Today's Draft: Recipe For a Poem

My experience is that the best way to get a poem on paper is to sit your butt down in the chair and write, and to do this often.  In other words, there is no substitute for time-with-butt-in-chair if one wishes to be a productive writer.  But every now and then the Muse (or the Universe, or the Thin Air, or whatever you want to call it) will drop a few lines in my ear while I'm going about the business of my day.  When I'm smart, I take the time to jot the lines down.  And sometimes, just sometimes, when I go back to those lines and try to make a draft out of them, it works.

Constraints help, too.  If I sit down and think to myself, I'm going to write a poem today, I usually get nowhere.  If, instead, I say I'm going to write a sonnet set on the lakeshore and it will contain these 10 words, then I'll probably get somewhere.

This week, the combination of given words, time-with-butt-in-chair, and constraints brought forth a draft.

The given words were thus:

It is warm.  Twenty
degrees.  A thousand
miles down the map
you wake alone.

Ok.  I jotted those down on Thursday, I think, and then went back to being a Mom Trying to Write.

Now on to constraints:

Yesterday I was reading the po-blogs and came across Sandy's process notes in which she described trying different titles to drive a draft-in-progress.  I decided to try titling the poem before drafting the rest of it to see where it would lead me (normally, I draft a poem first, then title it).  I chose the title "Letter to My Husband Away on Business."  As you can well imagine, the draft would have gone very different places if I had titled it "Letter to My Daughter Twenty Years From Now" or "Letter to My Uncle, Post-Stroke" or "Letter to a Gravestone in Rockford, Michigan."  And yet any of these titles might have worked with the given words (hmmmmm....... I guess I have my next few drafts titled already).

The next constraint came from the Poets & Writer's The Time Is Now prompt for last week.  Amongst other things, it suggested writing about something "you're afraid to write about in your own poems, either because it's too personal, or because you feel it's a cliche."  Marriage is first on my list in that category, illness comes second.  Given the title I'd chosen, it made sense to write about marriage.

The third constraint was self imposed: I decided this would be a lyric (what I think of as a "catalog of images poem") and not a narrative poem.  In a narrative poem, the poet tells a story.  In a lyric poem, the poet presents various images for a purpose.  It is a less direct way of saying something, and gets more to a state of feeling or state of mind than a narrative does.  And it always has me shaking in my boots because what if the catalog of images I choose isn't working for a purpose, or not one that is discernible to a reader?

Then came the butt-in-chair time.  All morning.

So, here's my recipe for today's draft:
1.  Take a few given words.
2.  Choose a title.
3.  Choose a subject you're afraid to write about.
4.  Choose a mode you're uncomfortable writing in.
5.  Sit your butt down in your chair and write.
Yield: 1 draft

In my draft, the given words remained the same and stayed at the top of the page.  The images roll through a blouse, moths, ghosts, sleeves, children snuggled in bed, a robin in a cedar tree, a house at night, a hill, the moon.  The end is a plea:  come soon / they're calling for thaw.  I am back and forth on line breaks and punctuation, and we'll see where this one goes as I continue to work on it.

Next I spent some time on revising recent drafts.  Let me tell you, Reader, I am still no good at true revision, at re-seeing a poem.  I'm thinking of self-designing a Revision Boot Camp, of developing a Recipe for Revision:  Take these five poems, do each of these five things to each poem.  Yield: five new drafts of each poem, and who knows but one might actually go somewhere?

By the way, if you are the creative type and need a recipe to get going every now and then, may I introduce you to Gerry's Gently Used Ideas Store?  She posts a prompt-a-day, and in her wisdom does not limit it to the writers of the world, but to any of us who wish to create anything for fun or "for serious" (as my kids like to say).

Happy creating to you, Reader.


Gerry said...

Thank you for the link. I'm having fun with the Store.

If I'd had those "ingredient words" fall in my ear I would have added one word from the pantry and used them without further ado. You will come up with something much better made. I am a lazy writer. At least both of us recognize excellent words when we find them!

Molly said...

Gerry, you're welcome and thanks for the vote of confidence. Some of the words that find their way into my ear are begged, borrowed or stolen, or otherwise previously encountered. As I wrote today I thought those words "a thousand miles down the map" felt familiar. I dug through books. Indeed, they are Fleda Brown's from her poem "Letter Home." She does it even better though: "You, love, a thousand miles down the map, many turns." Ah well, another end note in my someday-book. :)
P.S. I don't believe that you are a lazy writer(!) and thanks for reading

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Molly. Enjoyed reading about your process.

Molly said...

Thanks for reading, Sandy, and for the title tip.