from health care events.

The draft goes on to explore how the attitude of the whitecoats has changed now that the speaker is no longer a medical mystery.  Sure, they still don't know what caused her illness, but she's better so they want to move on, bored by her (think House). She plans to make her escape on the next new moon (shhhhhhh!) and stop briefly at her mentor's for shelter & advice.  

Again, I came up with the title on my own rather than stealing as in the past.  It plays on the phrase "in sickness and in health," although the speaker isn't romantically involved with her mentor or with anyone. Still, I love the rhythm of that line, so I wound up with "Cloaked in Darkness and in Health."  Many thank, Al, for the nudge in the right direction! 

Finally, I'm wondering, is this the end?  Don't I need to write the escape poem?  Don't we need to know where she ends up?  Will I ever feel like we've reached the end of the story?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Draft Process: Preparations for the Moment of Escape

conditions the same


And just that quickly, I wrote another draft on top of the one I just posted about.  As I was finishing that post, it came to me that the speaker MUST escape rather than being released.  This is the only way she will recover her own power.  Also, throughout the series there is always something she is holding back, something she is keeping secret, and that was missing from today's earlier draft.  I even had the title as I began, "Preparations for the Moment of Escape."  I can see the two poems on facing pages in the manuscript, one a poem of compliance and one of defiance.

The new draft begins:

The fact is I will choose the date of my release
and to whom I will return with this new health.
I never ceded control, not even during the fever.

It goes on to show that she has hidden a knife with which she is working loose the bars on her window, those bars that come up repeatedly in the first half of the series, and which she discovers are "more ornament than guard."  For those of you out there wondering, yes, her window opens inward, "a fatal flaw." 

Wikimedia Commons, click for link


I can't tell you all how much happier I am with this draft, although it is also in chunky tercets, seven of them to the previous draft's eight.  It is amazing to me how the speaker teaches me her story as we go along. 

~~~~~

If all the drafts survive, I now have 20 poems of fever, 20 poems of healing, and 5 of definition.  None is more than one page. That's getting close to the minimum for a full-length manuscript, and I need to think whether I want to go back and add 5 more of fever and 5 of healing or what.  I sense the need to write one more "Dear Madame--" letter that announces the speaker's "escape," but after that, who knows?  I think I definitely need to print the whole thing out and see what's what in a solid read-through.  Still, I'm thrilled with so much progress during my little, self-imposed homestead writing residency (tho' the world threatens to intrude & the threat grows more intense every day).

Draft Process: Preparations for the Transfer of Control

80º ~ some gauzy cloud cover but the heat seeps through, a bird that I swear is saying "tweet tweet, tweet tweet," dead calm in the tree outside the window, but some upper branches moving to the south


Day 15 ~ the halfway mark

Ah, dear reader, the draft and I are at odds today, although I do have a draft to speak of.  I began by glancing back at the most recent draft for the healing speaker and opened up my journal thinking about what steps must happen for her to be released.  I so want her to escape rather than be released but I'm not sure how that's going to happen or if it will.  So, this morning my brain went to her possessions.  Does she have any?  What might happen in a long-term care facility when the person leaves?  Wouldn't there need to be some kind of accounting?  This led to the beginning of the draft:

Today is marked for valuation, a day
to catalog my earthly estate. I am dressed
in donated clothes, cheap cloth that chafes

The draft goes on in eight tercets that feel clunky and too much like prose, but this is one of my difficulties with narrative; I am so much more comfortable in the sheer lyric.  Also, this draft is clearly filling a place in the plot and that makes me suspicious.  The poem feels less inspired.  I know that sounds hokey and I'm the first to deny the idea of the muse, but still I missed the electric spark of the language today. 

The title came from following the word "possessions" through various synonyms, leading to "dominion," which I really wanted to use but couldn't figure out, and finally to "control," thus "Preparations for the Transfer of Control."  This works on many levels for the speaker but most profoundly on the transfer of control over her own body back to herself and out of the hands of the whitecoats. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Draft Process: To Parse To Save, One Must State the Relevant

80º ~ a clear sky, bright sun, the breeze making itself known in the leaves, a cardinal calling outside the closed window, the new plants will need watering this evening


I woke up today, not with the sickly speaker in my head but with a question about the dictionary definition poems I wrote last week.  I had four and was wondering if I needed a fifth, for balance, as I imagined distributing the poems within the sickly speaker's narrative.  In looking back at the ones already written, I could see that I needed something that was closer to closure, something that made reference to the speaker's cure.  (Ah, it strikes me now that I could have looked up "cure."  Duh.)  I looked up "save" as that was the goal, to save the speaker from death. 

