Draft Report: Woven Together (plus a few odds and ends)

I'm cheating a little bit here because, although I did spend some time writing this morning, I didn't actually come up with a new draft. Lots of free writes, not lots of poems (this phraseology comes from how I used to prefer my toast when I was a kid: "Lotsa butter, not lotsa peanut butter, please!"). But last week I did draft and didn't have the time, or the presence of mind, to write about it here, and I used a method I've had good success with so wanted to share it.

It's called the "Cut-and-Shuffle" and you can find it on page 114 of The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. The rules are that you write out two separate prose pieces of 10 or 12 lines, one depicting a quiet or physically inactive scene and the other depicting a physically active or emotionally charged scene. I don't always follow the rules exactly, but I've had good results with this when I have a couple of unrelated things lodged in my brain that seem to want to be connected.

The two things that were lodged in my brain were thus: I've been in and out of doctors' offices a lot this winter as I've tried to fight off the germ of the week, and at my last visit the doctor, speaking of my chronic illness, said, "Your disease is still ripening." I took him to mean that we may not yet be seeing its full face, its full effect on my body. Not a real happy thought, but the phrase wouldn't leave my mind.  That's thing one.

Thing two is a story I came across at a local museum, about the people of a prairie town building a chapel in honor of the Virgin Mary as the terrible locust infestations of the 1870s were in full swing. I am Catholic, so I've seen people's devotion to the Virgin Mary up close all my life. But I was still amazed by this story: people fighting for their lives and livelihoods finding the time, the money, and the energy to build a little church in the hopes it would turn their fortunes.

When one popped into my thoughts, so would the other in turn. I knew my brain wanted to connect the two, but I didn't know why. Enter the Cut-and-Shuffle.

The resulting draft is a poem alternating between what the doctor says, and the patient's thoughts which flash to scenes of the locust plague and the chapel. I did a little bit of research before writing the poem, and pulled anecdotes in: livestock being eaten alive, and a little boy who gathered locusts for 3 cents a bushel. I also borrowed Jennifer Richter's trick (discussed here) of using the second person / "you." And as I often do, I looked at the etymology of important words; this time chapel. It comes from the Latin meaning "a small cape" which gave me this little bit of the poem:

... You sigh / against the hollow cheeks of the farm wives. / Their husbands are building a chapel to the Virgin / Mary, an offering, a small cape of prayer / for their burdened shoulders ...

and also helped me get to the issue of protection in the poem, the way a sick mother feels unable to protect her children. I hope the result is an effective weaving of the two scenes. I'm also excited because, even though I've lived in this prairie state for almost 14 years, this is the first time I've told one of its stories in a poem. So, despite today's dead ends and a few weeks of my regular writing schedule being in a jumble, I'm glad to have this one in my "Active Work" folder.

And as for odds and ends, some of my time this morning was spent updating the status of the few submissions I have out there. One rejection from a newer, smaller journal I'd hoped to have a chance with - bummer.  One note from a journal that basically said they hadn't rejected me yet ("your submission has been read once and passed on to the next step in our editorial process"). I thought it was nice of them to bother with an update. And happily, one acceptance from a new journal called Adanna, due out this summer. Hooray for that!


Gerry said...

I find it most interesting to watch you making poetry. You've given me a good idea for a piece of my very prosaic project. Cut and shuffle, eh? I can do that.

I think it's odd your doctor would refer to your illness in that particular way. It's a construction often applied to cataracts, as those must reach the proper stage for surgery to be effective. But applied to a chronic illness . . . ??? So I'm thinking it might be interesting to tell Dr. X exactly what you took him to mean and ask him if that is, in fact, what he meant. Then you could either discuss the uses of metaphor or the practical implications, your choice. ;)

I really like "cape of prayer."

Congratulations on the acceptance at Adanna, and the encouragement from the other journal.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Sorry to hear about the doctor's news, but I'm so glad that you made a poem of it. And to weave in the story of the chapel is awesome. Can't wait to read the poem after you gave us that teaser.

Molly said...

Gerry, I'm glad you can find some use in your work for tricks of the poetry trade.

My one and only thought when my doc said what he said was, "Well, he just totally ruined the word 'ripen' for me." You know what I think of when I hear 'ripen' -- yes, sitting out on the front porch with plum juice dripping down my chin. Well, now there's a competing image. And I'm not happy about it. Perhaps I should ask him to be careful about what words he's going to ruin for me in the future :).

Thanks for the congratulations.

Molly said...

Sandy, yes it felt good to make a poem of it. A small victory. Glad you liked the teaser & thanks as always for reading.