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.
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***This is the twenty-fourth 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.
All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece.
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?It’s been a few years
now since I wrote this poem. I was reading a blog about women writers,
specifically writers who were mothers, and a (presumably) male commenter wrote
that writing was all about the hours you put in, and if a woman couldn’t write
every day for x amount of hours, well, she wasn’t a real writer then. He also
used Tolstoy as an example of a great man who had devoted himself to his work,
perhaps either trolling the page, or not knowing that Tolstoy’s wife Sophia had
13 children, eight of whom lived, and she still managed to rewrite War and Peace seven times by
candlelight, copying and editing it for her husband, after the children had
gone to bed. That comment became the starting point for the poem.
Where were you when you started to
actually write the poem?And please
describe the place in great detail.
think I was in my house. I have a comfortable chair in my office that I sit in
when I write in my journal and read a lot. So I think that is the place where
this poem started. (Right Telaina with her husband. Copyright permission granted by Telaina Eriksen for this CRC Blog Post Only)
What month and year did you start
writing this poem?I began writing the
poem in 2013. (Left: Telaina Erikson in April of 2013. Copyright permission granted by Telaina Erikson for this CRC Blog Post Only)
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?)I usually write the
first draft of any poem in longhand. From there I enter in MS Word, and
immediately have some revisions and play around with line breaks.I did share this poem with my writers’ group
who had a lot of good feedback for me. I integrated those changes and then let
it sit a while. I believe I made some more small changes.
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?I don’t keep old versions of poems anymore. I used
to feel that was really important when I was younger when I had more
delineation between first and final drafts. Now my revising process is much
more organic and I’m tinkering with my writing quite a bit so I just keep one
MS Word doc of the poem and update the poem in there. This poem was much longer
in its previous drafts. My writers’ group really helped me pare it down. I’m
not the best at submitting my work. Sometimes it takes me a while to send
you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?I guess I want readers to think about things in a
different way. Think about all the “defaults” we have in our society. When we
say “professional” what immediately comes to mind is a male 1950s version of
the work place—long hours, non-emotional, no excuses, and the presumption is
you don’t have a family, they won’t interfere with your work life in any way,
no one will ever get sick, and if you do, you’ll power through, and will never
need time off for an ailing parent or sibling, or a toddler with strep throat.
Motherhood is so discounted in our society, including in literary culture. What
if we flip that thinking? What if we think about it like mothers are more
productive, should be taken more seriously, have the skills to get things done
in a shorter amount of time because they have lived experience doing so?
is so challenging but one of the reasons it is so challenging is because our
society makes it challenging for us. What if we had paid family leave so people
could not only take off time with their new babies, but with spouses or other
family members who needed a caretaker? What if there was subsidized quality
preschool that everyone had access to? What if women weren’t expected to do all
of the housework and family chores and if it was split evenly between partners? (Left: Telaina with her son and daughter when they were little. Copyright permission granted by Telaina Erickson for this CRC Blog Post Only)
guess I would like readers to think about motherhood as an asset, because our
society treats motherhood like it something that anyone can do. Something to be
overcome. Something you do on your own, with no societal support. (Right: Telaina Eriksen's son and daughter on graduation day. Copyright permission granted by Telaina Eriksen for this CRC Blog Post Only)
give almost nothing but the most syrupy, Hallmark acknowledgement to the women
who serve our society. The women who volunteer at schools and hospitals and
senior centers. The women who plan birthday parties and buy Christmas presents.
The women who keep their families together after death or trauma. The women who
are battered by their partners and try to rebuild their lives. The women who
are raped and sexually abused by men who go on to have loving relationships and
families. All of that is work. All of it is service. All of it requires
sacrifice. I want women to know and realize that all their accomplishments in a
patriarchal system have been carving some place to stand out of marble. (Left: "Rosie The Riveter" attributed to J. Howard Miller in 1942 at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. Public Domain)
part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?I think the ending of the poem—ending on the
samurai’s heart. That was a shout out to a friend in grad school who told me I
had a samurai’s heart. That is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. (Right: Sihi-jo wielding a naginata by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Public Domain)
I have stood by the
sandlot/ and watched the boys play
I won’t bow down to
literary manhood. I won’t place my lips
your millennial pride and blow.
have never had the luxury of being given a place,
had to carve this ledge out of marble.
stone to survive has interfered
my scholarship. When women place an “I” in a poem,
see Harold Bloom’s sneer from here in the
I say the placentas of both of my children were
and firm, I feel the collective male shudder.
am so tired of being told what
eyes see isn’t real.
what I value is tarnished.
the years I’ve spent rearing my children have
at the expense of my career.
me your verbal sudoku.
have your syllabic machinations. And
have a samurai’s heart.
Telaina Eriksen is the
author of Unconditional: A Guide to
Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child. She is a poet and an essayist, and
her work has appeared in Compose Journal,
Under the Sun, Role Reboot, The Good Men
Project and many other online and in-print publications. She teaches in the
English Department at Michigan State University and holds an MFA from Antioch
University Los Angeles. (Right: Web Logo Photo of Telaina Eriksen's web page. Fair Use)