The first few words of the definition sent me directly to my journal and I hand wrote three couplets there, but I found myself turning to the computer more quickly than in the past, perhaps b/c I had the source material right there in black & white next to the keyboard.  The poem begins:

Deliver, rescue, or protect the body from the marrow,
............from the rising again of fever flush and sweat.

In the end, the draft is only six couplets long with the second lines all indented, so maybe my desire to move from journal to computer foreshadowed that, maybe my poet-mind already knew that this would be a short one.  Bizarre how that sometimes works.  I did manage to end on the phrase "carry out the cure," so the poem went where I wanted it to go, although I don't remember consciously trying to get there.

I also see that for perhaps the first time in the series I state flat out that the illness has refused all diagnoses.  Cool.  I guess that was also percolating away beneath the surface.

The title was a little bit difficult until the word "parse" jumped into my brain, then if fell into place: "To Parse To Save, One Must State the Relevant."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Draft Process: The Body's Instinct is to Bloom

80º ~ conditions continue the same, some high white cloud cover, some small breezes


Well, I do seem to be re-invigorated today.  After my earlier post, I turned to Charlotte Pence's new chapbook The Branches, The Axe, The Missing, which arrived on my doorstep yesterday.  I figured I'd ease into things by reading what I was sure would be a great blend of heightened language and nervy story.  I was not disappointed.  The chapbook covers a speaker newly divorced, her thoughts on that divorcing and on her father, 15 years out of her life.  Interspersed are poems of a more general, philosophical nature about the evolution of human communities, especially surrounding the use of fire. The sum of the book is deftly woven.

After I finished the chapbook, I went back to cull out the words that leapt from the page.  I started my wordbank and about 2/3 of the way through Charlotte's poems something clicked & sparked.  Fire is akin to fever, and my sickly speaker knows all about that.

The draft begins:

So, this is what it means
......................................to conquer
.............the fire of fever,

click for link
The poem is 33 lines, all of them deeply broken and indented in a random pattern that fits the phrases to my ear.  This is the first draft in a long while that began with these broken lines and ended that way as well.  This used to be one of my favorite ways of drafting and it felt good to return.

The title came along easily again and is based on one word from my wordbank, instinct.  I wrote out the line "The body's instinct is to bloom" but then it never fit into the draft, so I moved it up to the title and it brought a new focus to the lines and offered me a way through to the ending.

So, many thanks to Charlotte for her beautiful chapbook (highly recommend) and for the inspiration.

And many thanks to all who are following the sickly speaker on her journey.

Hitting the Wall

72º ~ on our way up to 90 or so, should be that way for the foreseeable future ~ no rain today or in the next week, just endless days of "Mostly Sunny"


from Creative Commons, click for link
 Yesterday, I hit the wall.  That was day 12, and it served to remind me that brain work is tiring work.  No, I haven't been working ten hours in the heat and sun, but each day when I've finished writing and reading and commenting, I've been tired.  Yesterday, I never fully woke up.  Everything felt wrong from the get-go, and even the cats were out of sync, sleeping when we normally play and vice versa. 

So, I spent the morning trying to organize the series, make revisions, and prepare for submitting some poems.  I kept my BIC, b/c I am nothing if not stubborn.  I do have something to show for the several hours of slogging: five sets of poems divided and ready to be sent to any number of lit mags.  Back in the day, I used to send each packet to up to 10 places (those that accepted simultaneous submissions, of course); however, in the last year or so, I've lowered that number to 5, as I've had more success and sending out withdrawal notices took up so much time.

There it is, that pesky word, time.  Several of my poet-friends have brought this up recently, the time it takes to send the poems out there, the time it takes to record where the poems have gone and later the results.  It's true, in order to be successful in getting the poems out into the world where they might be read, one must devote nearly as much time to the business/secretary work as to the creative work.  Thank goodness for online and email submissions, which do seem to cut down on the minutes spent in this labor.

