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Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing these three poems from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? There is a trio of short poems in my latest poetry collection, Memoirs of a Witness Tree (Kelsay Books, 2020), https://kelsaybooks.com/ which focalize on the idea of outgrowing childhood. Children can’t wait to grow up, to celebrate the next birthday, to reach that next milestone, etc. This is all well and good, but there is loss experienced with growing up which cannot be dismissed.
In my case, these poems are a nostalgic look back at a happy childhood. But some must deal with the loss, for whatever reason, of the happy childhood that wasn’t. In either case, the poem evokes emotion, either of happier times or of what could have been. Loss of innocence and missed childhood experiences are common themes in literature, common as are all themes that define some aspect of the human condition. (Left Randal Burd with his scoutmaster Paul Dale in 1989. Copyright granted by Randal Burd)
“Armed with Imagination” was conceived as a response to a prompt in a writers’ group asking poets to write about their favorite toy. “Overgrown” was written in response to a call for submissions themed around landscape and maps. “We Siblings Three” is sort of an ekphrastic poem in that it was inspired by Paul Klee’s 1930 abstract painting “Brother and Sister.”
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. When I first contemplated this question, my thought was of my physical location when writing these poems. This is not a very interesting story. I was sitting at the computer or somewhere else with a composition notebook or scrap of paper. But if the question is asking where was I in my life when I wrote these poems, that might be a bit more interesting. In the summer of 2018, I had a medical emergency at 39.5 years old which violently threw me out of the invincibility mindset of youth.
Everyone understands that at some point mortality will stare you in the face and force one to confront the impermanence of life. But I had always thought it would be a gradual acceptance, not three days in the ICU and a list of maintenance prescriptions. It didn’t help that my wife and I walked away from a nasty car wreck two years earlier relatively unscathed. I’ve always been a reflective person, but my medical emergency really forced me to take the blinders off.
What month and year did you start writing these poems? “Armed with Imagination,” “Overgrown,” and “We Siblings Three” were conceived of in the same order as the events they describe, with the first being written in August 2018, the second in April 2019, and the last in September 2019. (Right: Randal Burd's writing office. Copyright permission by Randall Burd)
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 have found that inspiration can strike anywhere. I have written poems on napkins at restaurants, on the backs of handouts at meetings, and even on scraps of paper in the car following a contemplative drive to or from work. But usually once the poems (or lines) are written down in the moment, they are soon transferred to the computer where the editing is done in electronic form. I really don’t have complete rough drafts on paper with pen markings as might have been the usual case with poets in previous years. (Left: Randal Burd in September of 2018. Copyright granted by Randall Burd)
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? My editing process is such a fluid process that complete rough drafts don’t usually exist. Sometimes I will finish a poem and share it with a few people only to make major revisions later. (Right: Randal Burd with wife Ashley. Copyright permission granted by Randall Burd)
But with the three poems here, these have survived pretty much intact from their conception. I do a lot of editing in my head as I write; I am not sure that is the best way to do it, but it is the way that comes most naturally for me. I have to be very deliberate to write my thoughts down without my internal editing filter polishing some before it gets to the paper. Sometimes I wish I had the same filter for speaking. (Left: Randal Burd Family in November 2018. Copyright permission by Randal Burd)
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? Appreciate what you have in the moment. Not just in childhood, but remember that today’s events will be tomorrow’s recollections. Make a concerted effort to cherish the people and relationships that matter in your life, because time moves forward and changes those dynamics as well. (Left: Randal Burd, in 1989, with wildlife artist David Plank whom Randal interviewed for his school newspaper. Copyright permission by Randal Burd)
Which part of the poem was the most emotional for you to write and why? All three of these poems evoked emotion for me, both because I am a sentimental person, perhaps overly so, and because they describe my life, and I have been blessed. (Left: Randal Burd, left, as Department Commander of Missouri in 2017)
Have these poems been published before? And if so where? “Armed with Imagination” was first published on January 5, 2019, by The Society of Classical Poets.
“Overthrown” was first published on July 3, 2019, by The Writers’ Café Magazine.
“We Siblings Three” was first published on September 12, 2019, by the now defunct Nine Muses Poetry.
All three of these poems appear in Memoirs of a Witness Tree (Kelsay Books, 2020).
Armed with Imagination
Imagination armed this youthful knight—
A plywood shield and sword of sapling wood
Created echoes in the neighborhood
Of backyard battles fought in fading light.
Envision how we must have been a sight
To see—a panorama understood
By only we who fought each chance we could
While lacking rhyme or reason for a fight.
The best of memories those days remain:
Each noble quest and faux chivalric deed.
Forever will they be accompanied
With yearning for just one last grand campaign.
I slowly cruised our former neighborhood:
Locations once familiar now are strange.
Most houses there are worse for wear and change;
No laughter echoes from the nearby wood.
When everyone grew up and moved away,
Our plywood platforms rotted in the tree.
No Robin Hood remained to climb and see
His merry men engage in daily play.
The paths we made have long since overgrown.
Our wooden forts became the forest floor.
Adventures don’t occur here anymore—
Our sacred places have been overthrown.
We Siblings Three
Attempt to add the hours we have shared:
One hundred thousand, maybe thousands more?
Our paths conjoined for several years before
We struck out on our own and even dared
Imagine we would chase our dreams beyond
The borders of our joyful, sheltered lives.
But now we live with husband and with wives
In separate towns and rarely correspond,
Or so it seems when measured and compared
To neighborhood crusades we daily swore
Would never end. But we would soon respond
To destiny. What from those days survives?
That we still share a special sibling bond
Though kept apart by long, infrequent drives.
Randal Burd has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his poem “Humblest Apologies” in his book Memoirs of a Witness Tree (Kelsay Books, 2020) He also made Bookworm Reviews’ Best of the Best 2020 reading list. (Right: Randal Burd (right) at the Sons of Union Veterans of Civil War in September of 2017. Copyright permission by Randal Burd)