Friday, March 11, 2011

Considering Dust, Considering Cassandra: Thursday Drafting Process

I've long enjoyed Sandy Longhorn's posts that describe her writing process as she creates individual poems (go here for the most recent example). So, today, I thought I would talk about my drafting process yesterday.

I have noticed that Sandy does some thinking about what she'll be writing before she starts. She has described reminding herself as she falls asleep that she'll be writing a poem in the morning. I know that athletes train in a similar way by visualizing themselves accomplishing the athletic feats that they train their physical bodies to do. Ah, yes, the mind-body connection: another form of balance for which I'll probably always be striving.

I also have realized that for me, the best time to write a poem is before I start doing other writing. I often write a daily blog post both here and at my theology blog. If I write the poem first, it doesn't detract from my blog writing, except in terms of running out of time. However, if I write the blog posts, I often can't get my poetry brain going.

So, yesterday, I wrote the poem first. I'd had some ideas circling in my head. About a week ago, I noticed that the sideboard had become very dusty, and I almost immediately thought, well, the house will be under water soon enough. Of course, I know/hope sea level rise isn't going to take place that quickly--I can't just ignore the daily/weekly/seasonal chores because at some point the Florida peninsula will be inundated with water. I immediately came up with a title: Cassandra Considers the Dust.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, so I had all sorts of ash and dust imagery in my head. At church on Wednesday, I was one of the lay leaders who smudged foreheads with ash. I found it startling, that black gash against skin. I even came home and took some pictures of our ash-smudged foreheads.

On Thursday morning, I returned to the main character of the poem, Cassandra. When I had been thinking about this poem a week ago, when I first got the title, I thought that the title character would be some kind of climate scientist. Are climate scientists the Cassandras of our day? In some ways they are, but they aren't in this important way: most of us don't doubt what they're telling us, but we can't seem to do much about it besides switching out our light bulbs.

So, I started writing and came up with this:

After midnight, she leaves the computers
to run their analyses.
Through the night, as humans dream
and the few keep watch
on the ramparts or in the monasteries
or by the hospital beds
with machines to monitor

And then I couldn't go any further. I thought about the Cassandra character returning home, and I was still thinking that Cassandra was a climate scientist. I wrote 2 stanzas about her return home. Then it was time for me to go for my pre-dawn walk.

As I was walking, I thought, no, Cassandra is a doctor! In some ways, on an individual level, I've noticed that people regard their doctors as Cassandras to be ignored or disbelieved. Of course, in other ways, we treat our doctors the way we treat climate scientists: we believe what they say, but we don't know what to do about it, or we don't want to do the things we need to do.

I came back and wrote 3 new stanzas; I kept the 2 stanzas about Cassandra returning home. I'm pleased with the finished poem.

I think from here on out, I'll try to write a poem each week on either Tuesday or Thursday. I'll spend the intervening time thinking about the poems I want to be writing so that when I get to the desk, I'm ready to go. And perhaps I'll write about my writing process more frequently, particularly if I come up with an approach that I think might be helpful for other people.

1 comment:

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for this great post! I love that while you were on the walk, the poem clicked into place. I should do more of that!