Thursday, April 9, 2020

#164 Backstory of the Poem "Needlepoint Roses" by Jason O'Toole

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***Jason O’Toole’s “Needlepoint Roses”  #164 in the 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. 

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 started to emerge in the spring of 1990, on the Lower East Side. While walking from my apartment to get breakfast, the sun was rising, and the nocturnal rats were scurrying down alleys to hide. Crack vials crunched under my feet. (Left: Jason in front of his last apartment in NYC on 103rd Street.  May of 1991)
A friend from the music scene’s girlfriend was working the streets outside of brand-new NYU dorms. She didn’t recognize me. Her limbs were covered in angry sores from where she’d been injecting heroin. When I turned her offer down, as I always did, she reflexively screamed insults.
A few years later she’d be picked up by a most prolific serial killer (Joel Rifkin). (Below Left)
I changed some details. He drove a Mazda pick-up, not a station wagon, and her body was still under a tarp in the truck bed when the police stopped the killer. I think I sometimes fictionalize parts of my narrative and confessional poems to make them less personally depressing.
Then again, my entire memory of the event could be corrupted. Perhaps it was the girlfriend of a different band guy. A lot of people I knew wound up on the streets due to drugs. One of my first girlfriends was already on the streets and still is, if she’s still alive. (Below:  The Known Victims of Joel Rifkin)

          Many years later in the spring of 2019, with my first poetry collection, Spear of Stars published, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Acton, MA with my fiancé.  We were enjoying breakfast and Laura got her reading for grad school done while I wrote most of the rest of what would become the poem, “Needlepoint Roses”.
          As I got to the bottom of a second oversized cup of coffee, memories spoke to me: from the rats that cleaned up after the Farmer’s Market at Union Square, to running into Michael Alig and his “Club Kids” grabbing breakfast, still in their wild costumes.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  (Lower East Side in New York during a walk, and at a coffee shop in Acton, MA.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? (Spring of 1990 and Spring of 2019.)

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 would edit this poem several times over a few weeks, making it leaner here, adding detail and texture there, until it was accepted for publication by Nixes Mate Review that spring.

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? On another morning in September of 1990, I ran into Jerry Garcia (Right) who was walking down 1st Avenue with some younger hippy wannabes. The rising sun was at his back. I removed the lines recording this memory from the final draft, as it was too over-the-top. 
          It occurred months later from the day remembered in the rest of the poem. I wasn’t a big fan of the Dead, and I didn’t know anyone who was, so I didn’t bother telling anyone about this encounter. I saw Mickey Hart (Left)  playing drums way uptown the next day. NYC was strange like that.

Is that Captain Trips
Strolling down First Avenue?
They played The Garden
Last night
If I were someone else
I’d be excited

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? What I’d like the reader to take away from this poem: NYC is a different city every several years. I’d been away from it for well over twenty years and when I first visited again in 2017, it was barely recognizable. The underground record shops and cheap but hip eateries were long gone, replaced by chain drugstores and the same boring clothing stores found in any suburban mall. (Right:  Jason O'Toole in March of 2017)
Terrorism had permanently changed the skyline as did further development. There were strange new spires sticking up all over. Thin and spindly, like hypodermic needles and daggers. Despite these ultimately superficial changes, there is a sort of medieval air to it all. Brian Eno observed this many years ago about Manhattan and it’s still true. In the shadow of the towers, the streets are full of the same cast of characters who’ve always been in streets: the beggars, street magicians, pickpockets, prostitutes and sellers of wares, legal and otherwise. (Left: Brian Eno in 2015)
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? As I got to the bottom of a second oversized cup of coffee (at the coffee shop in Acton, MA in the spring of 2019) , memories spoke to me: from the rats that cleaned up after the Farmer’s Market at Union Square (Right)
The last of the rats scuff past
A fountain still shut off at winter’s end
To their homes underground
   Rats fat on farmer’s market vegetables
   & from the cafes
     table scraps
to running into Michael Alig and his “Club Kids” grabbing breakfast, still in their wild costumes.

Has this poem been published before?  And if so where? The creation of “Needlepoint Roses.” A poem which first appeared in Nixes Mate Review, Spring 2019, and included in my second collection of poetry, Soulless Heavens: Remedies, Maledictions and Directions (The Red Salon, 2019).
Anything you would like to add? My second collection of poems, Soulless Heavens is about this, and curiously, I was inspired to write about virus, overwhelmed hospitals, destroyed lungs, and a plague year in NY. Soulless Heavens written mostly in 2018, was strangely inspired by visions of  virus outbreak and contains references to overwhelmed hospitals, destroyed lungs, and a "plague year" in NY.
Many of my methods for composing poetry are like those employed by W.B. Yeats (Above Right) and Aleister Crowley (Left).  I would consider my poems written prior to the current pandemic, all the proof I need for myself, that poetic inspiration can often come from outside ourselves and from realms we may never fully understand.


