Saturday, June 27, 2015

Draft Process: And Did the Country Grieve

79º ~ the thunder, lightning, and rain rolled through last night, taking away our heavy heat and leaving a three-day respite (predicted) ~ one confirmed baby robin in the nest, waiting to see if others will grow large enough to be seen above the rim

Dear reader, as you know I've embarked on my key writing time, and I have to say that it's been a rough week. But, I knew it would be. These muscles are long out of shape. So, I've been at the desk each morning, going through my routine and doing lots of "At this moment..." writing. You may recognize this as my BIC method (Butt-In-Chair).

I've also been thinking a lot about my fall classes while I've been going about the rest of my days. This dovetailed with my cutting up of magazines for my collage work. Sometime in May, I started pulling out pages of text from the magazines/newspapers/books that I was cutting up. (In the past, pages of text were not important and I simply recycled them.) I've got a box that is about 9" x 11" and about 8" tall, where I collect these pages of text, all with the idea of using them for student exercises, as places to gather words without context.

Given that I've been struggling to come up with drafts, I thought I'd give it a try myself today, perhaps spurred on by my recent discovery of two copies of Wine Enthusiast from a decade ago. In the back of these magazines, there are pages and pages of ranked wines with descriptions, and oh, the descriptions are divine...if you skip the abstractions.

So, today, I tried something new, inspired first by the wine descriptions. Instead of just gathering words, I gathered three- to five-word phrases. I think I've shied away from phrases before as a way of avoiding copying too closely the original. However, as part of my new "assignment," I told myself I could only gather five phrases from each excerpt, and I would use five excerpts from vastly different sources. Thus, my first use of a phrase bank rather than a word bank.

Today I used:
Wine Enthusiast descriptions of wine
a page from a National Geo. article on photography in the mountains as scientific instrument (or some such...I'm not reading for content)
a page from an Oxford American essay about a deteriorating house and music
two newspaper articles, one on some political scandal and one on the drought in Texas

With great fervor, I scanned the pages, working best when I disrupted the regular left-to-right, up-down reading by starting lower left and letting my eye skim the page, backwardsish. A sample of what I collected:

agile on the tongue
the wild Greek hymn
accept secret donations
documenting the shifting landscape
curved blades jut out
first whiffs discover
the house collapsed

In the meantime, prior to this, I'd scribbled "And did the drowning boy pray?" in my journal. This is a line from the short story "The Onion" by Jeffrey Ihlenfeldt in Quiddity 7.2, which I'd been reading at the start of my desk time. I liked the way the form of the question could result in so many answers beyond yes or no. I wondered if I could use it in a poem.

And then, I heard "And did the country grieve?" in my head. Of course, with all of the turmoil in our country lately around racially-motivated violence, the events in Charleston have been right at the front of my brain. As soon as I had the question, I wrote it down and it became the title. The draft begins:

The shifting landscape stilled
in the surge of a wild hymn
sprung from throats more used
to dry conditions. Ancient words,

Right away as I drafted, I saw the need to manipulate the phrases I'd captured and re-work them for the poem, but it was a great spark to get me started. And while the draft doesn't mention Charleston or other recent events by name, it does attempt to get at my emotions surrounding such tragedies. I had no idea when I sat down today, that I'd come up with this draft. This, this is the joy of writing for me, the discovery.

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