Archive for December 2013
continued from yesterday…
I’ve been digging through my journals to find out when I started drafting “The Nature of the Beast.” My first evidence of it is on September 30, 2012. That’s not when I started writing it, though–I think I started writing the poem, or the story, years ago. The episode upon which it is based has hung around in my mind for literally decades, ever since it happened. That’s almost always a huge signal that I’ve got a story or poem ready to draft. Those crumpled leaves stuck in the cobwebs of my mind that never get swept away by time, that steadfastly cling in the corners, oft times yield the best and most meaningful writing as I try to figure out what they mean.
This one started as a paragraph, which anymore is my preferred method as I begin to draft a poem. I can’t remember exactly where I picked this one up, though I think it came from The Practice of Poetry, which I bought at a library clearance sale in Lake Geneva quite some time ago. It sits on my nightstand, and on the occasions that I crack it open, some type of gold usually pours forth. So after years of this episode sitting in my mind, I sat down and generated this paragraph in my huge black poetry writing journal:
Grab the wire cutters my father called to me from the back yard. There was a deer caught in the fence that separated our flat green yard from the wild brown weeds beyond. He had tried to jump the fence but was snagged there like a clumsy criminal who hadn’t thought out his crime very carefully, or overestimated all he could get away with. That’s what the deer were–criminals. Mostly petty, but always malicious. They’d gnawed our cherry saplings down to the ground. They were constantly raiding the garden under the bright rustic moon, not just eating but trampling plants and scarring the soil and soiling the rows. They taunted our dogs, and one buck had used his antlers to launch our orange tomcat ass over teakettle. Yet there one was, caught, scared, vulnerable to his victims and whatever other hardened criminal might happen along. He stood there on three legs, desperately yanking the fourth. We didn’t snip any wires, just separated some crossed strands and allowed him to break free and spring uphill with his white tail flashing. All it took was hands and hearts in the right place.
I have a ton of drafts from a few different journals for the next six weeks as I kept returning to the poem. I remember at one point I did some research into the term used for the sounds deer make. Turns out the term is “wheeze.” The final draft I have once it made it to a word processing document is dated January 17, 2013. That was enough time for me to generate this, with the help of the supremely talented poet and editor Barbara Bennett:
The Nature of the Beast by Jeff Burd
There is a deer caught in the fence
at the back of our property;
one of a gang of delinquents
who are in the garden more than weeds.
They gnaw the tomatoes and beans.
They scar the soil and soil the rows.
They taunt our dogs.
One of them hooked our orange tomcat
with his rack and
flung him ass over tea kettle.
This one wheezes as we trudge back to him—
a tough cover for how vulnerable
he now is to his victims and
whatever else might come through the brake.
He kicks and struggles against the wires
until we get our hands in the right places
for him to spring himself.
He glares at us from the other side of
the fence, wheezes again,
and then sprints uphill
with his white tail flashing.
The Fall, 2013 edition of Third Wednesday arrived in the mail last week. That may not be cause enough for celebration in some parts, but here in the luxurious 2nd-floor office suite of The Seeker, champagne corks are popping. In the least, I just filled a plastic tumbler with water and am going to drink it before I go work out.
Jump back two months, and you’ll see me submitting some poems to a few publications. That’s not news, but what followed a few weeks later is. I found some reply emails in my inbox from the publications under consideration. The first one was from Midwest Gothic. They had declared their interest in poems and short prose pieces that in any way dealt with Midwestern themes. I happened to have a poem about a deer that did just that, and that had been in mothballs ever since I wrote it. They said they liked it, but weren’t going to publish it. I clicked the “delete” button and moved on. The very next email was from Third Wednesday, a publication put together by a collective of poets in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They, too, liked the deer poem and said they would publish it if I would give it a title.
That was great news, kinda. At the time I was drafting the poem, I intentionally left it untitled. I had recently been in the company of a professional poet and poetry professor who said his big push of late was to NOT title his poems. Seemed like a cool idea to me–why not put it on the reader to construct that meaning, instead of me pressing something on him? Plus, not having a title felt liberating. It freed me up to focus on the moment I was developing in the poem. And I thought I’m just good enough to get away with this! Turns out I wasn’t and I’m not. Third Wednesday wanted a title, and I was more interested in being published than I was in making a statement, so I brainstormed a title and came up with something I rather liked and that solidly establishes the antecedent scenario for the poem–which it turns out is pretty damn important when it comes to writing a legitimate poem. And then I realized that I should have had a title all along, that what was good for Mr. Poet wasn’t necessarily good for me. Plus, by conceding that my work needed a title, I’ve taken a nice step towards bringing my poetry to legitimacy via publication. So what was once untitled is now known as “The Nature of the Beast,” and has found a home.
“For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph – a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: That all glory is fleeting.”
~From the film Patton (1970).
It’s been a while since I checked in, though there is good reason why I haven’t that I may share at a later time. Been busy. But the last I checked in, I was promoting my latest story, “Public Education.” It’s been nice to hear a lot of positive feedback from friends and such, and nicer still to register another publication credit on my writing resume.
As far as publication goes, I found out about three weeks ago that I have two poems coming to publication this winter. I’ll share more about them when the time comes, though I’ll share at this time that I’m just through the roof with these recent successes–especially the poems. I’ve been laboring for some time now for some of my poems to come to legitimacy, and to have two taken at the same time is a good benchmark for where I am. Plus, I’ve been reminded that being published is great motivation to keep writing.
In addition to all this, I’ve been hoping to score with the personal essay I wrote last winter, but no dice there. I’ve sent it out to about a half dozen publications, but don’t have any takers. One of the most recent rejections stated that they liked it, but it would take too much editing (a science professor I know would say it has “irredeemable errors”). This is to say nothing of the publication for which it was originally intended–they didn’t say anything to me. They merely went ahead with their publication, and when I got a copy of it and saw I wasn’t in it, I found out that I had been rejected. But this isn’t intended to be a “poor me” sob story. Not at all. After the most recent rejection, I got the story out again and took a look at it and… well, it’s not all that I thought it was. I sat down few times and easily knocked 500 words out of it, taking its total length down more than 10%.
This has reminded me why I got out of writing personal non-fiction a few years ago. It’s tougher to take rejection when the story is a true part of me. I’ve bled twice for each story, once in its happening and once in writing about it, and having it rejected is akin to a third bleeding. I found out there’s no need to go through all that. I don’t feel the same when my poems and fiction get rejected–that’s just “plain old” rejection, and I kinda slough it off. But going through all this personal rejection wasn’t worth it. Plus my interests grew in a different direction as I tried to expand my skill set to include fiction. Here’s the difficult part of all this: I still have to write personal non-fiction, despite the bloodletting. I have to keep my skills sharp in that area if for no other reason than for my teaching. But really, I have to keep pushing myself there so I can feel some sense of mastery in the genre. Guess I’ll have to keep at it and take my lumps. Is there a better way to learn?