In order to begin the process yesterday, I had to first record the two rejections that came in over the last few weeks.  I am at a nearly all time low for having things out there, so I'm not swamped with rejections.  One of the two rejections was the typical form note on a 2-inch-square sheet of paper.  Sigh.  However, the other, was an email that included a specific comment.  The editors took the time to praise the poems (a handful of sickly speaker poems) as "highly imagined" and "interesting" but they felt like the poems needed "a title that would give the speaker's situation" more clearly.  Ahhh. 

This was a discussion I had just had with one of my poet friends who had read some of the sickly speaker poems mid-stream, but who doesn't log in and read the blog much. Her response was much the same, in that she wondered which of the poems would stand alone and which would need more context.  We had already kicked around the idea of being super selective about the grouping of poems as I sent them out into the world, and now I have this added advice from those two kind editors. 

As I work on submissions, I'm going to include an overarching title for the groups, something along the lines of "from the book-length narrative, Fever of Unknown Origin."  I'm still kicking that title around.  I'm wondering if it should be Suffering a Fever of Unknown Origin, but then I remember that some folks don't like the long titles.  I also have What Blooms Beyond the Marrow and The Alchemy of My Mortal Form, but it seems like those last two aren't clear enough for communicating the speaker's situation. 

Hmmmm, more brainwork. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Draft Process: To Taste the Sooty Tangle of her Signature

81º ~ the chance of storms removed for all but Tuesday, the sun returned, the dew point rising, a furnace of wet heat kind of day


Yesterday, I read two chapbooks during my reading time, Emma Bolden's Sad Epistles and Yosano Akiko's On the Scented Breeze, as translated by Dennis Maloney & Hide Oshiro.  The first is a series of epistolary poems, the second a series of tanka, both dealing with a similar topic, the speaker's separation from the lover.  I recommend them both.  After I finished each one, I did my sloppy wordbank in the journal, circling words and drawing arrows as interesting combinations jumped out at me.  I wondered how it would work to take words from two sources and mash them together.  Then, I had a movie date and so left the wordbank until this morning.

It was interesting coming to the wordbank this morning instead of jumping right into the poem while I built the bank.  The words still worked and perhaps even better as I had more distance on the tone of the poems from which I stole.  Today's draft returns to one of the key figures in the narrative and begins:

The woman I called mother by mistake
sends me secrets, envelopes addressed
by some other modest hand, letters arranged

in code ...

from Science Photo Library, click for link

There is an earlier poem, one that will come out in Crazyhorse soon, that references the sickly speaker receiving letters from the woman she called mother by mistake, the woman who brought her to the hospital/institution.  That was a fever poem, so I figured I could balance it with a healing poem.  It came out as seven tercets, but I'm not sure if it will remain as such.

The title is actually inspired by one of the chains I created within the wordbank with my circles and arrows.  I thought for sure that I would use it in the poem but it didn't work out that way, which was actually a blessing as I didn't have to struggle for  the title: "To Taste the Sooty Tangle of her Signature." 

I am feeling like I need to do a day of big revisions and a day of submissions but I'm loathe to drive the drafts away.  Luckily, this week is fairly free and clear in the afternoons, so hopefully, hopefully, hopefully.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Self-Imposed Homestead Writing Residency

81º ~ cloud cover thickening, interior lights required at noon in June


Many thanks to all who have been reading my draft notes.  I know that a whole string of these may become a bit stale, so I thought I'd also post some comments about my self-imposed homestead writing residency.

This is Day 10 of what I designed to be a month-long focus on writing (30 days given that this is June).  I'm amazed at the progress I've made and am beginning to see the reason many folks go to actual colonies, workshops, or residencies.  In the past, I have applied for these and been turned down repeatedly.  Sadly, for most of the summer residencies that I could attend given my teaching schedule, the application process occurs during the academic year, especially in the early spring when I have a terrible time finding the time to write let alone fill out endless and varied paperwork. 

So, this year, I took a look at the calendar and discovered that C. and I are taking our two mini-vacations in July and that June was a pretty clear page.  At first, I spoke quietly to myself of doing a draft-a-day for the month of June but I didn't really take myself too seriously, having failed at draft-a-day programs that went beyond a week or two.  I also wanted to try to read a book of poems a day if only for self-preservation as the stacks of books are getting scary in here.  As June 1 drew closer, those two goals became more firm, and after the first few days passed and I was able to both draft and read, it seemed do-able.

I've learned a few lessons. 

