Poetry Friday: A Crown Sonnet

  

I am so proud to be part of the crown sonnet project called Cutting a Swath, which a group of us are publishing on our blogs today! You can read all about the project at Liz in Ink, where Liz Garton Scanlon has the entire crown sonnet posted as well as links to each poet’s post that has her own sonnet plus a little extra info. I hope you’ll check it out!

Here’s my contribution, which is the second sonnet in the crown. 

As lacy skirts, unbound, leap free and spark,
the prom girls surge in silk through streamered space.
They orbit round in endless tethered chase
and ride the DJ’s pounding sound through dark
around a nova. Can you see the mark
she brands on planets trapped in her embrace?
There’s just one sun. You risk her hot disgrace
unless you dance in place along her arc.
I can’t revolve and spin in cosmic time.
I won’t resolve to tread another’s trail.
I’m blasting free, eclipsing all my past.
I’m leaving stars and velvet queens behind.
I’ve torn away my atmospheric veil
to fly through life’s grand chaos, bright and vast. 

To read the next sonnet in the crown, visit Miss Rumphius’ blog.

And check out the Poetry Friday Roundup at A Wrung Sponge.

And, if you’re a poetry fan, or you want to see the inner workings of my scary mind, or, well, you just have a lot of time on your hands, you can keep reading below for my lengthy thoughts and drafts of the whole process (written at different times during the process). Don’t feel guilty about skipping it!

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On Nov. 20, I got an email from Liz Garton Scanlon, whom I didn’t know at all, inviting me to participate with a group of 6 poets who were going to write a crown sonnet–a set of seven linked sonnets. One writer suggested the theme of tribe, and we were figuring on a teen audience.

11/28/07: now I want to freewrite a bit about a teen and what tribes he belongs to. we are a group of 7 women writing a crown sonnet, and I think for sure a boy’s voice needs to be heard (and maybe others will write from a boy’s pov, too?no idea).

I’m thinking a 9th-10th grade boy. what are his tribes? maybe cross-country? maybe he’s a runner, his feet pounding the pavement?oops, not pavement. ground, hard-packed trail. will the tribe be an overt symbol in our crown sonnet? or just the underlying sense of belonging.

so his friends all run, he runs, and there’s a girl who’s not a very good runner. she’s a little heavy, slow, but she tries. his race is over one day and he’s watching the girls? 2‑miler race. he sees her hand clutching her side, the tears streaming down her face with sweat, commingled so he doesn’t know whether she’s really crying or not. everyone else has come in. she’s struggling, her face is in pain, and they’re already moving away from the finish line to watch the next race start. but he and a few friends know the look. they hold their own sides in sympathy. he stays, and a couple of other guys do, too. almost without realizing it, he cheers her on. the other guys do, too. she would be embarrassed probably, if she didn’t feel like she was about to die.

she crosses the finish line with he and his friends hollering support and practically collapses. they leave then, but they know they are not leaving her behind. she’s on the team. she’s part of his tribe.

vibrations up through feet, through knees, jarring shoulders. burning shins, burning lungs.

another approach might be a teen geek pondering how the tribe is formed. the dark data (click here to read an article on dark data that I had read a little before that) of failed friendship attempts. using that dark data to light the way to the next neural connection that says you belong together.

one book
one movie
one baseball game

all of these can end up being the basis of a friendship so unexpected. do you get a tribal id card? no. but you get admittance, acceptance. a thread running through you to other people. people you have nothing in common with?except one thing. that book. that movie. that game. and it’s enough. it’s enough to have one common denominator to smooth onto the ground like a picnic blanket and both exist on. you might eat different foods at the picnic and do different things, but it’s ok. you come back to sit on the blanket and talk.

I don’t know. not much concrete on that last one.

I want to read the sonnet info and try writing one for miss rumphius today/tomorrow. maybe start thinking of rhyme words.

adding later this morning: I also like the idea of the human tribe. the journey of evolution. could that be my narrator’s tribe? maybe too broad, but could be interesting. check out our family tree. do I still have that book? yes. good. read it again and do more freewriting.

While Randy and I were in Chicago that next weekend, the sonnet was on my mind. I took Sara’s sonnet with me and also the article on dark matter. I loved the idea of dark matter and how the places we were wrong for, the places we DIDN?T fit, might help define where we did fit.

It was at the back on my mind all weekend, and on the plane ride home, I scratched out a rough draft.

I had sonnet #1’s last line I needed to use as my first line:

Of laces, ends unbound, leap free as sparks.

That last line really killed me. It was full of energy, but I couldn’t work it into an image that made any sense. I struggled with it and finally changed it to ?leap free AND spark? instead of ?leap free as sparks.? I figure if the group hated it, I’d figure something out later. But I had to be able to move beyond it for now. Here’s what I wrote on the plane:

As laces, ends unbound, leap free and spark
I watch the dancers twirl and count the cost
of flying on the edge, my fingers crossed
I try to feel my way but data’s dark
no single canvas ready for my mark
Too dumb for geeks, so short that I was tossed
Off basketball the first time our team lost.
Too smart for falling down the stoners? arc.

