Drafting: “Kennedy”

I have written at least a poem every week for the last fourteen weeks, and that’s pretty amazing. I’ve gotten so used to doing it that even though the rough draft for my thesis is nearly through, I’ve submitted all the poems I need to for my workshop class, and I could be relaxing, I still got up this morning and had an idea for one.

Richard Tillinghast talks about keeping an “avenue for inspiration” in his interview in The Pinch coming out in Spring 2012. If we regularly keep in touch with our own poetry or at least read a little poetry every day, we open up that avenue to get inspired. That’s part of the reason why I schedule writing time for myself. I’m just there, hanging out, and I can either read or write, but I gotta do something related to craft. I find that I’m more inspired to write in these times. I seem to have clearer ideas, and I can get them on the page succinctly.

Today’s draft actually got inspired by my mother. I was born on Thanksgiving and the day of JFK’s assassination, both details that have always amused me. My mother told me last night that the day I was born she was watching replays of JFK’s fateful drive on television since it was the twenty-first anniversary of his death.

I recently read a creative nonfiction piece in Gulf Coast by Lorraine Doran (which is now up on their website! Read it read it!). It begins with describing how the author was born and how her family doctor happened to be the son of William Carlos Williams. It’s a wonderful opening. What writer doesn’t wish they were birthed by William Carlos Williams or his progeny?

It got me thinking about creative nonfiction as a genre. I’ve shied away from it for a long time, choosing fiction and fictionalized poetry instead, but there’s something so evocative and fun in the experimental CNF we published in The Pinch and what others are now publishing.

Because I was already thinking about birth, when my mother told me that little snippet of what she was watching on TV the day I was born, I started thinking about how strange it would be to have a child and then be holding it while watching a president get shot and bob around while his wife panics.

The poem begins:

“Kennedy has been dead twenty-one years.
My mother, a younger semblance of herself,
holds me, a cocoon of pink.”

Robert Lowell has a poem with the line, “These are the tranquilized Fifties and I am forty.”  In that line, he situates himself in a larger world and time period and then makes it personal by relating his own age. I plan on playing in a similar way with this poem. The president being shot is a much larger issue, but it affected so many people personally. My own father told me he knows exactly where he was when he heard, and he was just 9 years old. JFK’s death has shadowed my birthday since I can remember. It’s always been strange to see the commemorations to him and the replay of his fateful drive every year. The important thing about political poetry (and all its forms) that Tillinghast discusses is that it must be personal to be effective; we must find a way to connect on an individual level, so it doesn’t remain in abstract.

What happened on the day you were born? What about it was political or poetic or tragic?

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3 thoughts on “Drafting: “Kennedy”

  1. Happy birthday.

    For a second there I thought you were saying you were born in 1963 and I was about to be shocked! : )

    Mount St. Helens erupted on my birthday, when I was in the first grade. My mom was born on the 10-year anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    The Doran link works, but I think you have the wrong mag url in the previous link.

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