Origins of a Poem – Plottin’

Plottin art

I’d been looking for these two picture for years. They were the basis of a writing assignment for The Traveling Muse, a writers’ group I was in a decade ago. We were to look at the pictures and write something – a story, or poem – about the one that resonated most. After I’d written a poem sparked by the picture on the left, I must have called myself putting the picture away for safe keeping. But you know how that goes sometimes – it was kept safely away from me, although I searched for it often.

The writers’ group met maybe three or four times, then fizzled out. But the poem, Plottin’, inspired by the picture made it into my book Like Gwendolyn. But it took some working at.

Here is an excerpt of the original version:

Benita and Bethany

sisters

sit in a corner

of the village square

their backs against

the market building

 

Once a week

they come

wearing their

“plottin’” hats

 

Benita

always in

the chocolate brown straw hat

shaped like clay being

sculpted on

a potter’s wheel

two tattered chicken feathers

pointing downward

her only attempt at style

 

In preparation for a master class in June 2011, Plottin’ was one of several poems I had submitted for review by the class facilitator Randall Horton, assistant professor of English at the University of New Haven, poet and editor-in-chief of Tidal Basin Review. He emailed his feedback:

Now, for “Plottin,” I am sorta on the fence in that I think the poem succeeds in a lot of ways. For example, in this stanza, you are at your poetic height:

                                                              Bethany’s skill

                                                              is in the tilt of her hat

                                                              as she looks down

                                                              to follow

                                                              needle through straw

                                                              no one can

                                                              read

                                                              her lips

Actually, the first two stanzas get in the way of the poem and act as nothing but set up, something we can get through the title more so than in the poem. What if you started the poem with the third stanza and Benita. Take a look at that. I think you need to keep the most interesting language in this poem and some of your breaks could be better, and I am also talking about word choice/usage.

 

Oh, my! Clutch the pearls! He wanted me to change my poem? While I appreciated his comments, I rejected them. He was right… the first two stanzas were the set up. Good or bad, it was intentional. Perhaps, though, I admitted, it still needed a bit more work.

Once I decided to publish my book I had three editors on it. One of those editors, Leslie Green made all the difference in the presentation of this poem. We deliberated over it. She asked me to read it out loud. Then it hit her: it should be written in sentence form, like a story, rather than stanzas. BOOM! That was it precisely. So, it was published this way:

Benita and Bethany, sisters, sit in a corner of the village square, their backs against the market building.

Once a week they come, wearing their plotting’ hats.

Benita wears the chocolate brown straw hat, shaped like clay on a potter’s wheel; two tattered chicken feathers pointing downward – her only attempt at style.

Hear the full poem here.

(Poem by Andrea Daniel; voice over by Andrea Daniel; background sound effects: Central African Republic: Carnot Market, town with traffic, distinct speech – http://www.freesfx.co.uk).  It can also be heard on Soundcloud.)

As for Mr. Horton’s advice? I know… I dared to reject a master poet’s advice. I believe, though, if I had followed it, I would have compromised the integrity of the poem, at least for me. And I would not have gotten down to the better solution, which was to simply change the format.

 

 

 

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6 Comments
  1. Thank you for sharing your process and end product, what a beautiful piece of poetry. As a writer there are times when listening to your heart wins over the advice of others no matter how talented they are. That gut feeling that your voice “as is” matters most is what we have to cling to at times. It’s nice to know I am not the only one who struggles with this.

    • Hi Felicia,

      Thank you so much for reading the Origins of a Poem-Plottin’. I really appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment. You’re so right about that gut feeling. It matters so much. And yes, we’re in this struggle together. Lol! But it’s a good struggle.

  2. Whoa, that last line. POW. This was perfect, all of it.

  3. Thanks, Shannyn. I’m glad you liked it.

  4. BOOM … More heads are better than one :)

    • Dr. Tru,

      You are so right about that. Thanks for reading and commenting. I always appreciate you being there.

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