Friday, May 06, 2005

Ongoing poem(s)

As some of you know, my wife Kate and I are expecting a baby, and this prospect has sent me into a tizzy of emulous creativity. The trouble is that I'm finding that the things I write about impending parenthood are frequently fragmented or simply incomplete. I'm wondering if this is just due to a weak grasp on the real tasks I'll be undertaking, or a natural unwillingness to sum a new life up in a tidy package. So what I've decided to do here is post the bits and pieces of a long, unfinished and ongoing poem I'm going to call "The Birthing Suite" (this is both the place where the birth will happen, if all goes as planned, and a way of suggesting that it's meant to be a series or collection of poems). This tactic goes against the grain for me, in some ways, since I've always believed Edgar Allan Poe when he said that a long poem was a contradiction in terms (lyricism shouldn't have to be kept up for a long time, or else it gets formulaic or mannered, or what have you). I still mistrust any poem that takes me more than 30 minutes or so to write; it had better be really good and ambitious (leaving me lots of things to tinker with and agoinze over), or else it's just going to seem, well, stillborn.

Anyway, here's what I have so far:

The Birthing Suite


Bullet-headed, the baby wounds
its exit, bulling a way to the light
with its skull, it breaks, storming.
Ducking and covering its own retreat
from untenable spaces, self-effaced
through the whole bloody show, at action stations,
flushes its foxhole out, with mushroom
clouds behind it, like parachutes.


A tumbling comet nearing the tip
of its closest orbit, ready to start
another lap around the stars
before the recoil from this trauma
wears off and becomes a homing
signal calling it to swing gently
past the same catapulting bone
that slings it like a stone, whose arc
has bent as soon as it is released,
a shot that won’t stay where it’s put,
but squirms and clamors for far-off life.


Welcome the average insanity
of caffeinated parenthood.
Welcome the tuned-up birds on their morning
searches. Welcome the freedoms that do
very little good to anyone.

I've numbered the sections purely for convenience; they don't need to be in this order, or even the beginning of the poem. I am sure I'll be writing more along similar lines, and may happen upon a better opening.

I'm curious what you think, of course, but also about whether any of you have done this kind of thing: an interrupted poem with a common thread or focus (though not necessarily a narrative). How does it end up working out? Do you find you need other people to help you structure it or edit it? I suspect I will, and that's why I'm choosing to post it here. In general, I don't let unpolished, unfinished or potentially badly flawed material see the light of day, but the very long-term nature of this experience (the baby isn't even due until the end of June) makes collaboration seem worthwhile.

Finally—are there good poems out there about fatherhood? I've drawn a blank. Yeats's "A Prayer for My Daughter" is almost inhumanly remote, and she always said she hated it for putting some kind of ancestral, abstract pressure on her to live in a heroic yet airy fashion, so I'd prefer to avoid alienating the child I'm supposedly celebrating.


Anonymous terrence Moloney said...


Why not write poems about what a birth is like after you've witnessed it?


1:38 PM  
Anonymous Jane said...

I did a lot of this kind of thing in poems in the 80s and 90s that were published in a book from Konocti Books. My process is fragmentary anyway, so the parts were begun in my journal and then put together all at once. For the most part, my sections were longer. I would recommend doing what you're doing, but reordering and cutting later. Maybe much later, because the process is ongoing and will change Witnessing the birth might be a part of this poem, and it might be a different poem.

8:47 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home