Drafting: “Scylla”

Since I last wrote a poem about Charybdis, it seemed fitting to try to write about her counterpart: Scylla.

Less is known about Scylla, but the story I like the most for is she had piqued the fancy of Glaucus, a sea-god. Unfortunately for her, Circe (known also from The Odyssey), a sorceress, also loved Glaucus.

When he spurned Circe for Scylla, Circe retaliated by poisoning the sea water where Scylla bathed. She was “transformed into a monster with four eyes, six long necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. Her body consisted of twelve tentacle-like legs and a cat’s tail while four to six dog-heads ringed her waist.” Needless to say, her love affair with Glaucus ended. 

She took up shop across from Charybdis, and sailors had the choice of driving their boat into a whirlpool , or being grabbed up and eaten by Scylla.

I pulled several words from Rochelle Hurt’s lovely poem “Infants of the Field” from Crab Orchard Review‘s Winter/Spring 2013 issue to form a word bank that I’d use for drafting this poem:

salt licks; creek; pied; starlings; bunting; death-bitten

From there, I added a couple of phrases that I’d heard and been tossing around:

chicken wire; den window

It begins,

“I’ve entered this poem by way of chicken wire and salt, the promise of a creek behind the house that doesn’t dry up a mile down.”

From there, the poem was really…country. Lots of chicken and farm references, and I don’t ever want to stick too close to the original myth, but I did want some hints of it, and all the farm stuff was really pulling away from that. So I changed “death-bitten” to “sea-bitten” and dropped off the “licks” after salt.

Bunting was a little tough for me, but I loved the sound of it and the meaning of a loosely woven fabric. It made sense for me to connect it to her future appearance (twelve tentacles and two arms). Keats has a poem titled “TO—(‘What Can I Do to Drive Away’)” with the line, “Touch has a memory,” and that worked for me in shaping maybe how her monstrous form was also an extension of her desires:

“I want more hands for a bunting of it.”

Happy writing! I’m glad to feel like I’m sort of in the swing of it again. We’ll see if I’m able to stick with it!

Drafting: “Charybdis”

I should have known watching Twister with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton yesterday morning would lead to a poem. That movie is all destruction and heart. People running around, things flying. Skidding semis, sign sparks. Paxton and Hunt fighting being in love.

Twisters have been on my mind anway. I recently read two poems by Rochelle Hurt in Crab Orchard ReviewOne, particularly, dealt with the myth of infants being picked up by a tornado and dropped down, unharmed, miles away. Sometimes a poem just touches me and I feel like I’ve found some sort of kindred spirit and all I want to do is devour more and more of their work (here are also several more of her poems up at Superstition Review) and Ms. Hurt’s was just like that. She also wrote a poem two pages long. I don’t know why that is something that seems like a goal to me, but I’m stuck in a place of one page long poems, and the idea of spreading to a second page sounds…spacious.

But to my poem.

Keeping with my tendency to write about myths, I thought of Charybdis. Charybdis was the daughter of Posiedon and Gaia (which technically means that her great-grandmother is also her mother) and was so gluttonous that she stole cattle from Hercules. Zeus punished her by turning her into a whirlpool that threatened ships as they passed. When I was looking into the myth, I found that there is actually a whirlpool that exists in the location of the mythic one. It’s just not large enough to devour ships.

The poem begins,

“All mouth, she stole cattle,
wanting brisket and fine pulled
thigh, tail, hoof, the fat”

Right now it’s two nine line stanzas, and each function primarily with lists. In the second stanza, it’s what she desires after she’s been turned into Charybdis and what she desires is much more devastating.

I hit an impasse around the 8th line of the second stanza. I wanted each stanza to be nine lines long, and I wanted a good wrap-up line, so I took to looking up quotes about need and desire to see if something would strike me.

I found this quote:

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
― Jess C. ScottThe Intern

and knew I could use it. I loved the return to the word “mouth” and the use of “safe”. The last line is now:

is never safe in the mouth.”


Drafting: “To Christian Ward”

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.


Drafting: “Lapis”

Over the past week, I’ve been thinking to myself, “I should write a poem. That would be a super nice thing to do for myself.” When the stress of writing study guides and exams for my students worked its way into my chest and started squeezing my lungs, I’d think, “Write a poem, fool! It’ll help you breathe!” Still, like any good sabotager, I’d yell back, “NO! Must finish this study guide! Must unload the dishwasher! Must dust the clematis blooms out front with Sevin dust!”

This morning as I was sitting at my kitchen table with my journal in front of me, the thought came back to me, and I finally let go to that voice and wrote a poem. It’s amazing how wonderful it feels to let go, but how often I struggle against doing just that.

I was in a myth kind of mood, and Apollo jumped easily to my mind, so I looked him up. Scrolling through his background story, I got focused on a picture of his statue, and there arose the poem idea: a god that lords over stone (Hephaestus/Vulcan is really the god of stone/masonry, but who’s counting?).

