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? “When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father” began as an in-class exercise for the Draft to Craft Poetry class that I teach, using an assignment that I borrowed from Rebecca Gayle Howell. The activity—we paired up and each poet interviewed the other about his or her father. (In Rebecca’s class at the Appalachian Writers Workshop the interviews were about our mothers.)
Then we wrote a poem about the other poet’s father and then eventually about our own, using the other poet’s poem and interview notes. So, when I sat down to write this poem, I had a specific reader in mind—Drew, my student and fellow poet—alongside my usual mix of internal/external audience (I am writing to better understand the subject/I am writing to be understood).
It began longhand, as almost all my poems do, and this poem began as a poem/prose hybrid, which is a little unusual—I usually know right away if I am writing prose or essay.
I moved from written page to typed page the same day—at least in part because I was taking the draft to class with me the same week. In my mind I was filling in the gaps of what I had shared in the interview, as well as including info I had given Drew. Drew had also shared his notes from the interview, so I had those to refer to. Most of what was in the notes showed up in the poem, some in a roundabout way (the description of Dad’s Christmas bulb nose was probably influenced by me saying he made a good Santa).
I drafted the poem in our guest bedroom. There’s a daybed where I sprawl out to right longhand. My husband’s books are in that room—mostly Civil War and other military history. Lots of quilts and pillows on the daybed, quilt rack behind the bed and also a hat rack with my collection of hats mostly from the 40s and 50s. Hooked floral rug which, amazingly, my cat does not like to scratch. My stepdaughter says the room is haunted, mostly because it has old stuff in it. But I often start poems there, so maybe it is poem-haunted, too.
What month and year did you start writing this poem? The class when we did the interviews was in late September 2017 and the poem was drafted in early or mid-October. (Right)
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 have the handwritten draft, plus five typed versions. I’m sharing the handwritten version (with some mark-ups) and the first and final drafts—I don’t have pen markings on the typed drafts—I worked on the computer at that point. The title came with the first typed draft. I also added line breaks, though I kept the long prose-like lines. In one version it looked sort of like the profile of a face, which was sort of cool, and I tried to keep that, but it didn’t work with intentional line breaks.
I hope that carries over to the reader when it is on the page. There is also something in the poem that is “about” reading a life as text, with its metaphors and serendipities, its mysteries and kismet, and as a memoirist and a poet who works from life and memory, that is part of my own purpose of writing—to make literature from life. (Right: Father and Daughter)
Yes, in Appalachian Heritage, Winter 2018: http://appalachianheritage.
to-tell-you-about-my-father/ It Is in my new collection of poetry, Coal Town Photograph, out from Dos Madres Press in Spring 2019
Anything you would like to add? Thanks for the opportunity