Drafting: “On Our Anniversary”

I look forward to reading Linebreak every week. They publish a new poem, read by a poet, and they are always stellar. Linebreak’s  aesthetic is also clearly lyrical, and I love the fun play that can go on in those types of poems. This week, Molly Spencer‘s poem “The Mail Order Bride Abides” is up. A previous poem she published inspired me to write my “Persephone Writes to Her Mother” poem.

Today, I tried a technique employed by Sandy Longhorn, my go-to blog for help with drafting. She sometimes makes word banks from poems. I knew I wanted to write another “To Zeus” poem, probably from the point of view of Hera, but I wanted it to be more lyrical, so having some words taken from Spencer’s poem could help me try to combine some disjointed images. I chose “season”, “sewn”, “loaned”, “years”, “chamber”, “oak”, “basin”, “steady”, and “bed”. Then I started combing through the myths. I settled on Hera as my speaker and focused in on the story of how Dionysus was born.

Dionysus has three different conception/birth stories. 1.) Zeus impregnated Semele the old-fashioned way. 2.) Zeus gave her the torn-up pieces of his heart and she drank it and got pregnant. 3.) Zeus swallowed another woman’s heart and then laid with Semele, so Dionysus is also said to be “born of two mothers.”

What I’m always interested in doing in these poems is showing another side of these characters. Hera is portrayed, always, as a very jealous woman, capable of just about anything. She turned women into monsters that murdered their own children. She sent snakes to eat Zeus’s children or animals to tear them apart. What I decided is to make Hera more sympathetic.

The poem starts with,

“I heard she drank the pieces of your heart.”

An homage to the Semele myth, but then the next couple of lines cite the other stories of Dionysus’s conception, and shows Hera knows them too. The rest of the poem is about longing, about how Zeus doesn’t know that she has decided to be steadfast, to not leave, that she has the capability to even love the children he has with these other women.

The word bank ended up being really useful. It helped spring up another associations. “Sewn” worked out, interestingly, since one of the stories of Dionysus’s birth is that Hera tricked Semele into being killed, and Zeus saved the baby and sewed it into his thigh until it was ready to be born (Dionysus is also called “twice-born”).

So I was able to get the line,

“I know how to love
the baby sewn in your thigh.”

“Loaned” and “years” fit well together to add a sense that Hera is aware that their relationship might, very well, end, and that she longs for it continue. “Chamber” and “secret” worked together as well. Hera does know all of these things about Zeus, but he doesn’t know she does, and she has her own secrets as well. “Oak” is a symbol connected with Zeus, so I added other symbols to go along with that, like lightning and aegis. I changed “steady” to “steadfast” to reassert her decision to stay. “Basin” and “bed” served as reminders of their marriage.

The title came last. My husband and I recently had an anniversary, and I thought it’d be touching if Hera, on her wedding anniversary, mused about Zeus and their life together and how she wishes it could be different.

Overall, I feel incredibly pleased with this draft. When I do little drafting exercises, it can really force me to make different kind of jumps than I normally would and it helps me feel like I’m not stuck in a rut of writing the same kind of poem over and over again.

It’s been a really interesting summer. I had a period of not writing a lot, and now I feel like I’m back in a regular routine. I have also submitted to all the journals that I would like to be published in that are open over the summer. Since so many journals are closed right now and/or really slow on the turn-around, it’s been interesting to hold back on submitting new work. I don’t really “hold” onto poems long. I usually push them out of the door early and then think about editing them more strictly if and when they come back to me. It’s been nice, in a lot of ways, to hold onto work longer before submitting it and being forced to do that. Sometimes, it’s easy for me to get into this mindframe of “MUST SUBMIT! MUST SUBMIT!” and that’s okay. But it’s nice to really give the packet I’m working on right now a lot of time and space, especially since they’re poems that are so similar in theme.

How has been your submitting over the summer?

6 thoughts on “Drafting: “On Our Anniversary”

  1. Re: the submitting. Fairly well. It’s a brand new batch of stuff that’s been going out, stuff written since November of last year, that I hope finds a good home. I have faith, which is something I haven’t said in a long while.

    1. That’s great! Faith is tricky in this business. I’ve had faith that something would get published pretty immediately, and it took over 2 years of regularly sending it out for that to happen. I’m glad I stuck with it though. Taught me a lot about the process that I was too blind to see before that.

  2. Hey, thanks for the mention! I had so much fun drafting and revising the Mail Order Bride poems. Still trying! I’m so tickled to have a word bank come out of my work — I also use word banks a lot (and, like you, learned the trick from Sandy). I just jumped over to your drafting notes on the Persephone poem — I’m so fascinated with the Persephone tale but so far have not been able to write that poem. As for submissions, I’m plugging along but not churning them out as often as I’d like. 2 a week is my goal for now, until the kids are back in school!

    1. Of course! It’s such a small world, anyway, because I absolutely loved your other “Mail Order Bride” poem and had no idea you and I were both readers of Sandy’s blog! Myths are my go-to. I’ve never been able to do that whole “confessional” style. Your Mail Order Bride poems have a real mythical quality to them too. Congrats on the subs! I can’t even /find/ two different journals I’d be able to submit to every week!

  3. wow, thanks for introducing me to Linebreak! I had never heard of this lit magazine and I enjoyed reading through it today, Molly Spencer’s poem is so beautiful!

    I don’t send out much in the school year, so I was trying to get caught up on that this summer….I got a few things out, but mainly spent my time on revising and drafting a few new poems. Ah well! perhaps this fall I’ll do a little better sending my babies out into the world…

    1. Yeah, Linebreak is just fantastic. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I do!

      I guess since I was in grad school, it was easier for me to think about sending out because I was constantly talking about writing with other writers. I don’t know what it’ll be like submitting now that I’m not in school anymore. Do you have a regular routine? Or have you just been trying to get a lot done over the break only to focus more on writing during the school year? I’m always interested to hear how other poets do it! It’s such a hard gig!

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