Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day Fourteen: Draft-a-Day

91 deg at 10:15 a.m ~ mostly sunny, very little breeze to speak of, a thunderstorm last night that brought some rain

Day Fourteen: Dear Reader, we've reached the finish line!  Woo Hoo.

Last night, I noticed a photography book I had purchased back in April but hadn't had time to really delve into.  I placed it on my desk with the intention of it serving as my inspiration for today's poem.  That's a bit more premeditation than I usually resort to, but I knew today would be my last day and the temptation to skip the writing would be even stronger than yesterday.

The book is Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild by Michael Forsberg with essays by Dan O'Brien, David Wishart, and Ted Kooser.  The University of Chicago Press published this in 2009.  Knowing that many people have differing definitions of the plains and the prairie, I first checked this book out from the public library to see if it had anything about Iowa in it.  The book is divided into three major sections: the northern plains, the southern plains, and the tallgrass prairies.  The last third of the book does indeed contain information on my homeland, so I went ahead and invested in it.  I'm glad I did.  Forsberg's photography is amazing, and the quality of the production is worth the price tag on the book.  The essays are rich and nuanced, well-written, too.

But what it's all about today is the poem.  I started by flipping through the book and reading the captions that accompanied the photographs and skimming the essays for now.  Every once in a while a phrase would sing out to me (i.e. "following the prairie bloom" and "kettles of Sandhill cranes") and I'd jot it down in my notebook with an attribution if I took it from one of the essays.  Eventually, I drafted six lines based on a picture of Sandhill cranes roosting on the Platte River during their migration.  Sadly, these never rose beyond pure description.  There was no heft to them.

I moved on and became transfixed by an image of a northern harrier at her nest.  In fact, I was able to find nearly the exact image from the book, available on MF's website, link through the image and here.  The image of the northern harrier soaring is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and taken by Frank Schleicher, link through the image and here.  Again, I started with description in part from the photograph and in part from the details provided by the Cornell Lab's website.  These lines too failed to lift off.  It was only when I combined some of these lines with some of the inspiration phrases from the book that I got something going.  The draft is called "Prairie Conflict" and addresses one of my main internal dilemmas.  I am an advocate for restoring the native prairie and plains and protecting all the plant and animal species that have been decimated by agriculture; however, agriculture is what makes the economy of the Midwest run.  It's what supports my parents and my family, even though they are now removed from agriculture as their primary means of income.  Frankly, the towns of the Midwest live and die by the success or failure of the farmers that surround them.  So, in some ways this is a political poem for me, but the issue isn't black or white.  The poem focuses on the harrier, a species that has come back from being endangered, its recovery in large part due to conservation efforts.  And the poem also acknowledges the value of farming.  It's true that farmers and hunters are often the best conservationists, but the world's hunger and the expansion of cities seem to be growing at a rate that eclipses even the best efforts of conservation.  Perhaps this is more of an essay topic, but for now, it's a poem.  My favorite lines of which are: "A northern harrier hunts on the wing and haunts / the air with a piercing, descending scream."

So, that's that.  I now have 12 drafts to show for my two weeks of purposeful writing.  This is the first time I've ever imposed an assignment like this on myself.  It makes me wonder.  I've spent lots of my writing time in the past drafting lines and crossing them out and not producing anything, happy to come up with a viable draft once a week.  What would happen if I imposed this assignment on myself each time I sat down for writing time: no email, no blogs, nothing else until you get a draft on paper.  I still worry about the material being forced.  I also will need revision time and time to read more, which this drafting has cut into.  As always I come back to balance...something it seems I'll always be searching for in every area of my life.

A huge THANK YOU to all of you, Dear Readers, for taking this journey with me and providing your support.  I probably could have done it without knowing you were out there, but I bet it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, and I might have drifted off the plan more easily with no one there to hold me accountable.


Anne Greenwood said...

Just as I was reading this, I could hear the piercing scream of our resident pair of Cooper's hawks.

It's a dangerous day out there for chickens.

By the way, I'm both proud and envious of you, draft-churner!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Wow, are fast. I just posted this! Love your comments, btw: a dangerous day for chickens indeed. (The northern harrier has been known to drown ducks and!)

Thanks for the praise as well. :)

Erin Lynn Marsh said...

This was such a great journey! Congratulations on reaching the end and you have inspired me to try this myself.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Erin! I'm humbled to be your inspiration. And, you've asked others to join you, right. That was smart. Next year, you'll be my inspiration!

Patricia Lockwood said...

I love reading along with people's writing challenges. It makes me feel like we're all scribbling away in adjoining tiny cells in some huge hive.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Great analogy, Tricia. Thanks for stopping by.