It begins,

“To be a god of stone is to remember
hunger and desire lie in what moves,

& nothing moves in a stone body.”

The rest of the poem focuses on what a god of stone would know and understand vs. what he would miss (touch, movement, seeing in color). It’s sort of a weird hodgepodge of details at the moment, but it has enough potential to be reworked into something a bit more fun. I’ll say too that I’ve been able to breathe a little better since I wrote it!

The summer is nearly here, folks. Let us all be kind to ourselves during it!

Drafting #17-23

I am currently behind four poems on this whole 30 poems in 30 days thing. I’m trying not to be hard on myself and just celebrate the fact that I’ve never done anything like this ever ever ever! and now I’ve done 23 poems in 27 days! whatevs it’s not 27 in 27!

I’m also still trudging through the rejections (thank you for all of your well-wishes! I love knowing that I’m not alone and that we all can help each other through times like these!). After I wrote a poem on Friday, I just knew that I would come home to a rejection in my mailbox, and, lo and behold, there it was. 22 rejections since January 3rd. Yeesh.

I did receive news of an acceptance for a short creative nonfiction essay of mine which will appear sometime soon up at Punchnel’s. This knocks out one of my goals (“Get one of my creative nonfiction essays accepted for publication”) for 2013. Woohoo! Speaking of that, I’ve also knocked out the “Do something special just for my writing” goal by doing this whole 30-in-30 poem thing AND The Artist’s Way. I’m also 23 poems into a 50 poem goal. Wow. It’s not even February yet! Go me!

Let’s get to the draft processes (taken from my journal, the computer, as well as a writing app on my phone):

Draft Seventeen (“Your Throat a Bare Wing”): For this poem, I took two words from Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s poem “Rome”  and a couple from a reading I did on the nature of memoir. I used “mimicry,” “starling,” “memory,” and “throat.” This poem, like many of the other ones is about a relationship. Some lines: “the owl we caught and cooked its feet…the tendril of my hair striking your cheek.”

Draft Eighteen (“The Nature of Knowing”): This one was also inspired by the line, “possessed…of a great stillness” in “Rome.”  I applied it to a man watching a woman and thinking that of her, though those words never appear in my poem. “…the places of soft tissue and of bone, the intricate interiors of her that he knows he will never know.”

Draft Nineteen (“Longing”): A woman longs to have a child. “…with an emptiness inside her/she can’t name.” This is my first non-prose poem in a while.

Draft Twenty (“Blindness”): For this poem, I took a bunch of starter words (“saint,” “blind,” “silence,” “flowering,” and “blood”) and just went with it. It ended up being a poem about a woman saint going blind and someone else plotting her death for some…reason that maybe I’ll think of later?

Draft Twenty-One (“Night”): This one is a mess of sentences that make very little sense together, but I like the last line (“I watch my face as it moves from desperation to silence.”) and I might scavenge it to put in another poem.

Draft Twenty-Two (“Weave Kindling in My Hair”): People build boats, put their complaints in them that fill the space like liquid in a container, and then set them on fire. They “…watch the smoke rise like prayers.” This probably means something symbolically, but…I don’t what that would be. That’s just what came out. Isn’t writing weird sometimes?

Draft Twenty-Three (“Love Makes Her Fingers”): Now these are getting more and more surreal. This one has a man and woman trading parts of each other’s bodies for items (like her molars for a stronger door lock) and also being pretty violent in their possession of these items. This violence later becomes not just about taking, but about “giving” and ends with “…how much sweeter his lips taste bruised.”


Speaking of drafting, I’m doing a week of “reading deprivation,” so I’m sincerely limiting how much I read this week. More often than not, I get inspired to write a poem by reading the work of someone else first, and this week I’m going to have to change that habit.

Drafting poems #10-16 & Rejections

This next round of draft processes has been a muddled mess. Since I’m journaling regularly in the morning, sometimes I’ve written these drafts out in longhand; other times, on the computer. I’m also behind one day, so I need to write two one day this month in order to make sure I’m getting 30 in 30 (because I’ve also made this official. I’m going to try to get over my commitment-phobic issues and just commit to 30 poems in 30 days).

Journaling every morning has left me feeling like a raw nerve this whole week. Lots of insecurities and self-doubt have risen to the surface, and on top of that, I’ve received the largest number of rejections in a short amount of time in my entire submitting career. Since January 3rd, I’ve received 16. One form for my poetry manuscript. One form for a fiction story. Three form for a creative nonfiction essay. Four form and seven personalized for poetry. So, if anything, I’m learning perseverance and working through discomfort and the importance of positive action (journaling, writing, & submitting, in spite oself-doubt).

Here are processes for each of these. While several of my other drafts seemed to be building toward a story, these are going in very different directions.

