Monday, November 11, 2019

#137 Backstory of the Poem "Then She Was Forever" by Paula Persoleo

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***This is the #137 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. 

#137 Backstory of the Poem
“Then She Was Forever”
by Paula Persoleo

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? I read Fleda Brown’s Fishing with Blood, and I was moved by the people and places the poem described. But what stood out to me the most was the sense of sadness from loss that permeated the collection—a kind of sadness that I could relate to, for many personal reasons. I knew I had to capture that feeling in my own poem, and I knew that I’d have to use Fleda Brown’s words to do it.

I had written a cento (also known as a “found” poetry) before in a graduate workshop, so I decided to use that form for this poem. I had to make some parameters for myself in order to focus on how to put the poem together, so I limited myself to only one line from each poem I borrowed from in Fleda’s book (including the title). I also allowed myself to change capitalization and punctuation, but I didn’t change any of the words from the chosen lines. (There is some flexibility of late with verb forms in many centos, but I wasn’t willing to make that concession.)
I made a list of lines I liked from all of the poems in the book, then I sifted through them for specific lines that stood out and that I thought I could somehow weave together. The title, oddly enough, was the first line I chose; instinctively I knew it would be the title of the poem. That helped me cut out lines with masculine pronouns, so I had a focal point for the poem’s subject. I had to answer the question, “What will make her ‘forever’?” before I could delve too deeply into the poem, and I decided the line “she felt like an angel, transcending events” was the key to that answer. That brought the idea of “flight” to mind, except I was still thinking about that “fishing lead” and how heavy the poems in the book felt, so I had to resolve that conflict.
The poem just fell into triplets as I patched lines together. I can’t really explain why triplets worked, or why the first and third lines had to be longer than the second, but it felt right, both sonically and visually. Especially in the first draft, I worked hard to avoid too many end-stopped lines (many centos rely on that, which makes them feel forced at times) and also to create “sentences” in which subjects and verbs agreed. Beyond that, I felt like I had little control over how that draft came together because the words weren’t mine.
The first of my writing groups that read the poem, then, had little to say about it since they knew the words were fixed; all they pointed out were lines they liked and parts that weren’t working.X
The second writing group pointed out parts that seemed repetitive or not visual enough. I went back to the drawing board and reviewed all the lines I had culled, then added more and started to move pieces around while working hard to keep the “sense” of the poem intact. The next meetings repeated that process, and I almost scratched the whole thing. I read the book again and found more lines that I thought would fit, and by the final draft I had the same shape for the poem but only six of the lines (including the final two) remained. I think I unconsciously repeated the “s” sound throughout the poem (I only noticed it now that I’m reading it again), but it works because it holds everything together and it emphasizes the most important words in the piece. I knew I was done because the poem felt complete.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I was home when I began writing. I always write, for better or worse, in my bedroom, where I can turn the phone off and concentrate; the doors stay shut, the television stays off. My laptop, Fleda’s book, and I sat on my bed next to the one lamp that was turned on. The heater hummed in the background, but otherwise the house was quiet.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? I began writing the poem in October 2017.

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? There weren’t many drafts of this poem, mainly because the nature of found poetry is such that the words can’t change—so either the poem works or it doesn’t, and when a part of it isn’t working then whole lines have to come and go in order for the sense of the poem to be maintained. I have two writing groups, so both saw the first version I wrote. I believe there were three or four drafts altogether, though, and the group that meets more often saw all of those drafts.
See secondary attachment for photo of first draft. (Below Right)

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? Only six lines (not including the title) stayed from the first draft! The rest were added, moved, and (ultimately) cut until I decided the poem reflected the feelings of its persona(e).
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? The thing I don’t want this poem to be is a glorification of suicide, because that’s not my intention. Instead, I’d like it to be read as a sympathetic response to suicide and suicidal ideation, because the act often is not a decision made in an instant. It’s a lonely, personal act, a response to deep pain, which is why we have to talk about it and why we should keep advertising the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Because if we don’t communicate with those who are suffering, then they’ll feel like suicide is the only means of escape.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? Probably the second stanza was the most emotional one. It took me a while until I found what felt like the right juxtaposition between sinking and jumping, since for this poem the two acts are inherently related to each other. Then, when I realized the double-meaning of “spring” and how it worked as both a catalyst and as a result, I knew I hit the emotional core of the poem because “the stubborn urge to leap” is physical and mental, and it’s desired and feared: a quick act with permanent consequences. I was startled by the complexity of that revelation and all the trauma that goes with it.