The last of the rats scuff past
A fountain still shut off at winter’s end
To their homes underground
   Rats fat on farmer’s market vegetables
   & from the cafes
     table scraps
Golden haired and plump Poles
Already at their jobs
Serving blintzes and perogies
To ecstasy kids smeared in baby jane makeup
   Punks with arms full of dope
The counterman has an arm full of numbers
   Dachau tattoo
   Says “There’s a fifteen minute wait”
A boy in a disheveled wig tells a story
Of just how he got out of paying his fare
   “Did you wash your hands after?”
Opting instead for a bagel from the place
On the corner which is not the best
Ask the cashier why there are for sale
In his glass case
Examination gloves, surgical jelly,
Steel wool, and baking soda
   “People buy them”
   His sensible reply
March sun peeks through the gangways
Children comb the sidewalk cracks
Gathering empty vials and colorful caps
To sell back to the dealers, their brothers
   Not her again
She used to be pretty but that was last month
Abscesses, many mouths to feed
Undulate on exposed flesh
She doesn’t recognize me
Grimaces when I announce
   “I do not come to slay unicorns
    In this weedy hortus conclusus
    Or pluck you
    From among a thousand sick flowers
    Drying on greying tendrils
    We call streets”
(Might have chosen words less chivalrously)
Her folk curse stuttered through
   Toothless maw
Fails to land
I haven’t yet reached the curb
She is already boarding a station wagon
One like it will dump her cold body
Into the spikegrass, cattails and fleabane
   In the Salt marshes out on Long Island
This is not a love letter
To a dead girl
Care of a fallen world
This is a loom knocked over by a drunk
See by the fuzzy warp threads on the underside
A city that was always a beast full of beasts
   & ever in the background
   Needlepoint roses
   Stitched deep in the tapestry
   Of another junk sick morning
Jason O'Toole is a Rhylsing Award nominated poet, musician, and elder advocate. He is the author of two poetry collections published by the Red Salon, Spear of Stars (2018) and Soulless Heavens (2019). Recent work has appeared in journals including Neologism Poetry Journal, The Scrib Arts Journal, The Wild Word, and Vita Brevis and in several anthologies including The Red Salon, Riza Press, Twist in Time, Moon Shadow Sanctuary, and the 2020 Rhysling Anthology for the best poetry of 2019. (Above Right:  Drawing of Jason O'Toole.  Credit, Alec K Redfeam)

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:
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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
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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”
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#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”
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#110 June 10, 2019
“When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father”
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#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,”
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#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”
by Paula Persoleo

#138 Backstory of the Poem
by Kris Bigalk

#139 Backstory of the Poem
“From Ghosts of the Upper Floor”
by Tony Trigilio

#140 Backstory of the Poem
“Cloud Audience”
by Wanita Zumbrunnen

#141 Backstory of the Poem
“Condition Center”
by Matthew Freeman

#142 Backstory of the Poem
“Adventuresome Woman”
by Cheryl Suchors

#143 Backstory of the Poem
“The Way Back”
by Robert Walicki

#144 Backstory of the Poem
“If I Had Three Lives”
by Sarah Russell

#145 Backstory of the Poem
by Andrea Rexilius

#146 Backstory of the Poem
“The Night Before Our Dog Died”
by Melissa Fite Johnson

#147 Backstory of the Poem
by David Anthony Sam

#148 Backstory of the Poem
“A Kitchen Argument”
by Matthew Gwathmey

#149 Backstory of the Poem
by Bruce Kauffman

#150 Backstory of the Poem
“I Will Tell You Where I’ve Been”
by Justin Hamm

#151 Backstory of the Poem
by Michael A Griffith

#152 Backstory of the Poem
by Margo Taft Stever

#153 Backstory of the Poem
“1. Girl”
by Margaret Manuel

#154 Backstory of the Poem
“Trading Places”
by Maria Chisolm

#155 Backstory of the Poem
“The Reoccurring Woman”
by Debra May

#156 Backstory of the Poem
“Word Falling”
by Sheryl St. Germain

#157 Backstory of the Poem
“Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of 7,000 Jews Detained in an
by Liz Marlow

#158 Backstory of the Poem
“Why Otters Hold Hands”
by William Walsh

#159 Backstory of the Poem
“The Invisible World”
by Rocco de Giacoma

#160 Backstory of the Poem
“Last Call”
by Ralph Culver

#161 Backstory of the Poem
by David Dephy

#162 Backstory of the Poem
“Mare Nostrum”
by Janice D Soderling

#163 Backstory of the Poem
“Winnipeg Noir”
by Carmelo Militano

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