April 12, 2016

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Poetry Postcard 7

Postcard 7 is one of the original 17 antique postcards I bought in Ellicott City, Maryland. I love the awful pun and the saturated colors.

“Published by Asheville Post Card Co., Asheville, N. C.”

This is what
a sharp woman

looks like.

Those three lines originally concluded the poem for this card.

I had ignored the farmer and the goat, focusing on the jacket, which meant the poem also had lines about pointy lapels and the fabric's pink sheen in the sun. More lines about the herringbone pattern of the jacket's lining. I admit it. There was a lot of descriptive imagery about the jacket.

However, as you can tell from the discarded ending, the poem is not really about the jacket. It turned out to be a femi-I-can-be-nasty statement, along the lines of Annie Lennox's "Would I Lie to You?"

I want her dress. (Annie Lennox also has a beautiful website, including her must-read January 1, 2013 blog post about gender violence.)

You Can’t Get My Goat

If I had
a red jacket
I would not
share it.
I’d yank it
from your
clenched incisors.
If I had a jacket,
buttons round
and gold,
I’d wear it
when I left you,
and never mind
your teeth marks
on my elbow.

So, poets, why cut "This is what/ a sharp woman/ looks like."?

The lines clarified, as I was writing the poem, what the poem wanted to say. (It had come as a complete surprise to me when I arrived at the turn: "I'd wear it/ when I left you.") I needed to hear those lines in order to understand who was speaking, who the voice of the poem was.

Since I'm turning around these poems so quickly (writing just a handful of days ahead of sending them out), the project is teaching me to edit  myself. I put each new poem away for a day or two, give it a brief assessment, polish it up.

I look my problem areas: opening lines, a glut of visual images (weighing the poem down), endings.

Endings. I tend to overwrite them, put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, oversell the punchline, wrap it all up with a big bright bow.

Which is, I think, what "This is what/ a sharp woman/ looks like" is. A big, bright bow. The lines don't leave the reader with anything to think about. They are a bow that spells out what's inside the box. They're outta here.

And, speaking of gender violence, reading Lennox blog post made me see this poem in a new light. The last lines, as revised, focus on how the speaker has been hurt, rather than the fact that she is a sharp woman.

This card is going to one of my mentors. An excellent poet of feminist brio, gorgeously generous and more than generally gorgeous. I'm going to feature a postcard poem by this person on Friday, but no other hints until then.


Author Amok said...

I did it again! Accidentally deleted a comment with my phone.

Here is what Linda Baie at TeacherDance had to say (sorry Linda!):

Fascinating, Laura. The answer I thought for you was that you didn't need the lines, that you had said enough to us the reader. I think that's close to what you just explained, but I didn't see that adding the lines changed the meaning, only that, to me, it was just a recap of what was already clear. I am amazed that this is what you took from the postcard. Aren't we all full of such different worlds? Thanks for more for me to ponder. Terrific again.

Steve Peterson said...

I love this poem -- the "teeth marks on the elbow", the "buttons round and gold". Like Linda, I'm amazed (and delighted) at what you took from that image of the "red jacket."

I don't know the technical terms for the verb tense or what-not, but your choice of words, "If I had...", "I'd wear it...", gives such a conditional sense of power, which makes this all the more poignant for me.

Thanks for the poem and opening the door to your thought processes. For a learner like me, that's a huge gift!

Author Amok said...

Thank you for the comments, Steve. The original first line was "Had I a jacket" -- even more conditional, but also more clumsy. I'm glad this construction works well for you.

I'm thinking about collecting the postcard poems into an ebook, along with some of the craft-related essays I've been posting with them.