The geeks group in the corner far away
from jocks who spike the harmless punch with gin
The stoners meet outside, their usual place
to smoke and laugh, be young just one more day
An 80s cover band creates a din
I orbit through a dark and silent space

So, this is my draft 1. Too pedestrian and boring. Too clich? about him and about all the other groups. I wanted to include more cliques, at first, but there wasn’t enough room for me to say anything fresh about them. Well, maybe there was, but I wasn’t being successful saying anything fresh about them!
 
By now, my 2 weeks were up. I had told the group that I wouldn’t be able to really give it my attention until December 9, after I met some deadlines and finished with holiday travel and family visits. And nobody was pressuring me at all. But I felt that obligation of writing and passing it along, and I was starting to feel a lot of anxiety about it. The sonnet was a plague, something I wanted out of the house!

So on Dec.10, I wrote another draft. Here’s what I wrote:

I like a galaxy metaphor. Maybe the other groups have a star and minor planets orbiting.

dark data ? you know it’s there because it affects others, though you can’t see it
solitary planet ? the cost of just one moon to spin around me tight in my embrace

space, race, face, place, chase, grace, pace, trace, embrace, erase, disgrace, replace
spark, dark, mark, arc, bark, park, stark, embark
crossed, cost, lost, tossed, frost, exhaust, accost

As lacy skirts, unbound, leap free and spark,
at prom the girls stream silk across the space?
they’re shiny planets in a frantic chase
they dance and burn like fire in the dark
They circle ?round a star, who makes her mark
among the planets trapped in her embrace.
Since only one can shine, you risk disgrace
if you don’t march in line along her arc
I won’t revolve and spin in perfect time
I can’t resolve to follow someone’s trail
Thank God these high school days will soon be past
I’m climbing, leaving dust and rock behind
I’ve torn away my atmospheric veil
to see the sky, both beautiful and vast

OK, I do like this one better. I want a) more of a dance setting, b) more of the planet analogy, and c) more stunning language. Ha! No problem, right.

Then I revised it the next morning:

As lacy skirts, unbound, leap free and spark,
the prom girls surge in silk through streamered space.
They orbit round and round in endless chase
and ride the pounding sound through velvet dark
around a nova. Can you see the mark
she brands on planets trapped in her embrace?
There’s just one sun. You risk her hot disgrace
if you don’t stay in place along her arc.
I won’t revolve and spin in cosmic time.
I can’t resolve to echo others? trail
I’m flaming out, eclipsing all my past
I’m leaving solar systems far behind
I’ve torn away my atmospheric veil
to drink in life’s great chaos, bright and vast.

flame out, formation, feather, propel, spiral, vapor, brown dwarf, cluster, ellipse, eclipse, heaven, red dwarf, display, fashion, aloof, abrupt, sadistic, snotty, catty, vicious, charmeuse, crepe, lame, luster, scrim, silk, velvet, blaze, cruise, dive, flicker, jostle, lunge, prowl, sail, shoot, soar, streak, surge, trek, wing, tuxes, punch, crown, corona, king queen, rap and rock, floor shakes, earth splits, colored light

OK, it’s getting there. I’d still like more of the dance setting. Maybe 1 or 2 more mentions to make it clear this is someone sitting at prom.

And finally, Wednesday morning, I polished some more. I wanted to add more space terms, and I also wanted to scan the poem, see how these lines would read in actual conversational speaking, to see how natural the meter (iambic pentameter) was working:

flame out, formation, feather, propel, spiral, vapor, brown dwarf, cluster, ellipse, eclipse, heaven, red dwarf, display, fashion, aloof, abrupt, sadistic, snotty, catty, vicious, charmeuse, crepe, lame, luster, scrim, silk, velvet, blaze, cruise, dive, flicker, jostle, lunge, prowl, sail, shoot, soar, streak, surge, trek, wing, tuxes, punch, crown, corona, king queen, rap and rock, floor shakes, earth splits, colored light, velvet

As lacy skirts, unbound, leap free and spark,
the prom girls surge in silk through streamered space.
They orbit round and round in endless chase
and ride the DJ’s pounding sound through dark
around a nova. Can you see the mark
she brands on planets trapped in her embrace?
There’s just one sun. You risk her hot disgrace
unless you dance in place along her arc.
I can’t revolve and spin in cosmic time.
I won’t resolve to tread another’s trail.
I’m flaming out, eclipsing all my past.
I’m leaving stars and velvet queens behind.
I’ve torn away my atmospheric veil.
to fly through life’s grand chaos, bright and vast.

I was also working on alliteration and internal rhyme as I polished this, and on trying to get as much dancing and planet imagery as I could.

I felt like the situation?a girl at prom, sitting there watching the popular girls?was pretty clich?. But, it’s clich? because it’s true. People-watching is a popular prom activity (and one of the few legal ones, too), and who do most girls watch? That little crowd of popular girls, the stars of the show. So I was OK with that.

I discovered that in order to try to use some good imagery, I really needed to pick one major comparison and stay with that, exploring it in more detail, rather than listing a bunch of things (like the various groups the kid didn’t belong to in the first draft).

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had the entire crown sonnet up in a Google doc and we’ve been critiquing each other. I think we’ve all revised, ranging from tweaks of a couple of words to replacing entire portions of  poems! I changed two lines as the group helped me make it a little less cliched.

What a terrific experience it ended up being, although it was terrifying, too! But I would do it again in a heartbeat, even if I start dreaming in iambic pentameter again!

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