Has this poem been published before? And if so where? The poem was published, both in print and online, in January 2018 by Into the Void magazine:

Anything you would like to add? More often than not, the cento is a funny poem (like John Ashbery’s “The Dong with the Luminous Nose”)
 because a writer sometimes has to force together lines that just don’t want to go together, and the results can be hilarious. But, and this just might be me, not one cento I’ve ever written or tried to write has been even a little bit lighthearted. It’s a reflection of what I read, of course, but it probably means I need to read more that makes me laugh.

Then She was Forever

Invisible as night (to let infinity show through)
she stands naked,
does not dare to move. Now,

unruffled and heavy as fishing lead,
the stubborn urge to leap
uncurls again—this spring—as if the world

can remember exactly what’s been broken.
Into papery silence
there are only shadows blowing,

every angle of her variously
a sigh, a stretch,
despair, a space scooped cleanly from desire.

This place is as close as she can get.
Springing and releasing,
off in a burst—a pyre to scatter its scars—

she felt like an angel, transcending events
the way dreams do
from the one clean leap of light,

blessed. Nothing is closer than death
(suicide is the word I say).
Blood stayed on the ground till it rained.

All lines in the poem, as well as the title, are derived from Fleda Brown’s collection Fishing with Blood: ‘O’Keeffe: An Expert Explains Her Work,’ ‘Plain People: Grossdawdy,’ ‘Edward Hopper’s Women,’ ‘Goat,’ ‘Catching Turtles,’ ‘Small Inheritances,’ ‘Bed-Buffaloes, Nose-Fairies, Car-Key Gnomes,’ ‘Central Lake: Impediments,’ ‘I Leapt Over the Wall,’ ‘Maintenance,’ ‘O’Keeffe: She Marries the Photographer Stieglitz,’ ‘Central Lake: Cottage,’ ‘Habitations: Fire and Blood,’ ‘Central Lake: Sprouts,’ ‘A Mother Watches Her Athletic Daughter,’ ‘Keeping Fit,’ ‘Arch,’ ‘O’Keeffe: She Learns to Walk,’ ‘Devil’s Den,’ ‘What Your Eyes Have to See,’ ‘Sky Watch,’ ‘Chicken Willie’.
Paula Persoleo’s recent work has been accepted by Philadelphia Stories, Mantis, and Tulane Review. In 2018, her poem “How We Were, How We Are” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Beltway Poetry Quarterly. She lives and works in Delaware.


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

#117 Backstory of the Poem
by Michael Meyerhofer

#118 Backstory of the Poem
“Dear the estranged,”
by Gina Tron

#119 Backstory of the Poem
“In Remembrance of Them”
by Janet Renee Cryer

#120 Backstory of the Poem
“Horse Fly Grade Card, Doesn’t Play Well With Others”
by David L. Harrison

#121 Backstory of the Poem
“My Mother’s Cookbook”
by Rachael Ikins

#122 Backstory of the Poem
“Cousins I Never Met”
by Maureen Kadish Sherbondy

#123 Backstory of the Poem
“To Those Who Were Our First Gods”
by Nickole Brown

#124 Backstory of the Poem
“Looking For Sunsets (In the Early Morning)”
by Paul Levinson

#125 Backstory of the Poem
by Tiff Holland

#126 Backstory of the Poem
by Cindy Hochman

#127 Backstory of the Poem
by Natasha Saje

#128 Backstory of the Poem
“How to Explain Fertility When an Acquaintance Asks Casually”
by Allison Blevins

#129 Backstory of the Poem
“The Art of Meditation In Tennessee”
by Linda Parsons

#130 Backstory of the Poem
“Schooling High, In Beslan”
by Satabdi Saha

#131 Backstory of the Poem
“Baby Jacob survives the Oso Landslide, 2014”
by Amie Zimmerman

#132 Backstory of the Poem
“Our Age of Anxiety”
by Henry Israeli

#133 Backstory of the Poem
“Earth Cries; Heaven Smiles”
by Ken Allan Dronsfield

#134  Backstory of the Poem
by Janine Canan

#135 Backstory of the Poem
by Catherine Zickgraf

#136 Backstory of the Poem
“Bushwick Blue”
by Susana H. Case

#137 Backstory of the Poem
“Then She Was Forever”

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