1. I need an alarm clock.
2. Because I am at home, there will be tasks.  These must be pushed off to the afternoon.  No early lunch dates, no more appointments with electricians and the like in the morning (notice there is no post for Tuesday, June 5).
3. I need to allow myself to take a break if the draft just isn't happening.
4. The reading seems to have been as helpful as the dedicated time to drafting.
5. Having the sickly speaker series already 2/3 underway meant no stuttering, no starts & stops. 

Remember that I have no children and a very understanding spouse.  C. and I talked about how to make this work before I started.  The system is this.  In the mornings he will assume I'm working and should not be interrupted (unless there is bleeding or swelling or some other 911 emergency).  When I come to my stopping point in drafting and blogging, I let him know.  When I'm reading, interruptions for quick questions are fine and don't bother me at all. 

The thing that has surprised me the most is that I haven't once not wanted to be here at the desk.  I haven't had to work to get my BIC (butt in chair).  I suppose this is b/c April and May were so cram packed with school stuff that I had little time to read & write, so I'm overflowing.  I wonder if this would have worked as well if I'd been writing regularly before June 1.  

Pros:
no expenses, no need to apply (time & money), access to the food I like, wear pajamas all day, access to cats and C., access to ALL of my books, my desktop computer (finally!), and my familiar view

Cons:
no networking, no in-person support and feedback from peers and instructors, no socializing

And now, to pick my book for today and move to the easy chair under a good light. (Oh my goodness, there's a light sprinkling going out out there...nothing to write home about, but still, raindrops are plinking on the leaves.)

Draft Process: Let Loose in Blue and Green

81º ~ cloud cover and humidity climbing, dew point hitting 70º ~ storms predicted for Monday - Wednesday with highs in the 90s likely ~ this the June I know


Wow. I had not expected to draft today. I overslept.  Yes, overslept.  But, wait, you say.  She's not "working" and is on her self-imposed homestead writing residency; how can she oversleep?  It turns out, despite my lack of daily responsibilities beyond the desk, I do not do well if I sleep past 7:30 or so.  Thus, I have an alarm even when I'm not having to get up and go to campus to teach.  C. finds this ridiculous and very Midwestern to his relaxed Southern ways of sleeping late and staying up even later. 

Groggy even with my coffee, I decided to take the day off from drafting and instead work on reading through the sickly speaker series and making notes on themes or images to bring back as the speaker heals.  I began.  I remembered that I still hadn't address the fact that there must be other patients there. I made a note about the wolves and geese from an early poem and the question of whether she will "escape" or "be released."  Then, whamo!, I got hit upside the head with "the courtyard" and remembered that in my delirium of struggling to the surface this morning I was thinking about a courtyard where the now healing sickly speaker is allowed to walk. 

And without willing it to happen, I started drafting a poem that combines the idea of the other patients and this courtyard. It begins:

Each day that I progress, I make some new
discovery. The fact is there are others here.

Not the most electric of openings compared to some of the others, but after describing the evidence of the other patients, the speaker moves on to describe the courtyard and her prescription of 20 minutes walking there each day. The other patients come back at the end.  This helped me find my way to the closure of the poem.  It's in a dozen couplets, and this time I didn't resist, as I've stayed away from them for the last handful of drafts.

The title was much harder.  I don't have any inspiration books on the desk since I'd cleared it off yesterday in order to set up the computer again, and I was resistant to getting up and pulling one off the shelf. That seemed like a crutch.  I wracked my brain.  I tried out some ill-fitting phrases and deleted them.  Finally, finally, my aching brain came up with "Let Loose in Blue and Green." 

The courtyard is high-walled and allows the speaker a larger square of sky than the window in her room.  Here's an image that comes close.  Imagine a carpet of lush grass at her feet.

from creativecommons.org ~ click for link
Oh, I forgot to mention that before I started reading the series from the beginning, I did a count.  For some reason, I'm fixated on balancing the # of poems into two parts: the fever & the healing.  To date, I have 20 poems of fever and 16 poems of healing (with today's draft).  I also have the 4 definition poems I've worked on in the last 10 days.  Wow!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

I was Asked to Make a List

86º ~ conditions near the same, cloud cover breaking up in the south

Earlier this week, some friends and I agreed to each make a packet containing approx. 10 poems that we love.  These are friends with whom I've talked of poetry casually, but they are not writers of poetry and so I do not know their aesthetic. 

