Tuesday, November 13, 2018

#39 Backstory of the Poem "Poe" by Gordon Hilgers

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***This is the thirty-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 BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece.

#39 Backstory of the Poem
“Poe”  by Gordon Hilgers           

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?  First of all, some background to the longish process in regard to how this poem came into being:  Many people today tend to both venerate and laugh about Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”.  https://poestories.com/read/raven We have many takes on the poem, some of them sincere, others ranging into parody and even ridicule, and I am certain almost all who have been introduced to the poem have musty and dark images in their minds of a poor, grieving man in his study finding an almost physical manifestation of his grief mocking him from a bookshelf. 

But if we look into some of the poem’s symbols, we find all sorts of concepts that point to everything from how love is blackened by death, to how crows are attracted to shiny objects, even to the Native American (homogenized version) of Spirit Crow drowning in a pond where his own image shines—practically a warning against narcissism.   Then there is the word, “rave”, hidden in the name of the bird.  Its etymology indicates that, to our best understanding, that “rave” means to “wander”, to “rove”, particularly in madness and delirium.  See?  The perfect bird for a man going mad with grief.  (Above Right:  Edgar Allen Poe in 1845 the year he wrote "The Raven."  Attributed to Samuel Stillman Osgood.)

I was grieving when I wrote the original draft of the poem June, 2016.  I wanted to speak to what I then did not understand was grief, and as usual, I stumbled through a first draft, much of which embodied multiple emotional confliction; you know, this guy, slapping at goblins with too much time on his hands. (Left:  Gordon Hilgers in June of 2015.  Copyright permission granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only) 
At the time, I had no idea that all this crammed-down “stuff” had much to do with an experience with real homelessness many years ago—the paranoia, the fear, the insecurity, the sense of vulnerability, the feeling people were trying to hurt me, alienation, the feeling of being dislikes.  Only naturally, caught-up in all that, I had no way to write a poem with any fairness to it.  That first draft was a little angry, and once done, I let it sit.  And sit.  And then practically rot in a pile of other unsung drafts. 

When inspiration isn’t forthcoming, I reach into that pile and get cracking.  I enjoy repairing old poems from the position of more knowledge of what was with me when I first wrote them.  I have always written and revised as such.  I want those first stabs as cold and forgotten as possible.  In this case, new knowledge (and a lot of psychotherapy) taught me all about what was happening to so load my then-present life with outrageous static that the new angle made for an easy reconnoiter with an old “friend”. 

I’m not much for the now “pop” grief broadcasts I read in many poetry magazines.  It’s all like, “I fell down and need to make a documentary about it” or something.  So I went just a bit wry here, taking both sincere and mocking stances along the lines of what friends and I used to joke about in college: he went from bed to verse.  Back then, we were all expert philosophers, so intense as to embarrass the sunlight, and quite rebellious about all of this, little Chairman Maos partying all over people’s lives simply for the sake of a half-baked idea.   (Right:  Gordon Hilgers (front) during his college days.  Copyright permission granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only) 

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail.   That was one of the “triggers” of that backed-up PTSD to be honest.  I’d recently moved to a neighborhood here in Dallas that was all-too-similar to the nightmare of homelessness I desperately needed to escape.  The street life.  Prostitutes.  Offers for good dope.  Muggers.  Loud rap music.  Hopelessness everywhere.   (Left:  Attributed and permission granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only) 
I could not go outside this apartment here in North Dallas without getting a full set of what I’d left behind.  Who knows?  Maybe situations occur for a reason, right?  What we make of what is left to us makes all the difference in who we become.

In fact, I was sitting right here, in a one-bedroom apartment lined with books and my CD collection, right next to a big window where I could see pretty trees blooming all that summer long.  I play music when I write—that’s odd, right?—because the music relaxes me and keeps me from locking-up.  I almost never am blocked anyway.  At that time, magical thinking—the idea that everything means “something” about what we are confronting or think we are confronting, nothing but the everywhere noise sometimes too much to bear—pervaded, tainted and tinted my ability to perceive current events.  Compounded with my sense of being pitched backwards into scenes I’d left nearly 20 years before, and I was like some Viet vet under the idea that the Cong were outside ready to kill me.  I was afraid, afraid and angry about being afraid.  (Left:  Gordon Hilgers in his 20s.  Copyright permission granted by Gordon Hilgers 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?)   Do I revise?  Yes, I revise as I write a draft.  I used to suffer paper with enough marks that it was almost impossible to read the original.  No longer.  I am lazy.  I use my word processing program, and now I simply erase the old, then save the outcome.  It’s my way of torturing my imaginary posterity. (Right Gordon Hilgers in November 2009.  Copyright permission granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only) 

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?   Here’s a partial two verses from the original draft.  Actually pretty good for a beginning here: 

Somewhere in vast libraries everywhere is
put aside, gathering dust, love for the books, foolishly
put to use to warn the kids, some mast on which
to hang should oceanic waves

go restless, insatiable, recklessly wrought to wreck
the scene altogether.  Something in each at times wills
more laudanum for the mandatory Poe, soon to be a major motion picture, sex of the raven beforehand checked . . . 