Draft Ten (“White Breath”): Molly Spencer talks about collecting “scraps,” and one thing I frequently try to do is when I’m struck by a word, a line, or an image is to write it down. The important thing is to come back to these to see what comes out of them. The scraps for this particular poem were “hoarfrost,” “skylark,” and “Katherine.” Since I’m usually writing these poems on a time-constraint, I really try to throw whatever comes into my mind onto the page, so few of these make sense at this stage. An example: “The frost on her hair, the ice shed of her fingers, the skylarks, the skylarks…”

Draft Eleven (“This is a poem”): “Metapoetry” is when someone specifically states in the poem that it’s a poem. Poems like these immediately repel me: I don’t want you to tell me it’s a poem; I’m not dumb! I know what I’m reading! But, like the typical hypocrite, I wrote my own metapoem because that’s the poem that needed to be told. “Innocents are in this poem. Ones who build a fort, ash their cigarette into a potted plant.”

Draft Twelve (“Fingerprint”): A while ago, a poet-friend of mine gave me the idea of writing “opposite” poems, taking a poem you’ve already written or someone else’s and changing every word to its opposite while still trying to make logical sense. It’s a hard exercise, and not something I’ve used very often, but it became a good exercise for me to use when figuring out how to incite  a new draft. I took this lovely poem up on LineBreak and started trying to shape it into its opposite. For example, I started with the first line, “I robbed the ceramicist of his clay” and changed it to “We shouldered the mortician from her laboratory.” While that’s not particularly lovely, it did give me enough of a springboard to begin writing about a couple and also pull in some words in from the original, like “electrified” and “fingerprint.”

Draft Thirteen (“Darling”): A poet-friend of mine (who will one day get a blog so I can start linking to him regularly) wrote some poems I liked that were all about sexy dancing. I don’t write about sexy dancing. My poems are in no way sexy (people dying or hurting other people is not sexy) or dancing to begin with, but I wanted to write about dancing for this draft, and I was hoping maybe it could be sexy dancing. I tried. This one needs some tucking and pinching and prodding, but it was an admirable first attempt at some sexiness when my writing-sexiness is…nil.

Draft Fourteen (“This Cave”): This poem started out as an idea, “Two bodies form an echoing chamber,” that turned into a sort of mess of images. The image was so clear and solid in my head, but once I got it on paper, it sort of fell apart. I couldn’t figure out how to piece it together, and it just wasn’t coming together. This might be one of those poems that becomes scraps for future poems, but I’m hopeful the idea will come together at some point.

Draft Fifteen (Two Step””): Another attempt at a sexy dancing poem. This one was better. The images are a little clearer. The language felt a little fresher. I had a clearer idea in my head that translated better to the page. “Her ribs against his palms, blood in her cheeks.” I don’t think this one’s any closer to being for-real-sexy, but maybe one day I’ll be able to do?

Draft Sixteen (“Apologies”): This one made all of the other fifteen poems worth it. If I needed to write fifteen bad poems to get one good one, I’m okay with that. This one was even fun to write(!). It didn’t feel like a chore, didn’t feel like “I need to get this over with to say that I did it.” It felt like a real, “I’m inspired! Words on the page! I love them! Ooo! Those words are cool together! Let’s do that again! And again!” This returned to another couple. A line I like: “Kiss me and lick splinters from your lips.”

Drafting: “If I Loved Her,” “Shadows,” & “If I Were A Compass

Despite the fact that I’ve been writing three pages a day in the morning for The Artist’s Way, I’ve still been able to write a poem draft everyday for this unofficial-poem-a-day-for-some-length-of-time thing I’m doing.

These drafts are starting to develop a story I’m really interested in. The last seven have been about a man and his complicated relationship with a woman who is either physically or emotionally absent. I’ve never written so many poems that seem to have the same characters, so I’m really excited to see how these could work together and if this means (!) a new project. These also have the same form (prose) and style (lyrical), but I wonder if both those things will keep after I go back and edit.

Draft Seven (“I Loved Her”): This poem works as both an introduction to the man and how deeply he felt for this woman, who is no longer living. My favorite line: “…she came washed in smoke, her hair braided with ash twigs.”

Draft Eight (“Shadows”): This poem started from the prompt, “Write a poem using the words: honey, snake, and thaw,”  and while those words were a great place to start, I had trouble finding a story to connect them together, so I just started writing whatever came to mind from those words. For that reason, the poem doesn’t have any grounding until the last couple of lines when I was finally like, “OH!” My favorite line: “Watch her comb her hair with her teeth.”

Draft Nine (“If I Were A Compass”): This poem started from the prompt, “If I Were_____.” Like all of the other poems, this one’s very lyrical and makes some strange jumps. For example, “Let us burrow where the dark turns indigo, where your hair grows on me like moss.” This one was harder to keep working through. I wanted to stick to the comparison of the speaker to a compass, but my writing self kept being like, “But compasses are BORING! Let’s do THIS! or THIS!” and my other, more logical self was like, “No! That doesn’t sound like a compass at all! Compasses point and are metal and stuff!” And then my writing self threw in some ankles and winter branches and animal blood and was like, “HA! COMPASS THAT!”

It’s still going, folks. Woo hoo!