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***This is the twenty-third 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.
*Below Black and White Photo of Bill Yarrow in April of 2018. Copyright permission granted by Bill Yarrow for this CRC Blog Post Only
#23 Backstory of the Poem
by Bill Yarrow
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? I had been writing a series of "bad uncle" poems, persona poems in the voice of a young nephew whose iconoclastic uncle was filling his head with offensive, often blasphemous, notions, vile interpretations, and noxious ideas. I got the idea of Jesus as the first zombie and the poem just snowballed from there. Its first and final form were remarkably similar. In all the versions, the unnamed nephew was the speaker. The other characters, his uncle and his father, were there from the start. The uncle's name did change from Uncle Nat to Uncle Shaw to Uncle Ned in the final published version in Blasphemer, which came out on March 12, 2015 from Lit Fest Press. There were some other purely typographical changes related to how to format the dialogue in the poem. (http://www.festivalwriter.org)
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail.
I wrote "Jesus, Zombie" after class one day in my office at Joliet Junior College. The office is off of an interior corridor so there are no windows in it, but it's spacious and the floor is carpeted. I share my office, so there are two large desks with desktop computers on each, two rolling chairs, two file cabinets, and eight bookshelves mounted to the wall. The walls are bare except for two bulletin boards. (Left: Bill Yarrow's office at Joliet Junior College. Copyright permission granted by Bill Yarrow for this CRC Blog Post Only)
What month and year did you start writing this poem?
September 2014. (Right: Bill Yarrow April of 2014. Copyright permission granted by Bill Yarrow 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?) The poem went through twelve drafts. Unfortunately, I cannot share a draft with pen markings on it as I always write and revise on the computer. I save all of my revisions on the computer. I never print out my work to revise it in pencil or pen.
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? In the original version of the poem, there was a line describing the uncle with a "look of bedeviled surprise on his red face." In subsequent versions, this became "my red-faced uncle turned toward me with a look of surprise on his face." However, with that line, the line breaks in the poem didn't work the way I wanted them to, so, in the final version of the poem, the line became "with a look of red surprise on his face."
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I never think of my poems in that way.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? The part where the father runs up the stairs to protect his son from his brother's blasphemy. The emotion surrounding protection is longstanding and profound. Poor Hamlet! No father to protect him from his wicked uncle!
Has this poem been published before? And if so where?
It appears in Blasphemer, my second full-length book of poems. In May 2017, it was reprinted in Michael Dickel's
(https://www.facebook.com/michael.dekel?lst=100001876654400%3A651224075%3A1531945180) online journal Meta/Phor(e) Play. And in fictionaut http://fictionaut.com/stories/bill-yarrow/jesus-zombie
Anything you would like to add? If sacrilege offends you, please do not read my poem.
"Jesus was a zombie?" I ask, shocked.
My uncle turns towards me with a look
of red surprise on his face. Absolutely!
He was the King of the Zombies. He was
one of the first to die and then come back
so he's among the original undead. Sly
zombie. Very crafty, let me tell you—
gets people to eat his body and drink
his blood, and when they do, they belong
to him—forever! He not only eats their
brains, but he also devours their hearts,
and then they can never die. Watch out
for this Jesus fella. He's coming after you.
And he'll never stop chasing you down.
"What'll I do if I see him?" I ask, shaking
in my chair. Cross your fingers like this—
that'll make him think you're one of them,
and he'll leave you be. "What lies are you
telling my boy?" my dad shouts running up
from the basement. He grabs Uncle Ned
by the shirt, jerks him up, and starts to
choke him. Hey, take it easy, brother!
Just teaching the kid to fear the Lord.
Bill Yarrow, Professor of English at Joliet Junior College and an editor at Blue Fifth Review, is the author of The Vig of Love, Blasphemer, Pointed Sentences, and five chapbooks. He has been nominated eight times for a Pushcart Prize. Against Prompts, his fourth full-length collection, is forthcoming from Lit Fest Press in October 2018. (Right: Bill Yarrow in April of 2018. Copyright permission granted by Bill Yarrow for this CRC Blog Post Only)
BACKSTORY OF THE POEM LINKS
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”
009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”
010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”
011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”
012 March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”
013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”
014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”
015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”
016 April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”
017 May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”
018 May 25, 2018
Juliet Cook’s “ARTERIAL DISCOMBOBULATION”
019 June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”
020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”
021 July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”
022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”
023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”
024 July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”
025 August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s (It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”
026 August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”
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