Yesterday, I picked up one of the drafts I had written about writing here and worked on it. I was originally not very pleased with this draft, but going back through it again, I discovered there was a lot more to it. What I do a lot of in my own poetry is find a weird premise that excites me, write the framework for that, and then step away from it. I only come back to a draft when I think I have a sense of a human relationship that can go along with the premise.
Jim Shepard (I just discovered that he and I have the same blog theme. ha!) does this a lot in his short stories. He gets fascinated by scientific things: exploring volcanoes, the history of the guillotine, etc. Then he researches them to death (the backs of his books always include a hefty works cited). Somewhere in his research (which he talked about at the Southern Festival of Books) he discovers something about the human experience that he builds around that scientific topic. The “weird premise” or “scientific topic” becomes something that influences the action, but is really in the background, while the human connection is the foreground.
For me, my poem started out with a line from Parks and Recreation: “That stuff could melt the shell off a garden snail.” I had an idea pretty immediately about what it might like to be a child with this strange sort of potion that could melt the shells off of things, to see a turtle without its shell, etc. When I looked at the draft again yesterday, I thought about what it might be like for a father to watch his daughter doing this, melting the shells off of snails, turtles. All of the animals in my poem die without their shells, so a normal parent would rush out and stop the child from using the stuff. But then I wondered what scenario would make a parent not rush out to stop the child. So, what if the girl’s mother had just died? The father doesn’t know how to help her with her grief and doesn’t want to stop her if it’s helping her, so he starts doing it with her.
It starts with,
“Her father watches her line up snails on the porch railing.
The poison she uses melts the shell off of each,
leaving them like tongues without their bed of palate.”
I’m still working on how to bridge the metaphor of the animals needing a shell to live and the daughter needing something of the same, but right now, I’m enjoying the language I’m playing with and the fantasy. I’ll see where it goes!