Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Drafting: Feeling Groovy

41º ~ a low last night of 37, the little heater working in the office this morning, brilliant, late October light through a less dense scrim of leaves, there's raking to be done this weekend

Yes, Yes, Dear Reader, today was a blissful drafting day.  I feel in the zone more than I've been in a month and a half ~ able to relax and let the morning unfold on its own terms.  Perhaps this is because I'm in a momentary lull at work.  No new papers to grade until Monday!  ~ Just a few hours of work on the horizon for the weekend.  After I finished this morning's draft, I was overcome by a feeling I can only describe as "groovy."  I confess, I used to watch Ally McBeal, and I loved the idea that her therapist suggested she come up with her own theme song.  Being the multi-tasker that I am, I have many theme songs, but the one I call to the front when life gets overwhelming is Simon & Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song."  It's the one that begins: "Slow down, you move too fast. / You got to make the morning last."  And here's another confession, I often rush too quickly through life in my attempt to cross yet another item off my to-do list.  This song reminds me that isn't the goal.  Also, that rushing is detrimental to drafting a poem.

a view from my southern window
Today, before I started drafting I needed to back up the computer (an item on my to-do list), and as I was setting up the external hard drive, I knocked a book off my poetry shelves.  It was Elegy by Larry Levis. I had been reminding myself that this morning was drafting time ever since I'd gotten up.  My mind tends to wander and try to solve problems/ prep for tasks from school and other areas of my life and I actually have to forcibly remind it to wander in the direction of poetry when I get tangled up in other issues.  This is all part of my practice of putting poetry as high on my priority list as my paying job.  In any case, when Elegy came loose from the shelf, I thought, "ah, I'll start today by looking at someone else's poems that I love."  I love Larry Levis, but another voice called more strongly:  Quan Barry. 

In 2002, I took a trip out to Colorado to visit some friends.  This would have been the summer between my third and fourth year of my MFA program.  There is an amazing bookstore in Denver, The Tattered Cover, that has a delicious poetry section.  While I was there, I spent several hours, slowly browsing the contemporary poetry.  Quan Barry's book, Asylum, leapt out at me from the start, in part because of the gorgeous cover.  Once I read the first poem, I knew it was going home with me.  It turned out to be a touchstone book for me in my last year of my program and has continued to hold up each time I return to it.  This book is filled with poems that explore the dual experience of Barry's heritage: Vietnamese-American.  The poems have that tensile strength that I strive for in my own work and the images, oh my, the images.  I only dream of reaching such heights. 

So I began again at the beginning of the book and started reading.  I was immediately sucked back in and for a brief moment, I worried I might have made a bad choice b/c her work is so intimidatingly good.  But then, after reading for a half hour or so, I reached one of my favorite poems, "Lullaby."  This is an epistolary prose poem that is annotated and contains footnotes, so there are multi-layered speakers on the page.  I've always loved the intricacy of this.  Barry also manages to weave a nineteenth century influenced style with a twenty-first century style, creating a spark to her syntax.  Something else I've long-admired in her work. 

As several lines began to form in my journal ("Once, we forged in fallen oaks and a field of sunflowers gone wild..."), I suddenly saw how I might adapt Barry's form from "Lullaby" into my own work.  It's true, I must confess, that some of the emotional weight seeped into my poem as well.  "Lullaby" is a letter from the speaker to some dangerous lover, and my draft "Love Letter with the Stamp Not Cancelled" contains the same basic situation...a forbidden lover; however, my letter is annotated by the speaker's father after her death.  Also, I haven't used the prose poem form.  And while Barry's poem is steeped in her own mythology, mine is controlled by the forces of the prairie.  I hope that it is an homage and that it also stands on its own.  Time shall tell.

For now, there are revisions to be done on older drafts and another look in store for the current manuscript as the next round of contest deadlines looms.

Enjoy the late October light.


Kathleen said...

Happy Groovy Friday. Loved the account of your reading as well as your drafting!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen. Hope you are well.