CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Saturday, February 3, 2018
#6 Backstory of the Poem: Susan Sundwall's "The Ringmaster"
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the sixth in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where
the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how
the poet wrote that specific poem.
Backstory of the Poem
by Susan Sundwall
Can you go through the
step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first
conceived in your brain until final form?
my blog, back in March of 2013 when I first posted this poem, I mention that it
came to me in a lightning bolt. It was just about like that and the result of
being called on to comfort a friend because of a tragic, needless death. A
young man of my acquaintance had overdosed in his grandparents’ home. Her
husband found Andrew (Above Right) dead in their upstairs bedroom. I was one of the first
people they called. Andrew had just turned 21. It was awful. And infuriating.
Where were you when
you started to actually write the poem?
And please describe the place in great detail.
was at the graveside
of the twenty-one-year old drug overdose victim. Images of
people dancing like puppets to a cracking whip kept assailing my brain. It was
nearly the end of winter and the ground was
slushy from melting snow. Mourners
carefully navigated down the path to where the casket sat above the grave,
waiting to be lowered into the ground. Everyone was deathly quiet as the last
words over his young, violated body were pronounced. His friends were huddled
together, stunned at what had happened and angry. It’s a moment frozen in time
for me, surreal with a tinge of the malevolent. All of this followed me home
where I sat down and began to compose the poem. (Above Left Arlington Cemetery) and (Above Right Sundwall's window in her home)
How many drafts of
this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a
photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?)
don’t know how many drafts I did, but probably only a few since my emotions
were so high and it seemed to flow more easily than other poems I'd written.
Were there any lines
in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final
version? And can you share them with us?
had to fiddle a bit with the ending so “to their graves” went in and out of the
poem. In the end I decided to add the line two more times in decreasing font
size to emphasize the descent into madness that drug abuse can bring. (Right Tomb at Arlington Cemetery)
What do you want
readers of this poem to take from this poem?
the funeral words began flying in my head about the effect, fatally in this
case, of drug abuse. A ringmaster presented him/herself as well as images of
young people with monkeys on their backs. That’s an old term used for the
things that won’t let us alone; drugs, alcohol, porn addiction, gluttony and
others. About a week later the words began to flow out of me.
wrote this poem about a week after the funeral and posted it on my blog
attempting to expose the lie that drugs can often be. I felt guided by God's
hand to write it.
am so grateful for all the people who commented on the poem when it was featured
on my blog. Many of them knew Andrew or had been touched themselves by the
profusion of drug abuse that seemed to be plaguing our country then as it does
now. I also have two brothers whose fate was similar to the young man who
inspired the poem. I dedicated it to the three of them.
began writing for children about twenty years ago. My sister had asked for
material for a family newspaper she was putting together. My latent desire to write
began to bloom and I wrote a story called “The Legend of Mary’s Sparrow.”
I got such good feedback from it I began freelancing, blogging and writing
poetry. I revised that first story and it was published years
later in an
anthology by Knowonder. I hope some day it will become a stand alone picture
book. I’m also the author of the Minnie Markwood mystery series and I've self
published two short romance anthologies.
Anything you would like to add?
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 6:19) we find the oft quoted verse
about our bodies being a temple. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy
Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”But
the second half of the verse always had more meaning for me. “You are not your own; you were bought
with a price. Therefore honor God in your bodies.”
lines came to me time and time again as I fought to get this poem out. I
struggled because I knew it could have an effect and even though I always try
to keep my blog postings light, I felt God directing me to use this platform in
this instance for something more.
wondered if my own fury at rampant substance abuse might mirror our Lord’s fury
as he turned over the money changers tables in the temple. I was filled with
righteous anger. God created us for so much more than we ever think.