Evolution of the Poem: at the barre …

pia04937orig1Recently, I was combing through old poetry, and ran across an early draft of my scifaiku poem “at the barre …”, complete with a list of markets that had rejected it.

Now, I love the completed version of this poem, which reads:

at the barre
the graceful arms
of a spiral galaxy

— first appeared in Rattle‘s Issue 49, Fall 2015, Tribute to Scientists

And I was excited when this scifaiku won an award, placing second in the 2016 Dwarf Stars Award given by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

But the poem didn’t start out that way. In fact, the early versions were downright terrible.

My inspiration for this poem came from my daughter, who was taking dance class at the time. One of the ballet positions – fourth, if I’m remembering correctly – had one arm curved over her head and the other curled around her front. She reminded me of a spiral galaxy.

So, I began to research spiral galaxies, and discovered that their arm positions determine whether they are classified as spiral galaxies or barred spiral galaxies. The shape that reminded me most of my daughter was barred – an SBc.

I thought this was a nifty comparison, and conjured a row of little galaxies standing in front of a ballet barre. Such a lovely image should be easy to put into words, no?

This is an early draft of my poem (yes, I actually sent this out):

spiral galaxies —
intergalactic dance troupe
in “b” position

Um, yeah. It’s my poem, and it doesn’t even make sense to me.

But I knew I liked the concept, so I hung in there and kept editing. Barre was a lovely word to use because it both evoked the ballet and gave a nod to barred spiral galaxies. Once I put that word in there, I could take out the line about “b” position (the “b” stood for barred anyway), and I didn’t need to use the word dance. Elimating that clunky verbiage allowed the poem to flow from there.

So, please, my poet friends, hang on to your poems that speak to you, even if they start out rough. Haiku or scifaiku, in particular, can be deceptively tricky to write. Some short poems practically write themselves, but not this one. “At the barre …” needed distance, perspective, and research to come together.

Photo credit: That’s spiral galaxy Messier 81 above, as imaged by NASA/JPL/Caltech/University of Arizona/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/NOAO/AURA/NSF.

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Culling

My main poetry goal for the year is to put together a manuscript of scifaiku. In looking over my poems, it has been interesting to see a theme of extra-terrestrial romance flowing through the images. So, I am trying to line up my poems so that they tell a sort of love story while writing new ones to fill in the gaps. It is a challenging process because it is so new for me. I feel like I have a handle on submitting individual poems to contests or magazines, but a collection is a different animal – it has a different feel and it requires a different skill set.
When I was a little girl, my mom and I used to garden. One of our favorite things to plant was carrots. I think they intrigued me because they looked so different below the surface. A big leafy top didn’t necessarily equate to a big root. And every year, when it was time to thin the carrots so that the remaining ones could grow larger, we had a hard time doing it. My mom used to say that the carrots worked so hard to be born, she didn’t want to stop them now. Often, we just left all of the carrots in the garden to fend for themselves. So none of them ever grew very large.

Preparing a poetry manuscript is a lot like weeding carrots. If you want individual poems to flourish and be successful, you need to retain the best and remove the rest. But culling is hard. These poems are all my poetic children, so to speak, and I worked hard for them to be born. How can I choose?