Thursday, June 27, 2019

#115 Backstory of the Poem "Because the Birds Will Survive, Too" by Katherine Riegel

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#115 Backstory of the Poem
“Because the Birds Will Survive, Too”
by Katherine Riegel
 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? This poem came from a practice I had going throughout most of 2017 of sitting down to write while I had my tea every morning. I didn’t have any particular idea in mind when I started, but I remember it had been raining a lot and felt a bit like the apocalypse; climate change comes in floods and fires, heat and bitter cold. I’d recently come across, again, the information that if there were to be an earthquake in my region (I live in Memphis; the New Madrid Fault is not far), there would be widespread and complete destruction. The Trump administration had been in office for several months, and I struggle with depression anyway; the outlook seemed bleak.
          But I feed the birds in our backyard, and we’re right up against a bit of wild land next to a river, so we get a lovely variety. I saw the birds going about their daily business, opening and eating the sunflower seeds from the feeder, and I thought, well, what if I wrote a hopeful apocalyptic poem? What if I told myself what I need to hear, but from the other side?

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I was sitting at the breakfast nook table, at home. It’s a small wooden table with small wooden chairs, the hardness of which can help me stay wakeful (I’m not a morning person, but I like to write first so I don’t put it off). 
     I was facing the back yard, looking through big windows, with a bird feeding station right in front of me holding sunflower seeds in a tube hopper and mixed nuts in a platform feeder. 
      Behind me was the kitchen, and beside me a cup of Yorkshire tea with sugar and half-and-half (real Brits, like my husband, take their tea with milk, but I like half-and-half just a little better). Gray light came through the window.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? I’m going to guess November, 2017. Or perhaps October.

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 usually write first drafts right on my laptop, so there are generally no pen markings until I get to the manuscript stage. 
     The first draft often comes quickly, in 30-60 minutes. I don’t have any stanza breaks at first, so that’s one of the things I go back to look at after the first draft is complete. I’ll also do little fiddling with line breaks and phrases that could be re-worded for concision—in prose and in talking I tend to fill things up with “of course” and explanatory words, and sometimes those sneak into the poems. 

     If I make large changes, like cutting a stanza or changing the ending, I copy the poem and put it lower down in my document, so if I decide to go back to the original, I have it. I looked for this “draft” on my computer and couldn’t find it, so I suspect I didn’t make any major changes from beginning to end. 
     I do remember being pretty happy with the ending, which is often the big place I revise. My process often then is to leave the poem alone until I start putting together my manuscript, at which point I do more cutting if I can find anything to cut, and change titles so they’re not too redundant in the book. So alas, no earlier versions of the poem exist, though that’s not unusual for me. 
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 main difference I know for sure between the first draft and this one is that there were originally no stanza breaks. I do write line breaks in a first draft, but never stanza breaks until the whole thing is there to work with.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? Hope, I guess. That though things in their personal as well as public lives will inevitably fall apart—something that often feels like apocalypse, or at least catastrophe—there will be things worth living for: birds, for one. Also pets (Right:  Katherine's cat), who tend to get the raw end of the deal in both literary and apocalyptic writing.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? Probably these lines: “…will you, personally,/watch the parts of yourself/take leave of each other/and trudge down unknown//paths?” Major life events do that to you—it’s almost like walking away from parts of yourself, and though it’s been about five years now, I experienced the end of a marriage and the end of a teaching career that hadn’t worked out the way I wanted in close succession. I still struggle with the different selves I have been, could have been, could still be, and am now. 

Has this poem been published before? And if so where? Yes. I was lucky enough to have it appear in Kettle Blue Review (https://www.kettle
contributors-issue51in the spring of 2018. It’s also in my forthcoming book, Love Songs from the End of the World, which is available now for pre-order from Main Street Rag Publishing (https://mainstreet

Anything you would like to add? I read a lot of science fiction as a kid—and still read it sometimes—so I’m very interested in apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic literature. Not the clichés of roving gangs on motorcycles, but the realities of life during and after cataclysmic change. The thing that scares me most as an adult is that the folks in power don’t seem to have read any of the same books, so they’re walking right into the same mistakes we’ve been warned about for decades. I think I wrote this poem as a personal mantra, words to say—even if I don’t always believe them—when I am afraid.

Because the Birds Will Survive, Too

I’m writing to you from after
the end of the world,
after apocalypse,
after the breakdown

of what we once knew.
I am writing to tell you
it is possible to survive.
We didn’t all come back:

that is not possible.
Some of us hid
and popped out again
from holes as deep

as the sky. Some of us
learned to grow sustenance
in our backyards, once
the provinces of lawnmowers.

We kept our pets—
I know that is worrying you
but we had to love
more, sometimes,

than we had to live.
You don’t know yet
what type of explosion
I am talking about:

will you, personally,
watch the parts of yourself
take leave of each other
and trudge down unknown

paths? Will the land itself
break apart, crack into
tree-swallowing fissures,
mouths you nightmare about?

I’m telling you yes.
I’m telling you live.

     Katherine Riegel is the author of Love Songs from the End of the World (forthcoming from Main Street Rag Publishing in fall 2019 but available NOW for pre-order), the chapbook Letters to Colin Firth, and two more books of poetry. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Offing, Orion,, Tin House, and elsewhere. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet Lit, and teaches independent online classes in poetry and creative nonfiction.


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 Wursthaus”
by Doug Holder

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

#093 April 5, 2019
“A Father Calls to his child on liveleak”
by Stephen Byrne

#094 April 8, 2019
by Marc Zegans

#095 April 12, 2019
“Landscape and Still Life”
by Marjorie Maddox

#096 April 16, 2019
“Strawberries Have Been Growing Here for Hundreds of
by Mary Ellen Lough

#097 April 17, 2019
“The New Science of Slippery Surfaces”
by Donna Spruijt-Metz

#098 April 19, 2019
“Tennessee Epithalamium”
by Alyse Knorr

#099 April 20, 2019
“Mermaid, 1969”
by Tameca L. Coleman

#100 April 21, 2019
“How Do You Know?”
by Stephanie

#101 April 23, 2019
“Rare Book and Reader”
by Ned Balbo

#102 April 26, 2019
by Jefferson Carter

#103 May 01, 2019
“The sight of a million angels”
by Jenneth Graser

#104 May 09, 2019
“How to tell my dog I’m dying”
by Richard Fox

#105 May 17, 2019
“Promises Had Been Made”
by Sarah Sarai

#106 June 01, 2019
“i sold your car today”
by Pamela Twining

#107 June 02, 2019
“Abandoned Stable”
by Nancy Susanna Breen

#108 June 05, 2019
by Julene Tripp Weaver

#109 June 6, 2019
“Bobby’s Story”
by Jimmy Pappas

#110 June 10, 2019
“When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father”
by Pauletta Hansel

#111 Backstory of the Poem’s
“Cemetery Mailbox”
by Jennifer Horne

#112 Backstory of the Poem’s
by Kate Peper

#113 Backstory of the Poem’s
by Jennifer Johnson

#114 Backstory of the Poem’s
“Brushing My Hair”
by Tammika Dorsey Jones

#115 Backstory of the Poem
“Because the Birds Will Survive, Too”

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