Saturday, January 5, 2019

#55 Backstory of the Poem "&" by Larissa Shmailo

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***This is the fifty-fifth 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. 

#55 Backstory of the Poem
by Larissa Shmailo

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?
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail.     I was asked by poet Michael T. Young, ( who was guest-editing the journal Shrew (, for a one-sentence sonnet. 

The sonnet did not need to rhyme or follow iambic pentameter, but it had to be 14 lines, one sentence, and have the traditional volta, or twist, at line 9. 

So, I had this in the back of my mind as the Kavanaugh hearings were taking place. Christine Blasey Ford had come forward to tell her story and many of us were sharing our experiences of rape and sexual assault. 

I shared the story of how I lost my virginity to a rape at age 13 on Facebook; I was among the many who didn’t report such crimes when they occurred, or even speak of them, because I felt such shame and that I was somehow to blame.

I was lying on my massive tan couch backward when the image of myself as a young alcoholic passed out on the subway struck me with force, and I jumped to my desk, which is a mahogany dining room table piled with books, my computer, a printer, magnifying glasses, pens, writing supplies, dictionaries and surrounded by two long and high rosewood bookshelves. I began to type fast.  As the words came, I realized that this emotional content might be my one-sentence sonnet. The rush of words of a survivor would be a long sentence with insistent clauses connected by the conjunction, “&,” like a sharp inhaled breath.

The poem came out in one piece, fairly rhythmic, and with rhyme. In the first eight lines, I vary the position of the rhyming words for a kind of sprung rhythm. In the last six, for the volta, I use more traditional end rhymes to change the pace and underscore the change in theme

What month and year did you start writing this poem?   September of  2018. (Left) I have included it in my fourth full-length collection, Dora / Lora, which is brand new and seeking a publisher.

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?)   
Two drafts, pretty similar—as I said, the poem came out pretty much in one piece. When I submitted it to Michael, he had me take out some semicolons that were separating the clauses; these, he felt, were too much like end punctuation. This edit had a good effect, because I then began the volta with “but,” which underscored the poem’s shift.

I rarely write on paper, and do most of my writing on a keyboard—my handwriting is abysmal. When I occasionally start a poem on paper, it is a scrawl of illegible half-ideas.

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?   A few words were changed. I just now swapped in “pick” for “select,” and “scars” for “barbs,” which I had originally. It is not a perfect poem, by any means, and it is very new; I will probably edit it more when some more time has passed. Somehow, however, I am attached to the clumsiness of the rhythm at the beginning, which seems suitable to its subject.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?   In the first eight lines, I describe a harsh reality. But the poem is a victory because, in the volta, I reclaim the vulnerability torn from me by rape and reach out for help, affirming that, despite my scars, I can still love.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?   The volta – vulnerability comes hard to me.

Has this poem been published before?  And if so where?   Issue 8 of Shrew guest-edited by Michael T. Young is available at


My love, I see myself in a fur coat lying face down, drunk,
on the floor of the subway train, one heel lost, & I feel a
hardened man raping me, my virgin soul frost, & awards
are easy, mama says, & they may pick and choose you, but,
they don’t know you, Ms. Boss, & my father says that I am
sexy & the time after that is lost & I know I am fat,
that I cost, & before she dies, mama says she wishes
I was never born, my death in my mother’s eyes, crossed,

but my love, see this chasm & wall here & be brave for me,
come swim the swamp around me & trust it is not within me,
or if it is, come love this swamp creature until it is drained,
and look at the dead in the moat, for here they will remain,
& sit here, still, with me & I will haltingly explain
I still love, beyond scars, beyond wounds, beyond pain

Larissa Shmailo's new novel is Sly Bang, forthcoming in January 2019 from Spuyten Duyvil; her first novel is Patient Women (BlazeVOX). 
Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country (MadHat), #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX), the chapbook A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and the e-book Fib Sequence (Argotist EBooks).

Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the  Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, Gargoyle, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters (Penguin Random House), Words for the Wedding (Penguin), Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey), Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural (Spuyten Duyvil), and many others.

Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the world's first performance piece, Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych, performed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Garage Museum of Moscow, the Brooklyn Academy of Art, and theaters and universities worldwide.
Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian (Big Bridge Press) and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society.  Shmailo's work is int he libraries of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and New York Universityies, The Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn, and other universities and museums. 

Larissa Shmailo, Inc.


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”

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”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

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