Whether you believe in the power or effects of astrology or not, I have always been mildly interested in it myself. As a poet, I think I’m more inclined to believe and trust in a little magic every once in a while, so when I read about mercury being in retrograde, I wasn’t all that surprised to realize I had been doing things a little bit differently.
Since last week, I had been moving away from new habits that weren’t working for me all that much. I actively chose not to watch as much television, especially in the evening when I need to wind down and not to waste time on the internet (ala Facebook). Mercury in retrograde means that we should review projects and plans and reassess what’s working for us and what isn’t.
What wasn’t working for me was not writing or being connected to a writing community, and things like watching too much television and Facebooking were pulling me away from that.
I wrote earlier about returning to my manuscript, which helped me ease back into writing. For some reason, editing has always been a little safer or easier to start with than all out writing.
Today, after enjoying the fine weather of this Independence Day on my front porch, I decided to return to one of my old drafting habits to see if it would work.
When I was in the 12th grade, my AP English teacher (a writer herself) had us do an exercise where we had to write our autobiography based on Ferlinghetti’s poem “Autobiography.” I found the exercise really powerful because I was using a “template,” but playing with my words and ideas against Ferlinghetti’s original forced me to think about things differently and come up with lines and combinations of lines I would not have thought of myself.
Today, I sought out a “template” but just wasn’t finding one. I read several, and then read a line that mentioned “sand.” This made me think of Sandra Beasley’s essay “Nice Poem, I’ll Take It” which she wrote in response to Christian Ward’s indulgent plagiarism of her and others’ work.
The last couple lines of her essay are incredibly powerful: “What does it feel like, tasting words you’ve stolen? Like sand, I suspect. Sand that a man dying of dehydration drinks in the desert, never slaking his thirst.”
That became the root of this poem, which ended up being addressed (and titled) to Christian Ward himself.
“Words of another always taste like sand.*
You’re thirsty for them to fill your mouth with sweet…”
Once I hit a dead spot discussing how he was “thirsty” for these words to fit for him, I changed course by including a detail about his name I’d scavenged from an old poem of mine. Sometimes, I fall in love with lines or ideas, but they never seem to fit or work. Those poems as a whole just don’t gel together well, and they loll around a long time before I can pull their guts out and use them in another poem.
The rest of the poem came together so easily that it reminded, again, of how lovely writing can be, how sometimes when we slog through a desert, we do come upon an oasis.
Happy writing, and happy fourth to you all!
*For the sake of not adding insult to injury, I am crediting Sandra Beasley for this first line.