Changing Poems for a Thesis: “Cleveland, Ohio, 1964”

On Thursday, I had a meeting with my thesis adviser which has had me thinking for days. I noticed that I use “mouth” or one of its synonyms in nearly all of my poems, so I mentioned this to him.

(Some examples:

“…not girls that would become
dreamless mouths, disaffected burdens.”

“When her mate took off for an old mud nest
above the maw of a drainage pipe…”

“François goes walking one evening,
the honeysuckle as sweet as Mrs. Berkley’s tongue,
her mouth as lovely as a daffodil…”

“The trail down past the river birches always muddy,
the ground flecked with sheets of the trees’ skin,
my mother always calling my name at the mouth
of the path as I pedaled and pedaled.”)

He told me about Maura Stanton’s poetry book, Snow on Snow, that won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize in 1975. She noticed she had written a lot of poems that included the word “snow,” so she went back in and added snow to her other poems and then titled her book by that. It’s an interesting concept that was successful for her.

He also suggested I stick to the myths: either by creating my own or building off the Greek ones.

One such option is to change the title of the poems and fiddle around with them.

This poem was published in September 2011 under the name “Cleveland, Ohio, 1964.”

The automobile plants
insure the snow
falls like ash,
clumps like thick spiderwebs
in the drainage gulleys,
in the eyes of the manhole covers.

The town is aging;
most of the young women leave
in search of men
without gnarled thumbs,
blackened fingers,
a mild deafness sure
to grow worse.

Each year,
another graduated class:
clean-collared boys
needing jobs
sign up at the plant.
Soon, they all walk
home together in the evenings,
silted to their bones.

My mother and her four sisters,
pale blue eyed, blond haired women,
too fresh to have shocks
of gray at their temples,
look as delicate and lovely
as crocuses emerging from snow.

By changing those final 2 lines to “emerge as delicate and lovely/as crocuses from snow,” it makes it sound more like a creation myth. From there, choosing a title like “A Creation Myth” makes that jump to something that both fits along with the myth aspect of my thesis as well as includes the industrial language I so enjoy using. The final poem, with just those changes would be the following:

“A Creation Myth”

The automobile plants
insure the snow
falls like ash,
clumps like thick spiderwebs
in the drainage gulleys,
in the eyes of the manhole covers.

The town is aging;
most of the young women leave
in search of men
without gnarled thumbs,
blackened fingers,
a mild deafness sure
to grow worse.

Each year,
another graduated class:
clean-collared boys
needing jobs
sign up at the plant.
Soon, they all walk
home together in the evenings,
silted to their bones.

My mother and her four sisters,
pale blue eyed, blond haired women,
too fresh to have shocks
of gray at their temples,
emerge as delicate and lovely
as crocuses from snow.

There’s a pretty big change that happens when 1.) the title is changed and 2.) those last lines. There is definitely more that could be done to this poem to make it more of a “creation” myth, to have these women arise from the landscape like Aphrodite from the waves, but I feel like the above is a good start.

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