Drafting the Mail Order Bride

"June Brides" -- 12 mail order brides from England arrive in the US
In this post I wrote about a series of poems that is unfolding for me, centered around the character of the Mail Order Bride. I now have six MOB drafts, each of which came to the page in slightly different ways, but for all of them the title came first. The title, saying its name out loud, in a voice of certainty:

"The Mail Order Bride in Winter"
"The Mail Order Bride Sets Up House, Feels a Tremor"
"The Mail Order Bride Attempts a Letter Home"
"The Mail Order Bride Learns to Tie Knots"
"The Mail Order Bride Empties"

I almost always draft in my notebook, then type up the draft on my computer. For me, there is something in the physical act of writing on a page that feels important. But in the case of the Mail Order Bride poems, only one was drafted in my notebook.

My drafts almost always come in a sudden rush. As it skitters down the page, my hand tries to keep up with my brain, the words pouring forth. But the Mail Order Bride poems have, for the most part, come slowly and carefully onto the screen.

I don't know what this means, probably nothing. But it has been interesting to me, to proceed slowly, to roll words and lines over in my head, then place them on the page/screen. I have had to be patient, to wait for the words, to craft them slowly instead of in a wild rush. The Mail Order Bride appears to be an intentional soul.

On Friday, another title came to me: "The Mail Order Bride Abides." I played around with word banks. I used up four pages in my notebook with false starts. Finally, I grabbed onto one line: "This is the season that taught me foothold." A poem began to attach itself to this line:

This is the season that taught me
foothold, to swing the slender blade

of self into loose soil, to gain fragile purchase,
be sapling, be sail.

It went from there, slow and halting. It was painful -- everything I tried petered out after these opening lines. Line after line in my notebook crossed out with "Ugh!" written in the margin. Eventually I sensed it was important to capitalize on the ideas of foothold and gaining purchase. I did a bit of looking around online for climbing terms, and decided to string them throughout the poem. I fell in love with the word abseil. I left the physical page for the blank screen and tried to be patient as the draft unfolded slowly. Abseil made its way into the final stanza.

I'm not sure what to make of the slow, intentional lines that gather under a particular title. It's a new way of working for me, but since the Mail Order Bride is insistent on being heard, I'm going along with it.

(Photo is public domain from the Library of Congress).


Sandy Longhorn said...

Cool draft process. Looking forward to reading the finished poems. Thanks for sharing!

Gerry said...

It's almost frightening, isn't it, to be given such riches--on loan and with conditions. Maybe that's why you're feeling your way forward, examining each gift before opening it, listening carefully to hear if it's ticking. I'm looking forward to reading the finished poems too.

Shaun said...

Wow, your first lines give me chills. (Well, it's cold here too.) I love the idea of gaining a foothold that you are following and how you are fleshing it out.

CitricSugar said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one who right "Ugh" in the margins...

Thanks for sharing your process. I am enjoying the MOB bits.

Molly said...

Yes, Gerry, it is a bit frightening. I'll be sure to alert you and Sandy if the MOB ever sees the light of day in a journal.

Chills are good, chills are very good.

'Ugh' -- oft-used.

Thanks for reading everyone.