Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Saturday, February 24, 2018

#9 Backstory of the Poem "The Gift of the Year With Granny" by Charles Clifford Brooks III



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***This is the ninth 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 of the BACKSTORY OF THE POEM series links are posted at the end of this piece. 


Backstory of the Poem
“The Gift of the Year With Granny”
by Charles Clifford Brooks III

What was your grandmother’s full name?  Her birthdate? And the day she died?   Hazie Hestine Stager-Justice.  She was the only daughter among five brothers, born on February 2, 1925 and died on December 9, 2013.  She was brought up tough, and as much as she loved to give a hug, she could knock you out with a cast iron skillet for taking the Lord’s name in vain.  God broke the mold after He blessed this earth with her feisty affection.


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?   This was a hard one.  Granny was one of those most close to me.  A cheerleader and like her daughter, took no shit off me.  I wasn’t ready to tackle my love of her in my first book, I got closer with my second, but I did publish a piece of it, what I thought was complete through Hobo Camp Review.  I knew then that I could be brave enough to expand into the addiction she helped me hobble out of, the senior year of college she nurtured me to graduation, and her chicken-and-dumplings were insane.
The poem, like any life, grows.  We remember more the longer we have to reminisce.  With time I took away my foggy metaphors and mentor William Walsh (left) was the final kick in the pants to tell the truth or throw the damned thing away.  The MFA program at Reinhardt University is unlike anything I’ve seen.  Both my Granny and paternal grandfather, Big Dad, found their way out of me thus far in my two semesters there. 
You bleed from old scabs over those you want to be most honest for, not about.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail.   It was at her funeral.  I carry Moleskines around like all poets.  There was and is so much love on mom’s side of the family, on both sides, but momma’s folks are many, laugh, and hug, hug, hug.  The funeral was held by a minister who knew Granny well, made sure we didn’t cry too much, and told a joke at the end.  It’s in the poem.  Death is not a door slammed.  Mortality does make us acutely aware of what life we have left, those remaining around us, and doesn’t make us miss those passed on any less.  I took all of that and jotted notes as my mom sat beside me in church.
Interesting side note that didn’t make it into the poem:  When I was a child (Left), my nanny told me an old superstition that if you look between your legs while sitting at a funeral, you could see the future.  For some reason that struck me while hearing about the life my Granny left us all to love.  I tried to look like I was picking up a pencil “accidentally” dropped, but I am tall.  I realized after three attempts at playing it cool, to find the truth I would have to just dedicate myself and bend over to peer into the Oracle’s eyes.
I didn’t see anything but feet and the back wall of the church.
 When I sat back up my mom was looking at me with the expression, “What in God’s name was that about?!”  I whispered to her the reasoning and she giggled at my childlike curiosity and random mindset to pull up old wives tales at a funeral.  Made perfect sense to me, and that beautiful mix of faith, sweet recollections, and poetic catharsis bled out over four or five years of edits, edits, and more edits.

What month and year did you start writing this poem?  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?)   December 2013.  Countless.  I don’t have any handwritten notes or old photos of it to share, but you can go to the Hobo Camp Review and see the earliest version I thought worthy of note.  Check out the Hobo Camp Review link at: http://hobocampreview.blogspot.com/2016/04/clifford-brooks.html

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?   Family is not about blood.  Relation is happen-
stance.  Love is the loyalty that brings folks together, and my Granny was the love that held me together when life fell apart on me.  I want people to see the wild-haired Hazie without fake appeal or melodrama.  She was a fighter.  She wore pretty dresses to church every Sunday.  She worried about me and some “good woman” being there to be sure I ate.  I want people to remember my Granny was here, lived, made a difference, and was surrounded by happiness in life as in death.
https://www.kudzuleafpress.com/shop/exiles-of-eden  (click on link for Exils of Eden


Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?   Any mention of my alcoholism, thoughts of suicide, and her deep concern for me being left alone bring tears – even now.  It’s just personal stuff.  Not regretful sorts of wailing, but more the days that went by after I moved from her home, on with life, and the time I couldn’t watch Wheel of Fortune with her every evening.  I remember how my mom brought me in at the end when she remembered few, saw Granny smile real big, and say, “That’s my Cliff.”

