Thursday, April 4, 2019

#92 Backstory of the Poem "Original Sin' by Diane Lockward

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***This is the ninety-second 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. 

#92 Backstory of the Poem  “Original Sin” by Diane Lockward

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? 
The seed of my poem “Original Sin” had been in my head for years, ever since the time of the incident that’s narrated in the poem, so it goes back to my childhood, long before I even became a poet. 
As the poem tells, I took the blame for something cruel that a girlfriend did to my pet rabbit. She pulled off my rabbit’s tail, then lied and told my father I had done it and for some reason I agreed that I had pulled off my rabbit’s tail. For years after I wondered why I had admitted to doing what I hadn’t done. It bugged me. Eventually, I started the poem. 
As I took it through many drafts, I at long last arrived at a kind of epiphany, an explanation as to why had I lied about my friend’s lie. That moment of acknowledgment of guilt in the poem startled me. It was something I hadn’t known about myself and I’m still not sure it’s true. But I am sure that it works for the poem. Writing this poem was both surprise and discovery.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail. 
Almost certainly at my kitchen table which is where most of my poems begin—after breakfast, still sipping on ginger tea, the house quiet. The table is octagonal and sits right next to a sliding glass door. 
Looking through the glass, I see birds at the feeders and the baths, I see squirrels cavorting, sometimes deer grazing. My creative brain is at its best in the morning. That’s when I get my best material. Later in the day I’m good for revising, but for creating, I’m a morning girl.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? 
It must have been sometime in 2011. Then it went through months of revision.
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?) 
I see about twenty drafts for this one. That’s actually fewer drafts than I often go through. Initially, I just wrote out the story on lined yellow legal pad paper. After several handwritten drafts, I went to the computer. Gradually, the form of the poem emerged. You’ll notice in the photos that I revise my drafts with red ink. I’ve heard students complain about red ink, but I always tell them it’s what I use on my own work. It makes it easier for me to see what and where my revisions are.
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 one draft I had “My father sent her home, then said I’d been cruel.” I dropped the first half of that sentence and replaced it with “My father slapped me hard.” That felt absolutely right as the gesture shows that the father was dealing out his own kind of cruelty. In an even earlier draft, I had “I did not even try to mitigate / my crime by calling it an accident.” That had to go because the “crime” hadn’t been committed by the speaker. Also the language there is too mature. The voice isn’t convincing. In an earlier draft I’d also included more description of the tail: “…until it came loose and bloody / in her hand and the rabbit fled, / leaving the bloody stump in Karen’s hand.” There I’ve repeated “bloody” which I realized was overdoing it. I knew the poem would be more effective if understated rather than graphic.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?
I never set out to teach a lesson or impart a moral. I think I’d just like readers to wonder along with the speaker why she did what she did and perhaps to be as shocked as I was by the conclusion. I hope for an emotional impact.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional for you to write and why? 
Most definitely the end which left me feeling stunned, almost breathless. I had not anticipated arriving at that ending, that awareness. I felt sad for the little girl I’d been who could not speak up for herself. I suppose that an argument could be made for loyalty, that the speaker was being loyal to her friend, but I think it was more cowardice than loyalty. Fear of the father. That, too, for sure.

Has this poem been published before?  And if so, where? 
Yes, it was first published in the Naugatuck River Review, 2013. It won the journal’s annual poetry contest for 2012, that year judged by Pam Uschuk. That was an absolutely stunning surprise, too! The poem was later published in my book, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement, and is, in fact, the title poem of the book; the book’s title is a line from the poem.

Anything you would like to add? 
I’d like to invite your readers to subscribe to my free monthly Poetry Newsletter. Each issue includes a craft tip from a well-established poet, a model poem, a prompt based on the poem, some links, a book recommendation or a cartoon, and a video. Sign up at:

Original Sin

When Karen told my father I’d pulled off
my rabbit’s tail, he asked, Did you? And I
said, Yes, though in truth it was Karen

who’d grabbed the tail and tugged and tugged
until it came loose in her hand. My father
slapped me hard, said I’d been cruel,

and asked why I’d done it. I confessed I didn’t
know and took the strap for Karen’s crime.
In the days and weeks that followed, I never

questioned or accused Karen, and she never
acknowledged what she’d done or apologized.
We did not speak of her lie, or mine.

One morning at summer’s end I found my rabbit
dead in her pen. Her sweet body, already stiff,
lay among the uneaten carrots of atonement,

and where the tail had been, a small red circle,
an accusing eye, reminded me of my deception.
I wondered then and wonder still why I took

the blame for hurting the pet I’d loved. I only know
that once Karen said I’d done it and my father
looked at me as if I had, I was guilty,

as guilty as those unbaptized babies
in Purgatory. I must have understood even then
that I’d been born bad and the only reason

I hadn’t yanked off my rabbit’s tail was because
Karen got it first. Some part of me, the part
already destined for Hell, had wanted

that soft talisman that promised luck, wanted it
in my own hand, and wished I’d moved faster.

Diane Lockward is the editor of The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics (Terrapin Books, 2018) and two previous craft books, The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, 2016) and The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, rev. ed., 2016)
She is also the author of four poetry books, most recently The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement (Wind Publications, 2016). Her awards include the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and a Woman of Achievement Award. Her poems have been included in such journals as Harvard Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She is the publisher of Terrapin Books.

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

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
“Summer 1970, The University of Virginia Opens to Women in the Fall”
by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
“At School They Learn Nouns”
by Patrick Bizzaro

067  February 06, 2019
“I Must Not Breathe”
by Angela Jackson-Brown

068 February 11, 2019
“Lunch on City Island, Early June”
by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
by Christopher P. Locke

071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
by Wyn Cooper

072 February 20, 2019
“A New Psalm of Montreal”
by Sheenagh Pugh

073 February 23, 2019
“Make Me A Butterfly”
by Amy Barbera

074 February 26, 2019
by Sandy Coomer

075 March 4, 2019
“Shape of a Violin”
by Kelly Powell

076 March 5, 2019
“Inward Oracle”
by J.P. Dancing Bear

077 March 7, 2019
“I Broke My Bust Of Jesus”
by Susan Sundwall

078 March 9, 2019
“My Mother at 19”
by John Guzlowski

079 March 10, 2019
by Chera Hammons Miller

080 March 12, 2019
“Of Water and Echo”
by Gillian Cummings

081   082   083    March 14, 2019
“Little Political Sense”   “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison”  “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen

084 March 15, 2019
“A Tune To Remember”
by Anna Evans

085 March 19, 2019
“At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey

086 March 20, 2019
“Garden of Gethsemane”
by Marletta Hemphill

087 March 21, 2019
“Letters From a War”
by Chelsea Dingman

088 March 26, 2019
by Bob Heman

089 March 27, 2019
“Clay for the Potter”
by Belinda Bourgeois

#090 March 30, 2019
“The Pose”
by John Hicks

#091 April 2, 2019
“Last Night at the Wursthause”
by Doug Holder

#092 April 4, 2019
“Original Sin”
by Diane Lockward

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