Tuesday, July 23, 2019

#116 Backstory of the Poem "DIVORCE" by Joan Barasovska

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***This is #116 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. 

#116 Backstory of the Poem
by Joan Barasovska

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? 
     “Divorce,” the pivotal poem in my first book of poetry, Birthing Age (Finishing Line Press, 2018) (https://www.finishing
linepress.com/), was born of another poem, “Emancipation,” which it replaced in the accepted manuscript. 
     My friend, the poet Paul Jones (https://www.
paul-jones/), had read the manuscript and urged me to remove “Emancipation.” That poem’s epigraph is from Abraham Lincoln: “If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.” I used an extended metaphor of a female house slave who contemplates murder of the master to explain my plight as a subjugated wife and the courage it took, “the final insurrection,” to leave the marriage. The last line is “I am my Great Emancipator.” I was surprised by Paul’s advice. He said that using a slavery metaphor for my life was unacceptable, as I’m a white, middle-class woman. I thought that, being a man and knowing nothing about a woman’s experience, he couldn’t understand the poem.
       But doubts lingered, so I showed it to another poet friend, Crystal Simone Smith (http://crystal
smith.com/), an African American woman. Crystal is also a poetry editor and her warning was sufficient. I had to pull “Emancipation” and replace it with a poem just as significant and pivotal to the book. She said that though the poem would resonate with those in “this thankless role,” she agreed with Paul. “There is a term used in the black community: ignorant white bliss. I know your heart is in that poem and your intent is honorable, but I would rather you not risk being labeled that way.” She was right. I had not been enslaved, and this was not my metaphor. I needed a metaphor just as compelling but one that arose from my own ancestry. I left for the Gathering of Poets in Winston-Salem, a conference I’ve attended for five years. I took my favorite route, 54 West to the interstate, rural, gentle, and green in early spring. 
     I was struggling for that metaphor and it arrived while I drove and became the first words of a new poem: “In the shtetl of my heart…” The shtetls in the Pale of Settlement in late 19th and early 20th century Russia were the homes of my grandparents before they emigrated to Philadelphia. Here was the image of oppression that opened the poem to me. The following day, Saturday, I was distracted during the conference workshops and readings.
     I tried out lines in the margins of my notebook while taking workshop notes. On the drive home Sunday morning, again on 54, I pulled over in the empty parking lot of the Dollar General in Graham, North Carolina, and wrote “Divorce” without pausing. I wept when I finished, a near-guarantee of a good poem.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail. The poem was written in the driver’s seat of my 2005 silver Honda Accord in the empty parking lot of the Dollar General in Graham, North Carolina, fifteen miles from my home.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? It was late March, 2018, on a sunny Sunday morning.

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?) There were many drafts, but fewer than I usually write because of the time I’d spent writing it in my head while driving and during stolen moments at the conference. My big problem was the final line, as I explain below. Unaccountably, I can’t find the notebook where I wrote this poem—I always compose on paper—or the notes from the 2018 Gathering of Poets.  I have poetry notebooks going back to the ‘60’s, but not this one.

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 only line that changed was the final one. Originally it was “I am my own Lady Liberty,” echoing “I am my Great Emancipator” in “Emancipation.” I didn’t like the boasting tone. In the following week I fretted over it—see photo below—until I remembered the final words of Emma Lazarus’s (Left) poem engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” My grandparents had walked through that golden door. The final line of “Divorce” became, “A lifted lamp waited by the foreign shore.”

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?  I want readers of this poem to briefly experience, in a visceral way, the despair of this subjugated woman and the exhilaration of her escape.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? The line “…across waters I had never seen” still brings tears to my eyes. Leaving a very long marriage at 60, leaving its protection and security for the complete unknown, without plans, was not unlike my grandmother’s leaving her town of Novgorud, Lithuania, for Philadelphia in 1908.

Has this poem been published before?  And if so where? My editor accepted “Divorce” as a substitute for “Emancipation” and it was published in my chapbook, Birthing Age, by Finishing Line Press in October, 2018.

Anything you would like to add? “Divorce” was quoted or referred to in all three of the blurbs of my book. Becky Gould Gibson wrote, “…her extraordinarily apt and memorable images like ‘the shtetl of my heart’ and ‘the village of my marriage.’” During readings from my book I recite the poem. It is the poem in Birthing Age that most moves me. It was the poem I didn’t want to write.


In the shtetl of my heart I hoed weeds in rows
of cabbages and potatoes. Mud crusted the hem
of my black wool skirt. I stoked an iron stove
to boil the thin peasant soup that fed my family.
Daily, I tied a faded babushka under my chin.
I muttered curses on the Tsar’s head and wished
him dead. In the village of my marriage,
I hid kopeks in a twisted rag, tokens of my rage.
At last, by moonlight, I trudged miles,
footsore in worn boots, to book passage
in steerage across waters I had never seen.
A lifted lamp waited by the foreign shore.

Joan Barasovska lives in Orange County, North Carolina. She is an     academic therapist in private practice, working with children with learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral challenges. Joan cohosts the Flyleaf Books Poetry Series in Chapel Hill. She serves on the Board of the North Carolina Poetry Society. Birthing Age, from Finishing Line Press (2018), is her first book of poetry.


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”
by Katherine Riegel

#116 Backstory of the Poem
by Joan Barasovska


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    Save My Marriage

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