Contact info?   I have Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages all with my name in it.  If you want me, it won’t take Scooby-Doo to find me. cliffordbrooks
@southern
collective
experience.com



Anything you would like to add?   Please Support my book and the press gracious enough to print “Athena Departs: Gospel of a Man Apart”.  You catch glimpses of my Granny in my memories.  “Athena Departs” builds up to her story I keep safe to save my sanity: https://www.kudzuleafpress.com/shop/4cbhr4ihrfankaxxujmf4j7x8ak0cs (Click on link for Athena Departs)  


The Gift of a Year with Granny

I am less myself without her.
We shared a small house safe
from the insanity I couldn’t shake without suicide.
She spent twelve months casting
out my father’s curse.
Still, Granny never neglected to kiss me
before I left for class.
Once I decided to ditch class,
and the old broad elbowed me
in the chest. 

The only sister in a house full of brothers,
she grew into a grandmother
undefeated by the Great Depression,
welcomed her warrior home from World War II,
and never blinked at the legion of demons in me.
Obsessed, she hacked off the heads.
of every serpent she saw
swearing it was a copperhead. 

Granny said she loved to live alone
with her memories.  Not today,
kids off to their own lives
and fields neglected.  Back then
I was ushered in as her invalid.
We shared over two hundred sunsets,
and never saw a bad night.
No black dogs hounded me.
She could see that, but struggled.

My tiny titan stood over me during nights
my sleep was more terror than a span of quiet hours.
That woman wrote my name in all my underwear,
and said that money is fleeting when love
is better spent than saved.
I turned my attention to Shorter University
and set my sight on a diploma.
Doing the hard, last year,
I swore Satan was in the house’s
lack of air conditioning.
Instead of complaining,
I started smoking pot and forgot
why I loved whiskey.

Ten years later,
she tried to tell my momma
in the hospital that a kitchen knife
could cut dementia
away from her dignity. It didn’t,
and six days later Granny
only remembered me.
The reverend who led her funeral
was kind.
Without a word concerning the end times,
my unmoving matriarch began
to push up peaceful daisies.

The holy man that let us out in laughter
said, “The coffin only holds her shell,
because the nut has gone home.”
Still laughing the mourners got going.
I sat on grandfather’s headstone while a backhoe
filled in the six feet left
between me and Granny.
To stall the ache that agony spills
in the place of the peace I found in Lindale,
I retreat back to relive all evenings we shared.
My senior year at Shorter University
was shaped by her chicken and dumplings,
Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy,

and Unsolved Mysteries.


Clifford  Brooks was born in Athens, Georgia.  His first poetry collection, The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics, nominated for the 2013 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry, will be re-issuecd by Kudzu Leaf Press in 2018.  His full-length collection Athena Departs:  Gospel of a Man Apart as well as his limited-edition poetry chapbook Exiles of Eden were published in 2017,
also by Kudzu Leaf Press.  Clifford is the founder of The Southern Collective Experience, a cooperative of writers, musicians and visual artists, which publishes the journal The Blue Mountain Review and hosts the radio show Dante's Old South.  He currently lives in northwest Georgia and is pursing an MFA in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. 




001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/02/8-backstory-of-poem-june-fairchild-isnt.html


009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/02/9-backstory-of-poem-gift-of-year-with.html


010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/03/chris-ricecooper-caccoopaol.html

011 March 10, 2018 
Arya F. Jenkins “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph, “History Abandoned"  https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/03/11-backstory-of-poem-after-diane.html

012 March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week
https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/03/12-backstory-of-poem-series-angela.html

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”



016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/04/16-backstory-of-poem-reliquary-by-beth.html

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”


018  May 25, 2018
Juliet Cook’s “ARTERIAL DISCOMBOBULATION”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/06/20-backstory-of-poem-at-least-i-can.html

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/07/21-backstory-of-poem-wind-chimes-by.html

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/07/22-backstory-of-poem-studying-ariel-by.html

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/07/23-backstory-of-poem-jesus-zombie-by.html

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/07/24-backstory-of-poem-brag-2016-by.html

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s (It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/08/25-backstory-of-poem-it-is-only.html

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”



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