CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper/fiction writer, poet, photographer, & painter. CRC Blog is an INCLUSIVE & NON-PROFIT BLOG acknowledging ALL voices, ALL individuals, ALL political views, ALL philosophies, and ALL religions including Islamism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Agnosticism, Atheism, etc. She has a B.S. in Criminal Justice & completed her workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing. She lives in St. Louis.
Friday, December 6, 2019
#143 Backstory of the Poem "The Way Back" by Robert Walicki
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***This is #143 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
#143 Backstory of the Poem
by Robert Walicki
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 tend to write very
organically. I usually don’t know where I’m going, or I’ll have a beginning, or
an ending and I’ll need to fill the gaps. This poem came from a prompt in a
class taught by Lynn Emanuel . I had the beginning. I knew I wanted to write
about my grandmother’s house. The prompt was to write about a place that we
remember from our youth that held great meaning for ourselves. I chose to write
it from the perspective of someone standing on the hill where it once stood,
after it was destroyed by a fire.
poem as you’ll see, is divided into sections, a form I hadn’t written in
before, but this was one of those poems that kind of wrote itself and the
section numbering felt right. I had a good part of the beginning already, and
each subsequent section was fed by the last. The memory of a simple house
became the vehicle to tell the story of a family.
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe
the place in great detail. I was in The Cathedral of Learning in Oakland, which is part
of the campus at The University of Pittsburgh. (Right) It’s an incredibly awe-inspiring
building. It is more like a castle with great stone columns and grand doors and
rooms. I had never attended a formal college for writing, and stepping inside
those doors for the first time as a student was very emotional for me. Even if
I wasn’t really a student. I was just sitting in on this class and would
receive no credit. It still was a special moment for me. One of those cosmic
moments when you were exactly where you were supposed to be at that moment in
What month and year did you start
writing this poem?I’m terrible at keeping track of such things, but I want to say
it was early on in 2013 (Left), perhaps winter of 2012. ZZZZ
How many drafts of this poem did you
write before going to the final?I don’t keep drafts ( although I should). This
poem was rare though, in that the first draft changed very little from the
final version. There were some minor issues with tense, which were resolved in
the final version. Specifics escape me, but this was a persistent problem in
this poem, as it plays around with, and jumps around in time a lot, which can
confuse a reader.
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?I would hope that a
line, detail or some of the imagery might resonate with someone and inspire
them to write a place centric poem like this. The place was just the
springboard for me. It was the rabbit hole that allowed me to go deeper.
Which part of the poem was the most
emotional of you to write and why?The image of my grandmother drying dishes with
her back turned in front of her kitchen windows was so moving to me. The
windows were large and old and the glass always looked permanently fogged over.
You could see the dark waters of the Allegheny River (Below) as the back of her house
overlooked a steep embankment. I remember those rust colored barges slowly
eking by, splitting the waves. The image captured so much of that working class
existence. The one I was growing into and just learning what that would mean
Has this poem been published before? And if so where? Yes. in The Stone
The Way Back
Somewhere, there is a way back in,
through a word like:
Somewhere, the way through is
the path to the house,
where your feet disappear
in the mud sucked earth.
The place where ground turns to water—
call it a river.
You were young.
The way grass has grown high.
The way ash from the fire nurtures soil.
Today, I am on the hill where the house was.
I draw the floor plan in the air
with my finger,
and the white door swings open.
The room, opening to waves —
deep swirls of brown paneling,
rippled and pulled from the wall.
The ceiling’s cumulous plaster
cracking, the big house settling.
The built-ins still packed
with porcelain ducks and singing angels.
And I’m trying to remember that wall—
My grandmother’s house…..
My mother listening to
Her friends had dates—
took her brushes—
the wall was filled with hemlocks,
and deer drank from streams,
walking out of the wall,
down the street past me
and somewhere past me
there was water,
Somewhere there was a way back in.
The kitchen windows, steaming from heat.
a blurry view of the Allegheny.
The grey barges like grave markers pulling steel.
Her mother, at the stove,
disappearing into the mist.
I am downstairs where the last of her things need boxed up.
In the photograph I ask to keep, nothing moves.
It is 1933 and she is standing in a bread line.
It could have been minutes or hours.
No one owns a watch.
Time is the length of space
between each of her footsteps.
The time it takes to get inside
before they run out.
And I am trying to remember the last time
I touched her.
I hold the photograph up to the light.
My thumb touches her face,
but she doesn’t notice.
The distance is clear,
but no one can see past it.
The way a door shuts on its own.
The way the wind lets go of my hand.
When I stepped back outside, and the house disappeared….
In a room she won’t remember,
I sit on the edge of her bed.
We are somewhere and the light is coming through the open
the thin slats splintering the air.
And I am waiting until you open your eyes
to tell you it is morning.
work has appeared in and is forthcoming in a number of publications including,
Chiron Review, The City Paper, Fourth River, Signal Mountain Review, Red
River Review, and others. A Pushcart and a Best of The Net nominee, Robert
currently has two chapbooks published: A Room Full of Trees (Red Bird
Chapbooks, 2014) and The Almost Sound of Snow Falling
(Night Ballet Press, 2015). His first full length collection of poems, Black
Angels is currently available from Six Gallery Press, and his next
collection Fountain is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press.