Of course I had a terrible time creating my list, mostly in narrowing.  Eventually, I gave up and just went with the poems that floated most quickly to the top of my head.  I am sure there are others equally deserving.

Here's my list (in no particular order) and an excerpt for each poem.

Traci Brimhall ~ "Aubade with a Broken Neck"

The first night you don't come home
summer rains shake the clematis.
I bury the dead moth I found in our bed,
scratch up a rutabaga and eat it rough
 


James Wright ~ "A Blessing"


Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.


Li-Young Lee ~ "Persimmons"


Finally understanding   
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night   
waiting for a song, a ghost.   


Elizabeth Bishop ~ "One Art"


Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.


Mary Oliver ~ "In Blackwater Woods"

Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,



Pablo Neruda ~ "Sonnet XVII" ~ trans. Stephen Mitchell

and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.



Quan Barry ~ "Child of the Enemy"

from "IX. Napalm"

.......  Like all effective incendiaries,
I won’t only bloom where I’m planted.



Charles Wright ~ "1975"


Year of the Half-Hinged Mouth and the Hollow Bones,
Year of the Thorn,


Anne Sexton ~ "For My Lover, Returning to His Wife"

She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.



Maurice Manning ~ "Seven Chimeras"




The way Booth makes an orchid:
combine one bluebird with nine fencerow
pokeberries; crush together and hang
thirty yards away in half-light.


Lucie Brock-Broido ~ "Also, None of Us Has Seen God"

Old as a prehistoric furrow horse abed in awe & sediment,

Curled on his runic side, in the shape of an O broken.


Well, there you go, I went to 11.



Draft Process: Transformation, Definitive Notes from a Learned Hand

81º ~ the heat builds back, felt most in the lack of leaving the 70s at night, a chance of storms predicted for Monday, until then, no rain but rising humidity, today a bit of cloud cover to the south, blue sky to the west, the two compass points of my windows


Hallelujah!  My computer is returned and reborn with a new hard drive, after much misdiagnosis.  (Everything really does come back to the sickly speaker in the end.)  I was surprised at how much more comfortable I felt this morning with my desk cleared of everything except the folders of poems, my journal, and the dictionary, and my desktop screen greeting me with so much clarity. No clutter from the iPad, keyboard, and laptop set up.  I am a creature of habit, it is true.

The inclusion of the dictionary in my list hints at today's draft, as does the title.  I want some dictionary poems for the latter half of the series, and so far, the three I've drafted deal more with sickness than with health.  The natural turning point is the procedure that begins to heal the speaker.  I've said in the past that I don't know whether it was a transfusion or a bone marrow transplant. Here's the thing, the speaker was so sick and out of it that she doesn't know.  The speaker also has no visitors, no family/friends to record what the doctors are saying.  Over the past five years, my mother has gone to endless doctor appointments with her mother.  This began when my grandmother's hearing starting failing, despite her hearing aids, and when my mother no longer got the "straight story" from her mother.  This seems to be a truth in dealing with a serious illness.  The mind is altered by the body's sickness and it's hard to keep up with the doctor (I experienced a tiny slice of this after my recent oral surgery.)  Sadly, the sickly speaker has no one by her side to be her advocate.

Getting to the point, I turned in my Shorter Oxford first to "transfuse," thinking it would be a gold mine, and it is, if short.  However, on the facing page my eyes found "transformation" and the eureka light went on.  Using "transformation," I keep the prefix but don't have to narrow down the procedure.  Wahoo!

The poem begins:

The action of changing in form, a metamorphosis.
...........In the patient, there are two--

image from Wikimedia Commons, click for link

I have four stanzas and 22 lines, although the stanzas are all different lengths.  After those first two lines, lines three and four are indented yet again.  Like the last dictionary draft, each of the four stanzas begins with a phrase from the dictionary, but this time there is more indention and the only period in each stanza occurs in the first line, which serves like the heading in a set of notes.  The indenting within the stanzas signifies the scratch outline method of taking notes, and it is in those indented lines that I weave in the sickness & the health of the body with the more global definitions of "transformation."  There is one specific definition that applies.  "In biology. The genetic alteration of a cell by the introduction or absorption of extraneous DNA."  Are you kidding me?  That's exactly what I needed!  And a condensed version of that serves as the beginning of the fourth/last stanza. 

