Sunday, March 28, 2021

David Blair’s “For Dion in Belmont” is #271 in the never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM

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***David Blair’s “For Dion in Belmont” is #271 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. (Below Left: David Blair in March of 2021.  Copyright by David Blair) 

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 wrote the first draft of this poem in my notebook in the spring of 2017. It was May, and the semester was finally over, so I could spend a lot of time just being outside and looking at stuff. A few mornings, I sat in this old-fashioned bakery and drank coffee after dropping my daughter after school, and I was able to really clock the decor, which reminded me of other old bakeries I remembered. (Above Right:  David Blair (middle) with friends Jim and Danielle. Copyright by David Blair)
I was cheering myself up with was the sound of how we rag on our friends and our friends rag on us, and somehow I remembered two things. One was a picture of Dion from Dion and the Belmonts come back to Arthur Avenue for a photo shoot to publicize a new album in say 1990 or so, and he had this big five piece newsboy hat on in front of Full Moon Pizza, and I realized I was returning to a draft of a poem about girls working in bakeries with crazy long nails that I had tried to write years before about old-fashioned bakeries in the Bronx. I also remembered how I once got big laughs on the street wearing some unfortunate shoes.
Then I threw the poem about for two years. I stopped looking at it until I was putting together the final manuscript of my book Barbarian Seasons in the summer of 2019. (Right:  David Blair in Summer of 2019.  Copyright by David Blair.)  

Most of the work I did on that manuscript in the end was on the book's closing sequence, and on tightening up the free-verse prosody techniques in different poems—things I could point out and explain working on both individual lines and individual groups of lines, but which I don't necessarily want the reader to think about as much as to feel as palpable, if unsettling. 

The last part of the last sequence uses "sprung rhythm" in a way that calls attention to itself, so I made the middle of the poem, which I saw as a bridge to the end of the book, work the same way just about.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail. I was in Somerville when I began to write the poem. The thing I like about Somerville (Below Right: Davis Square in Somerville)  is that it is a good place to walk, and it has a lot of old pockets of strange buildings and a feeling that it is layered by time. It's like walking in my head sometimes. 

The bakery reminding me of old bakeries in the Bronx and Pittsburgh is a good example of this.  In a way, I think poems are written in parts all over as you see various things. So I saw those egrets on the edge of Pelham Bay toxic dump site from a Bx12 bus heading to City Island, I don't know, thirty years ago, remembered a thousand times, different windows. And I noticed the bronze egg with peppermint spring in May of 2017. Poems are written where they are. 

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?)
Somewhere in a stack of 68 or so chemistry notebooks I have my original handwritten draft of the poem. The first version was 229 words, the second  149 words, and the published version 126 words. The final version is 15 lines long, and in some respects, it has sonnet-like qualities. It's not a sonnet, but it alludes to the sonnet. (Left
: Rough Draft 001 of "For Dion in Belmont" by David Blair.  Credit and Copyright by David Blair)

For instance, there are three quatrains, only the poem ends with a quatrain. The first two stanzas function as an octet, and the last two stanzas are a single sentence, so they function as single unit, almost like a sestet, only seven lines. I thought about making it into a sonnet, but it felt right to resist the impulse, to let the poem go out of time within time, all its allusions, sitcoms and songs and forms, its overheard valences, like passing under the clock built into theatrical doorway to the ovens. 

One of the best ways of using form is resist it particularly if you are using form as a way of expressing and finding emotion. Expressive formal technique is somewhat different than replicating pattern—which is how some people sensibly regard any kind of form—but actually form can mean shifting patterns, mutability, breaking, reassembling, departing, arriving, or whatever, according to the emotional content or message of a piece as we make or discover this as we go along. I like to make small changes to a number of poems every day, and over the months and years, the poems change in an unforced way.  

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? Primarily, I think of poems as modes of experience and processes rather than message machines, but I want readers to have a sense of life's amazing strangeness and that readers should have a sense of increased receptiveness to people, animals, plants, foods, feelings, places and things, and I want readers to have a sense that these experiences can be known personally and shared. (Above Right: The Rhyme Scheme of a Shakespearean Sonnet.)

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? I really was happy when I realized that the there was a shift in the sonic qualities in the second stanza and I had a groove on, like a good break going, and the rest of the poem would have a musical aspect. Generally, what I feel when I am writing is happiness. Even if I am writing about something terrible, there is a baseline of happiness to be using language and making images and all that, sometimes resisting the glooms that might be requiring some cathartic happiness or physicality.  

Has this poem been published before?  And if so where? A poem from Barbarian Seasons by David Blair, MadHat Books, 2020

For Dion in Belmont


The Napoleons got theatrical. 

The bakery surrounded me with cakes

years after when I got along

with an invisible transistor

and getting called Hey-Boom-Boom-Washington, nice hat, ah, walk on.

Dull bronze eggs of peppermint-striped string dispensers hung on chains

level with a modish clock built into the paneling above an egress. 

I saw snowy egrets by the dump on the edge of Pelham Bay Park. The hunt.  

And in a dark night the bread-only bakery was open and windowless,

its doorframe full of bare bulbs, no fluorescence, and the crust 

would rivulet into floury cracks,

the gush that swells and dissolves

with traces of peppery dust, fresh. 

In the morning, the girls had nail extensions

with glue-on rhinestones on them like spaceships.

David Blair lives and works around Boston. Thomas Lux chose his first book of poetry, Ascension Days, for the Del Sol Poetry Prize in 2007. His second book, Friends with Dogs, was a Must-Read Selection for the Massachusetts Book Awards, and his third book, Arsonville, was published as part of the Green Rose Prize Series by New Issues Poetry & Prose. A graduate of Fordham University and the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Blair has taught in the MFA Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire, and in the online master's degree program in creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University. MadHat Press published his new collection of poetry, Barbarian Seasons, in 2020. (Above Left: David Blair in March of 2021. Copyright by David Blair)

All of the Backstory of the Poem LIVE LINKS can be found at the VERY END of the below feature: 

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