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?   As far as what I’d like readers to take from this poem, let me say first I know that readers are going to be seeing only a partial view of an entire emotional-mental constellation, and that what symbolism strikes me in a personal way is going to strike each reader in a different way.  I hope they find this somewhat amusing, but also with a sense of suspicious ominousness hidden in its many oddities and seemingly ungermane shifts, fragmentary factions that seem wish to detract, etc.  I like my readers to take as many liberties as they want when they read a poem I have written.  This is the magic of a poem.  Its meaning and “sheen” is going to shift through each reading.  It’s like tarot but not quite as weird.  (Gordon Hilgers in July 2010.  Copyright permission granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only) 

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?   You know, I did get emotional while writing this final draft.  But none of that emotionality was pure in anyway.  It’s all confliction again.  Sometimes sarcastic, then angry, then almost absurd, again laugh-worthy.    (Left Gordon Hilgers June of 2009.  Copyright permission granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only) 

Has this poem been published before?  If yes, where?   I have not published this poem before.  This is a virgin.  Can’t get any more brand new than that, right? 


The vagabond mistake lived embodied in a cat
which gathered dust in a neighbor’s shady backyard
after choking on crow bones.  You proclaim Poe
to be mandatory, soon to be a major motion picture,
some lonely shut-in pining over what puzzled him
left conversing to taxidermy with ghostly powers,
the laudanum on the fritz.  Some of us are insatiable
as Maoists who trip over hurdles, a Great Leap
which wrecks the scene, broken circle emblemized
in the letter C.  Nihilistic trooper abandons ardor
for documentation, lionesses lining every dank gutter
in Baltimore.  I know I have slapped at the spectral
when reduced to magical thinking, yet some get all
the grief and crowds as those open-faced pillagers
who never were rapacious swat into their invisibility
with a wet sock.  I listened to that suffocating cat
half-past a mope, fugitive comfort, a gutted grouper. 

I was born in Denver, Colorado, in ancient times.  I actually remember the Cuban Missile Crisis like it was yesterday.  My father worked at The Federal Center, a huge government complex just outside of Denver, and when I’d ride along to pick him up from work, in the dusk, out of nowhere and everywhere, jack rabbits.  My dad called them, “Josephine the rabbit” as if they were all one rabbit.  This certainly kept my young eyes wide open. (Above Right:  Gordon Hilgers in October 2010. Copyright permission granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only:
Below middle:  Entrance to The Federal Cente)

I saw and heard a big meteor in second grade, and then in third grade, I was certain I’d found it.  It was big, metallic, covered with sears and bubbled-up rock.  I drug it home with massive effort, a whole three blocks and a long “meteor trail” of scratched concrete followed me there. (Left:  Williamette Meteorite in New York City in 1906.  Attributed to American Museum of Natural History) 

We moved to Dallas just in time for the Kennedy assassination, and at home I witnessed Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech when it was happening.  One of my biggest inspirations into poetry was The Moody Blues.  I was at a friend’s, and I remember placing the big headphones over my ears to hear “Question”, and yes, I was set for life.  I’d had other experiences that inspired me in that direction such as an encounter with a platinum blonde beatnik girl on Larimer Street in Denver, she and her kitty glasses, black clam-diggers and snap-fingers as she stood on a box and recited in her groove. 
In college, I managed (somehow) to score higher than 99 percent of all entering students that year in verbal reasoning, and the government sent reps to offer me a full scholarship to “work for the government”.  I laughed at them.  (Left Gordon Hilgers in 1978.  Copyright permission granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only)
In early adulthood, I had my first manic attack as what turned out to be Bipolar Disorder ravaged me for years.  I didn’t get adequate treatment until the discovery of Prozac, but even so it has taken me years of learning how to deal with what I call “the mung”. (Right:  attributed and copyright granted by Gordon Hilgers for this CRC Blog Post Only)
I worked as a journalist, as a researcher in a research library where the poetry was (natch!), as an investigator, a paralegal, and as a lackey and a flunky.  I’m happy I no longer work and can now devote my time to my poetic pursuit and a few other hobbies.  I wait breathlessly for the announcement of my Nobel Prize. (Left Edgar Allen Poe)


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

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”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

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