The title came pretty easily and happened while I was still hand-drafting in my journal, which is a bit unusual.  Usually, I don't worry about the title until I've got the whole of the thing out on the computer screen.  Not today.  Again, playing with the idea of definition, I came up with "Transformation, Definitive Notes from a Learned Hand."  In my Word document, I've used the accent that signals making Learned into two syllables....learn-ed (that last bit pronounced like the name Ed for any non-English lit majors out there).  I can't get blogger to accept the HTML to make that work out here.

Not sure if I'll get to a book today, as I have lots of paperwork that piled up when the computer was down and I want to re-read all of the series and include these newer poems so I can see where I am and where I need to go.

Thanks for accompanying me today!



Friday, June 8, 2012

Draft Process: I, Who have been Pressed and Prettied

74 deg ~ another amazing weather day, taking the trade off of no rain for these low humidity days, loving both sun and shade, the slight breeze moving the green, green leaves of June


Dear Readers, I confess I am at a loss; I'm stunned by how quickly the drafts are rolling these past two days.  A word of balance for the unknown commenter on yesterday's post ~ this draft a day thing doesn't always work out for me either, so be easy on yourself as you apply the BIC method (butt-in-chair).  In fact, I suspect there's at least one draft from this week that won't make it to the end of the race, but I do believe that the practice matters. Good luck to you and all of you who are writing!

While the sickly speaker hasn't woken me up at 3 a.m. this week, I did wake up with the spark of a poem this morning: rehabilitation.  I realized that before the sickly speaker (and I'm going to have to stop calling her that if she's healthy now!) would have to prove her health through rehabilitation before she would be released.  Again, let me stress that I'm not basing the sickly speaker on myself or any one person I know who has experienced a long-term illness.  I'm finding my way in the dark based on lots of different experiences, both mine and others.  This may trouble some readers who want to know the speaker's exact disease; it doesn't exist.  The whole series is based on a "fever of unknown origin," a diagnosis that our dear cat Lou-Lou received at about this time last summer and from which she perished in October.  No, crazy cat lady poet is not writing about her cat.  The human speaker took hold of me in August and wouldn't let go.

So, today's draft turned out to be another epistle to the speaker's mentor, "Dear Madame."  It begins after the greeting:

There is news.

I have walked the requisite number of steps
unaided. No line, no beat, no sweat

There are 11 couplets after that single line opening.  They go through the physical feats the speaker must accomplish to the satisfaction of the whitecoats who evaluate her.  The day nurse charts the results and the speaker is left, as always, having to deduce her progress as the numbers from the charts are never shared with her.  However, there's a stumbling point at the end, when she reveals that they won't consider her "healed" until she speaks and reveals the name of the woman who brought her into the hospital/institution and who will presumably come to get her (the woman she called mother by mistake and who is NOT her mentor).  The speaker is troubled and seeks advice from her mentor, although another thing we know is that the mentor never writes her back.  We question whether the mentor is real throughout the series.

Another plus about this draft for me, in addition to how quickly it formed itself in the journal pages, was that I didn't have to rely on the spark of a word bank.  Clearly, I'm not opposed to this, but I don't want to use it as a crutch.  I did, however, go back to stealing a line from someone else for the title.  The next book on my to-read stack is Rachel Zucker's Eating in the Underworld.  I flipped it open to the first poem and found the line "I, who have been pressed and prettied" and couldn't believe how well it fit the circumstance and tone of today's draft.  In this case, I didn't even tweak, I simply stole.  May the muses forgive me.

I'm feeling like I need to slow down and re-read through all the poems again as I'm moving toward some type of closure.  I do not mean to begrudge these rolling drafts or to turn them away.  Is this how a novelist feels?

And now, more delirious reading time on the deck.  I feel like I must gorge myself on these days as I know the high heat and humidity lurks in the forecast.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Draft Process: Small-Time Rapture

83 deg ~ the glorious nature continues


After I finished my earlier post for the day, I turned to re-reading Mary Ann Samyn's Beauty Breaks In. The physical evidence of the book proves that I read it last year, all dog-eared pages and underlines, but for some reason, the book was still on the to-read pile, so I thought what the heck and picked it up, knowing that Samyn has that zing of imagery and leaping language that energizes me.

