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***Lynn Valentine’s “There Must Be Other Words for Crow” is #265 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. (Right: Lynn Valentine. Copyright by Lynn Valentine)
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 was at StAnza in early March last year (St Andrews International Poetry Festival) (Left)
and hadn’t long finished a workshop hosted by the brilliant poet
Anthony Anaxagorou (Right)
where he talked a bit about a poem being a risk – balancing the surreal versus pandering to the reader and why a poem should meet somewhere in the middle. I tried to carry the idea of that in the poem. I wrote the poem quite quickly but then had a lot of edits to it and a lot of just leaving it to rest.
The final form wasn’t done until January this year. I had submitted it to a couple of places I loved to no avail but then had an online workshop with the wonderful poet and tutor Wendy Pratt (Left).
Her and other poets in the workshop suggested a tweak or two and that was it finished. I felt happy with it.
I sent it to Matthew C Smith (Right) (editor at Black Bough Poetry) for him to include in my featured writer slot at Black Bough and he was happy to publish it.
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I was at Cambo Estate in Fife, Scotland , walking with a pal and her dog. We were watching crows build their nests with huge weighty sticks. Cambo (Left) is a wonderful place to walk and the estate goes down to the sea through trees and landscaped gardens. The poem was initially called Cambo. I carried a few lines of the poem in my head from there then stuck a few down in the notes field of my phone. I started writing it properly when I got back home a couple of hundred miles up the road to my home in the Black Isle.
What month and year did you start writing this poem? In March 2020.
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 cut, cut and cut this poem back to the bare bones. I wanted it to be quite sparse as it’s a poem about death so didn’t want it too flowery. I’ve tried to find the notebook with my original scribblings but can’t, sorry.
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? Yes. The poem included a bit more about the physical feeling of being in the woods at Cambo in it’s original form – I took that out. Here’s a line that was cut
‘A branch breaks a drop
near miss on unsuspecting walkers’
I also removed a line and used it for the title of the poem. And I took a few words out like ‘remembrances’.
The poem had a lot more punctuation and less white space in it in the early versions too but I wanted to make it a bit sharper and staccato like. (Above Left: Lynn doing a poetry reading at STanza. Copyright by Lynn Valentine)
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? Whatever they can get from the poem. If a reader can gain something from my writing then I’m honoured. My Mum’s death is something I carry with me every day (she died of cancer in 2015) so that permeates a lot of my poetry. I think most of us have suffered loss so hopefully readers can identify with the poem. (Lynn and her mother. Copyright by Lynn Valentine)
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? Mum was nursed at home by my middle sister Diane and I watched all of that taking a toll on her and my Dad and my eldest sister and brother so I guess the middle section where we all know Mum is dying but are trying to do right by her. (Above Left: Lynn's father. Copyright by Lynn Valentine)
Has this poem been published before? And if so where? Yes it’s at Black Bough Poetry – I’m their featured writer for February 2021. https://www.blackboughpoetry.com/lynn-valentine
There Must Be Other Words for Crow
a flap of shadow wing
My sister hooded
my father as raven
you in their grip
Beaks bearing weight
more than they can hold
You spitting feathers up
spreading claws to face west
A shrinking from human form
a black budding in your breast
I see you shining flying
bringing twig stone
seaweed to the nest
Lynn Valentine is working towards her poetry collection, which will be published by Cinnamon Press in 2022, after winning the Cinnamon Press Literature Award. She will have a Scots language pamphlet out with Hedgehog Press in July 20201 after winning their dialect competition. Lynn is widely published and you can find her on Twitter https://twitter.com/dizzylynn
Lynn loves snow, sea, mountains, and dogs. She lived in the Scottish Highlands with her husband and Labradors. (Above Right: Lynn. Copyright by Lynn Valentine)
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