Drafting: “Bride of the West”

A friend of mine and I have committed to trying NaNoWriMo, though we’re both cheating a little. She is trying to finish up a novel she’s already been working on, and I’m trying to write a poem a day to push me into figuring out a potentially new project.

I’m going to be including drafting notes for only the poems that feel done. So many end up like slop that when I try to scoop them into something manageable, most of them fall through my fingers. Sometimes I can salvage scraps from those and fold them into later poems, but it’s usually not worth trying to give scaffolding and solidity to something without, so I’ll only include drafting notes for poems that have some muscle.

This morning, I really wanted to work on something like a template. I sometimes struggle with figuring out how to drive a poem down a page and feel daunted by all that empty space, so it’s good to already have something there to work with.

What I often do is comb the internet for a poem that seems like a far throw from anything I might write. I usually find myself surprised with what words and phrases come out of it playing with what they’ve got.

My go-to is often Linebreak. They continually publish high quality work that is easily accessible online. Even if I’m not struck by the current poem, I can always comb through the archives to find something.

Today I was struck by Johnathon Williams’s “Valediction Lessons,” so I just copied and pasted the poem into an empty word document. Once there, I tried a technique a friend of mine told me about: Take a poem and write the negative of important words, so replace where it says “light” with “dark,” etc. What this does, often, is bring up weird connections and completely change the poem (completely changing the poem is also necessary. Can’t plagiarize!).

Doing this with a couple of words, like changing “forever” to “never” made me think of a storyline. Molly Spencer has written some absolutely lovely “Mail Order Bride” poems, and the farm imagery of the Williams’s poem made me think of the 1800s unclaimed West and the women who accepted newspaper proposals from men already living out there.

It begins,

“When I said yes
to a stranger’s love, every promise

the life of flour in the wind and a heart full
of refused rooms.”

I kept the couplet structure and continued messing with word choice and syntax to keep pulling out the bones of the original until it could stand on its own. The ending doesn’t fit all that well right now, but I think some editing will help it get its feet.

Writing this made me think a lot about the six “wife” poems that appear in Swallow Tongue, my full-length manuscript, and how writing more could lead to a new project idea. I’m always a little nervous about saying something like “This could be part of a new collection/book!” but I’ll keep it in mind and see where my muse takes me.

Happy writing!

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