As I read, the poems were familiar, although I found a few new pages to turn down, a few new lines to annotate.  This made it much easier for me to jot down the words I loved as I read along, so I built a word bank again, with the thought to using the words for tomorrow's draft.  I had a 1:00 lunch date, so I wasn't really thinking "draft."  Again, the words took over and I started drawing my arrows and circles and making connections (banging the words together until sparks flew) and when I was about 3/4 of the way through the book, a whole new sickly speaker poem was born. 

The germ started from the beginning of the book with the word "styptic," which appears in line 8 of the first poem in the book.  With the mystics heavy on my mind, the pair "mystic" - "styptic" kept rolling around in my head as I read, couldn't get them to quiet down, and eventually, I sketched out the draft.  I was reading outside without the iPad or loaner laptop, so I drafted quite a bit in my journal.  In that handwritten draft, the lines wanted to be unevenly indented with lots of white space.  When the draft petered out, I turned back to the book and finished it. 

I noticed I still had a half hour before I had to get ready for lunch, so I went inside and grabbed the iPad to draft out the poem, not wanting to give up the great weather.  As I typed, I realized that all the odd indenting didn't work, but it helped me with the phrasing as I ordered the lines back on the left margin. 

Oh!  And this is a letter poem to the sickly speaker's mentor.  For those of you just joining in, we don't know the mentor's name, but her gender, female.  She is simply addressed as "Dear Madame."  Also, this is another poem that reports on the speaker's recovering health.  It begins:

Dear Madame--

The turning point was thus:

A mystic came with a styptic gaze,
a nervy mercy in the dose
of his testimony, unabridged.

The draft is 23 lines after the greeting and moves between couplets, tercets, and single-line stanzas in no particular pattern.  The title comes from Samyn's book, from the poem "An Introduction to Devotion," which contains the line "This is small-time rapture."  Using "Small-Time Rapture" makes this one of the shortest titles in the series, but I do think it's the right phrase for what happens in the draft.

So much productivity today!  I'm happy to make up the poem I missed on Tuesday.  

Draft Process: Health, an Expanded Definition

72 deg ~ glorious morning, squirrels busy at their burying, the St. Francis of Assisi statue calm among the ivy and the shadow, a mockingbird and a cardinal dueling somewhere close


Today's draft returns to the dictionary definition inspirations I mentioned here and here.  (For those following the sickly computer, there is hope for its recovery, but I'm using a substitute laptop until we know for sure, so I'm returning to the ability to link in my posts...wahoo!)

But back to the draft notes.  I do like the idea of these definition poems with the more distant point of view as interludes to break up the sickly speaker's narrative.  I wonder about her voice becoming a whine, about her constant obsession with her illness becoming a burden on the reader.  These are the same worries I know we experience when we work through long-term illnesses and unburden ourselves by talking, talking, talking with family and friends, so I'm not too worried.  Still, I'd like to offer the reader a break every now and then, a little bench off the path where he/she can catch a breath.

Today, thinking toward the end of the series, I flipped to "health" in my Shorter Oxford and the lines began almost immediately.  There's a slightly different form to this one, though.  The two previous dictionary drafts are threaded through with phrases from the entries.  Today, I've used the four main definitions as the starting place for four sections of the poem.  Right now it isn't broken into stanzas, but the elaborations on the four main definitions are indented.  So, given that "health" has a fairly short entry, I was able to elaborate and make something of it.  Wahoo!  The draft begins:

Sound condition of the body
...........as in able to lift the wet laundry
...........and pin it to the horizon line;

For each of the four parts of the definition, I've added six lines expanding the definition to fit the sickly speaker's reality but without using the first-person.  Ahem...she tried to butt into the draft at the beginning.  In fact, in my journal where I draft by hand the beginnings of all my poems, I spy that pesky "I" several times.  As I drafted on the computer, I had to throw her out b/c I really do want these definition poems to be separate from her poems.

If you've been doing the math, you know that the poem comes in at 28 lines.  I'm debating whether to separate into four stanzas, but I like the way the form mimics the form in the dictionary right now...no room for extra white space there.  As for the title, I went round and round with this one.  In this case, I can't steal from someone else b/c I want the title to point to the dictionary.  After much tweaking, I came up with "Health, an Expanded Definition."

The desk of the Kangaroo with today's poem & post in progress.
 And now, I plan to read my book for today while sitting on the back deck and enjoying the last of this cup of coffee.