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***This is the fifty-first 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 Title Photo: Anatoly Molotkov in November of 2018. Copyright permission granted by Anatoly Molotkov for this CRC Blog Post Only.
#51 Backstory of the Poem
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov
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 don't usually start a poem with an intention, but allow the intention to be found in the process. For me, a poem starts with experimental stabs at something – language, meaning, story. For years, the single-verse prototype sat on my hard drive waiting for an additional spark. The notion of a sci-fi poem kept its attraction. It’s an unusual combination in my reading experience.
As a lifelong fiction writer and reader, I have strong reservations about “genre” writing – any genre – including sci-fi. In my opinion, only very few authors typically classified in this category have been able to arise to the level of serious literature (most notably Ray Bradbury (Left in 1975) http://www.raybradbury.com/). With sci-fi in particular, so much effort often has to be dedicated to world-building and plot that both become goals of their own and develop with diminished regard for the work’s emotional, ethical and intellectual objectives.
In short, this seemed a worthwhile challenge. Not only the poem’s futuristic reality, but the notion of creative responsibility it ponders, demanded more attention. At some point in 2015, I gave it another try. (Right: Anatoly Molotkov in 2015. Copyright permission granted by Anatoly Molotkov for this CRC Blog Post Only)
Growing the poem from one verse to its final twelve-verse form was about adding details that seemed moving and genuine – or humorous in an unobtrusive way that may offset the tragic main theme. I also ran the poem by my three writers’ groups. (Left: Anatoly Molotkov holding his poetry collection Application of Shadows where "Persistence of Memory" is included. October 2018. Copyright permission granted by Anatoly Molotkov 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. I can't remember where the original prototype was written – that was over a decade ago. The more recent work on fleshing out The Persistence of Music occurred in my kitchen downstairs (Right)– it opens onto a street corner and, at night, creates a sense of overlap between the warm, light internal world and the dark universe outside. I write after midnight, when everyone else is asleep.
What month and year did you start writing this poem? I would place the prototype somewhere around 2005.
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?) Probably 15-20. I haven't kept them. I realize many writers are sentimental about their revision process and keep their early drafts. To me, early versions are revised for good reasons and superseded by better ones. I wouldn't want to share sub-par lines with the world or pollute my own mind or my archives by keeping track of them.
I’ve made an exception with the first draft quoted above because it’s so different from the final poem and I happen to have it memorized (which reminds me that I had pondered this brief snippet for years before writing the final version).
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? The entire original draft is not in the final version. It went like this:
In the lobby of a space station, alien police
hang suspects by the toes. Cries
fill the air. An upside-down
tortured face asks for help. “I’m just
a visitor,” I reply. “I too
need help. I’ve brought
a mouthful of music, but no
one wants it.”
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I’m uncomfortable imposing my interpretive preferences on the readers. My hope is that the poem leaves enough room for each reader to walk away with her or his own personal reaction.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? The ending is emotional to me, as endings tend to be – as a writer, one wants the catharsis, the emotional weight around the last lines.
Has this poem been published before? And if so where? Massachusetts Review, Volume 57, Number 4, Winter 2016. It’s reproduced at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/643754
Anything you would like to add? Thank you for these questions – it’s rewarding to stop and think about the creative process and its relationship to time. In a way, the poem itself is a commentary on that.
The Persistence of Music
Yesterday, blue rain fell on me. I found my hair on the pillow: lovely beige clumps,
dry like distance.
I remember your hands running through it. I’m on read-only access.
There is nothing unique about being archived. Next upgrade may be my last. I recall
your final breath
drawn through the tube, the DNA collector’s smile as I waited.
You are pure data now, immune to time, as my memory fades. They say
the Outer Planets
are more hospitable to my kind, but I’m loath to leave this place we shared.
Maybe I should sing again. But who would listen? My survival stock drops daily. Tomorrow,
Your DNA reveals compassion skills, something I have always valued.
I noticed you first in the maintenance line, handing out plugins, your smile
patient and kind,
the way you paid attention to everyone, even lower grade aliens.
You reminded me: there are still songs to sing. Without you, I don't know how
to be me.
I lack self-confidence, I doubt my uniqueness index, the very thing you used to like about me.
Is a song too small, cowardly? Can music matter to those in pain and
Your DNA descends from homo sapiens – how old-fashioned. To me,
you were breathtakingly beautiful, no matter your origins. You wanted me to sing,
not for you,
but for myself and those who can hear. You made my future possible,
you helped me even as your own future was coming to an end. You’d mentioned a pending upgrade,
but I ignored you. My blindness bites, chews at me. I’m knee deep in song.
I wish we could replay with full audiovisual feedback, rewind. You were the all of all,
and even this
doesn't say enough. You were the only path, and you ended. I open myself to what
you lacked in me, to the way you wanted me to be. One of the Outer Planets will be named
preserved in thought and harmony, so others can fondly say you, not knowing it’s you.
I love you more since you were shut down. You tick in me without winding. I know you
bit by bit.
I learn from your absence. My mouth is dry, my vocal chords atrophied, yet I sing.
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”
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”
040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”
041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”
042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”
043 November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”
044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”
045 December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”
046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”
047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”
048 December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”
049 December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”
O50 December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s “For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”
051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotko
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