Drafting: “Spirits”

After a week of revising some prose in a last ditch effort to get a story accepted for publication by the end of December, I have returned to some poetry.

Today’s exercise: Tell a different story.

Basically, for this, I took an older poem of mine (again, “The Tanner’s Wife“), word-mapped from it (pretty extensively, as you’ll see from the example lines), and then told a different story with the words. Because I wanted to hammer something out and make it a little fun, I didn’t try to make it make sense at first, but as it was developing, I realized it was starting to make an emotional kind of sense, so I went back and focused some lines to point more at that.

Some lines I like:
“There was a fox, a fleshing beam,
a good patina of age. There was a door,
a doe, a quiet, a quilt, a family
of three with one on the way.”

The poem became really really really fun to write. I even originally meant to type “a doe, a quilt,” but when I accidentally typed “a quiet” instead, I chose to keep it. Details I used to describe the fox in the original came to be about the speaker’s wife. I even pulled in and re-wrote a couple of lines from another poem in my manuscript, so after some editing, this could be a bridge poem with its own separate emotional story. I also repeated several words and re-used them each time, so “beam” became a “beam of light” later in the poem, and “quilt” is used as both a verb and a noun.

Off-track note: I write dark, serious poems. A friend of mine who finds me particularly funny doesn’t understand why I don’t write shticky ones that riff off my perception of society. Part of it is that I’m so serious so I only write about people dying and relationships being complicated and oh, sadness, oh pain. The other part is that I have trouble seeing “funny” poems as having any emotional weight. Subsequently, I see emotional weight as related to periods of tension or conflict, but maybe I’m ignorant of the vast majority of humorously tense (or tensely humorous) poems out there. If you know of any, comment with a link. I’d be interested to read them.

On-track note: Writing poetry can sometimes be fun.



10 thoughts on “Drafting: “Spirits”

  1. I think Michael and Matthew Dickman both have the ability (though differently) to write humorous work that carries weight. Also Jay Hopler. Also Dorothea Lasky.

  2. hm..i can’t think of any poets i love who are particularly funny. maybe ironic sometimes (louise gluck) or funny in a very dry way? a friend of mine once said that she doesn’t write funny billycollins poems because she’s a poet, not a stand-up comic 😉

    1. You know, I’ve never really read him. Probably because everyone is always like “Billy Collins is so amazing!” and I just wanted to be a dumb rebel and /not/ read him. But, I did enjoy the examples you suggested. Thanks!

  3. I write mostly serious poems, too, because I write about what I don’t understand and want to understand/puzzle out/find meaning in. Even the few poems I have that have brought laughs when shared with others were not intended to be funny — but, it’s kind of a relief to have at least a few funny lines.

  4. I really like this exercise idea of telling a different story using pieces or key words from a previously written piece. Even if it starts, as you said, as a bit of fun, it seems like it could often lead to some significant revision on a piece of writing that’s been stagnating. This process seems like a great way to access the potential other (perhaps more true to that piece) story within the story. Thanks for the post!

    1. Would this be something you could also do for fiction? I’m curious what it’d be like to cut lines, scenes, etc. and stick them into another story. Might come out with something a little nuts. I know I have several scenes I cut from a recent story that I’d love to put into something else…

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