I need to gain clarity and revise the lines, or if I can’t make them work, cut them out of the poem. I attended a writing workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival https://iowasummerwritingfestival.org/with Juliet Patterson titled “What's Love Got to Do with it? A Field Guide to the Sentence in Poetry & Prose.”
I took the class because of a tendency to have convoluted syntax in my work. The class focus was on how good writing is made from the craft of individual sentences and by the tension and play between them, and I thought it might help me in my revision process. I was interested in the various effects a sentence can produce—rhythm, drama, and meaning.
patterson.com/ gave the class was to write a series of ten sentences of seventeen syllables. The function of the exercise was to look at how it changed one’s syntax. One day, I attended a reading given by workshop instructors. I felt anger coming through in many of the pieces read. When everyone left the auditorium, I stayed. In the silence, moved by what I had heard, I felt an urgency to write about my brother (Peter Roy Kedney) and his addiction.
My understanding is that other emotions are beneath anger, e.g., sorrow. I wanted more than anger to come through in the language. When I shared the poem in class, Juliet considered it close to being done.
I usually write at least seven drafts of a poem before I show it to another writer, and I write many more drafts before I send a poem out to a journal. This poem did go through several more refining drafts to make the imagery stronger and deepen the mood, but I felt I had the heart of the poem in the first draft.
Also, I wrote it as one-line stanzas so there would be more of a pause created by the stanza breaks. When I read the poem out loud, I would read each line quickly with emphasis, followed by the end stop and the stanza break. I felt the poem’s structure helped create anger, which is often expressed in a moving stream of words that relent when one needs to catch their breath. But, as I revised the lines, I added punctuation and did not worry about the syllable count. I wanted clarity so readers would not stop reading mid-sentence because of confusion.
In later versions, I edited what was general and made it more specific. Scene enactment versus reporting on the scene deepens the mood and grounds the reader. For example, the priest’s “odd” laugh became “boisterous” laugh. Instead of telling the reader that leaving the hospital at night was “dangerous,” the line changed to: “I left the Bronx hospital at night, the strangers in the parking lot.” It allows the reader to supply their own emotion to the poem and, in this case, feel the danger and fear. In addition, I removed the second-person direct address to the brother. Using third person and first person made the poem more accessible and more universal.
The importance of separating the speaker’s tone of voice from the mood of the poem is one of the many craft elements I learned in The Writers Studio. https://www.writers
crpress.org/) and it sets the mood for the book. I am especially grateful to John Gosslee, (https://www.
It was important to me to have both an opium poppy pod and an opium poppy flower (papaver somniferum) appear on the cover. The poppy seed pod contains the milky sap (opium in its crudest form) that is made into morphine and heroin. Morphine is often used to help people transition without pain when they are dying. Heroin is an addictive substance that can tragically ruin and/or take one’s life. The open red poppy is so beautiful and represents remembrance.
My friend Ted Harrison (Right) said that he saw balance in the cover; the word “earth” is placed in the sky and the word “sky” sits on the earth and that there is gold in the middle. There’s nothing to turn away from, and readers are invited to open the book.
kedney.com) one can read about how the manuscript evolved and became Between the Earth and Sky. My brother and his addiction are the heart of the book and it is dedicated to him.
Between the Earth and Sky
She was awarded the 2019 riverSedge Poetry Prize (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) for her poem “Bubbles Blown through a Wand.” Kedney is the founder of the Tucson branch of the New York-based Writers Studio and served as the director for ten years. She taught all class levels for the program, including the first Tucson Master Class. She lives in Stonington, Connecticut and Tucson, Arizona with her husband, Peter Schaffer, dog, Fred, and cat, Ivy. Learn more at https://eleanorkedney.com/
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