Well, Dear Reader, I did get my draft done this morning (and much praise to all of you who are joining the November-Poem-a-Day response to National Novel Writing Month...I can never keep the acronyms straight). Today was definitely a bit of a mess in more ways than one. Let me try to give a faithful account of how this draft, "The Making of a Pious Man," came about.
Twice this week, fellow poet-friends said "there's a poem in that!" to something I said. Many of you may know that I'm not really the kind of poet who works this way. I don't carry a notebook with me to write down my observations and phrases. I've tried that method a lot, but failed. In fact, one of my first poetry instructors, S. Eva Hooker, taught us this technique because she only had a half day on Fridays to work on poetry. She called these written notes her 'poem seeds.' I love the idea of this and wish I could work this way. Instead, I rely on another method taught to me by an art instructor, a monk whose name I've forgotten (poor sieve-brain!), as I only took the one art class in college. In any case, he told us that artists of all genres have these extra antennae attached to our heads, like those deely-bopper headbands that kids wear when they are playing bugs in the school recital. Anyway, these antennae serve to collect images, colors, phrases, impressions all day long and these go into a type of holding cell to be called up when we need them. This ties in with Natalie Goldberg's idea of the compost heap of words and images that she describes in Writing Down the Bones.
1. On Monday, I saw a student on campus who was quite far along in a pregnancy, to the point where her belly button was showing through her sweater. (I love this!) This led me to think about umbilical cords and how the first evolving humans figured out that they needed to be cut. When I got back to the office, I asked one of my mother-colleagues about the procedure surrounding the umbilical cord at birth and then told her why I was asking. At one point she speculated about early humans watching animals gnaw through the umbilical cord. Who know if we came to a correct anthropological conclusion? Then she said, "there's a poem in that Sandy. Go write it!"
2. Yesterday, I was talking with another colleague and poet about my grandfather who died a few years ago and I said, "He was a pious man, if not always kind." She said, "that sounds like a line for a poem." Then we both realized at the same moment that it scanned. The line I've written here is not exact, because the line we scanned was perfect iambic pentameter, and this one isn't. I should have listened to her and written it down right then.
To add more to the mess, y'all know I went to hear C.D. Wright read on Tuesday night. Her book is about a horrible time in history for Arkansas, attempts at integration in the 60's. At the same time, the book also talks about the death of her friend who fought this righteous battle against racial discrimination and some of the poems spoke about the woman's dying (which happened about six years ago, if I'm remembering correctly). Somehow, this triggered a memory of my grandfather's deathbed and the minister coming in to recite The Lord's Prayer with us and I wrote a little note in my journal alongside my impressions of Wright's poems. My note says "Grpa - death priest umbilical cord C. gnawing it." (By the way, most of my family call their clergy 'minister.' I know I revert to 'priest' b/c it seems to hold more weight and for me does not necessarily mean Catholic or any other denomination of Christianity, but the holy person of the community.)
So, when I woke up this morning all happy and shiny because it was drafting day, I thought, no sweat, I've already got the idea for a poem. Let me tell you, it was not that easy. I had to wrestle this one to the ground. I went off on tangents. I scribbled horrible lines. Then two things happened: 1) I let go of trying to worry about the early women giving birth and the mess of the umbilical cord and 2) I let go of the facts about my own grandfather and just imagined an incredibly pious man and what might have made him this way.
Magically, the poem grew from there. It begins and ends with images of the umbilical cord as it follows this pious man from birth to death, but it does this in 22 lines. I'm nothing if not concise.