Below: Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen in December of 2018. Attribution granted by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen for this CRC Blog Post.
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, I reflected upon an event that had occurred two years before when I had tried to help a university reference librarian keep her position in the library. (Some administrative edict had wiped out all but two of the six-member, professional reference librarian staff.
It was a hopeless situation—and one that showed the university’s hypocrisy. This decision had nothing to do with those employees’ performances. It was solely for monetary purposes. Staff members fresh from graduate schools would work for far less than seasoned professionals, who had steadily earned pay increases.) Each day I read the Bible, and at that time, I often listened to Theologian Chuck Swindall’s teachings on KLJC, a Christian radio station. I don’t recall his exact teaching about Jesus shooing the moneychangers from the Temple, but the image connected with my experience. As I wrote the poem, the image of a dove kept reappearing—and “dove-like eyes” was indeed, an accurate description of the librarian about whom I wrote.
Later, newscasters that fall announced that U.S. Servicemen in the first U.S.-Iraq War, Desert Storm, wanted books—but were banned from receiving Bibles.
A veteran friend thought I should put together a chapbook of my “Christian” poems, including this one. So Second Touch was born. He paid to publish it. About 200 copies went overseas to servicemen. It included the fish sign on the cover to let potential Christian readers know what the book contained. I sold remaining copies to teaching colleagues and other friends.
I worked the images together to try to make both art and sense. Once I pared down this poem, playing The Doors music (especially “Riders on the Storm”) helped me to set up each poem’s rhythm. “Riders on the Storm” also helped me build confidence that these poems would work.
The image of a bug on a windshield during one of Carl and my trips to Colorado—plus a dream I experienced, inspired this poem in the summer of either 2010 or 2011. I jotted notes about the insect’s wings in my journal. Black and yellow striped, those wings made the bug look much like a Navajo dancer.
(At the time, we were crossing western Kansas—where often mauve fields roll on and on.)
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? Although I don’t recall the exact words, I remember I went into intense detail (ad nauseam) about an insect on the windshield, describing its wings and comparing it to an Indian warrior. Later, that image became “wings of bugs fried by the sun,” which better works with—rather than detracts from the poem.
Throughout this collection, I strived to evoke emotions in readers. My emotions came from playing certain Doors songs (and singing them) while writing these poems. The Morrison poems were more about evoking emotions in readers rather than release me from emotions.
I wrote sensual description after description to create that powerful attachment in readers. But they failed to recreate that sense of awe and desire I wanted the reader to feel. So I created a short scene with characters.
at least, that’s when the imagery of northern, pine-covered, U.S. mountains and clear lakes—together with tom-tom sounds—engaged my imagination. During this pre-school era, I didn’t know I was a writer. Still, that image broke into and lodged in my brain for years.
They were poems I sense must happen—and just couldn’t give up. Nevertheless, unlike many poems that have come to me requiring little or no revisions, I had to repeatedly chisel these two. I set them aside many times.) 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? When I was a child and saw that bear paddling a canoe on Hamms beer TV commercials, its sounds of toms-toms beating and images of open, sunny skies, mountains, and clear rivers sent me to a special place, a place I wanted to share with readers.
It was somewhat like Heaven in the sense it was beyond this world—albeit composed of earthly images—perhaps more like the Elysian Fields (Below), a peaceful wilderness. The challenge was turning this abstract idea into something concrete that would “hook” readers and keep them engaged with the work. At any rate, to make it work, I changed my approach about trying to recreate my experience with the new opening, “Forget about the bear paddling/a canoe through neon waves”/ and made up the image of a couple sharing drinks in a corner. I also decided my “voice/persona” would be the barmaid waiting on the couple.
This sense of wonder and bliss was extreme difficult to convey. In lieu of a dramatic emotion, such as fear or eros love, this emotion was a tranquil one—one of wonder and perhaps nostalgia.
with apologies to James Wright
a canoe through neon waves
in this dark bar at the edge of Troost.
A couple huddles in a corner.
Maybe half-drunk, she rests her head
on his shoulder. He kisses her crown
but eyes her breasts.
I try to ignore those two
so I can tell you about a lake,
the sounds of tom-toms,
water rushing over a cliff,
and twilight shadows filling the sky,
about a place far from plastic cups,
cell phones, and freeways.
I want to lie in a hammock there,
hide out from this bar,
where I serve rounds
of gin for men, sweaty
and stinking of tar. I want
to lie under a pine, watch
chicken hawks glide
and squawk at each other.
They fly from their roosts
and soar. Here, waves
keep turning against themselves.
They form a maze
of muddy water: a creek
“Little Political Sense” “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison” “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen