Making of a Poem: Leopoldine Core on “Ex-Stewardess”

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From The Paris Review:

How did this poem start for you? Was it with an image, an idea, a phrase, or something else?

Often a poem begins wordlessly. It’s as if the text is a reply to some cryptic spot in the back of my brain that I have become attracted to. I’m alerted to the presence of something that isn’t solid. It has more to do with feeling, tempo, scale, and temperature. I’m so focused on that emanating region that, even though I’m using words, my experience—the start of it—is wordless and meditative.

How did writing the first draft feel to you? Did it come easily, or was it difficult to write? (Are there hard and easy poems?)

Some poems come quick and others take a while. But maybe the one that took years was easier in the end—I don’t know. Certain poems require many rounds of rewording. When this happens I will rewrite one line forty or more times, then narrow it down to thirty, then fifteen, then five, then choose.

But this poem was realized fairly quickly and required zero rewording. That happens sometimes. I tried rewording certain parts at different points but always wound up reverting to the original. The editing I did consisted of deleting maybe seventy percent of what was there, changing the order, capitalizing certain letters, and adding line breaks. I might have added a comma but I don’t think so.

Were you thinking of any other poems or works of art while you wrote it?

Occasionally my friend Jane Corrigan will send me pictures of her paintings and drawings. There are two she showed me around that time—one is a pen drawing and the other is a Xerox of that same drawing that she drew over with pen and colored in with pencil. Jane’s images are infused with such narrative possibility—I like to stare at them for a long time, putting order to the plot. This one seems like a scene from some lost Jane Bowles story.

I wasn’t thinking consciously of these drawings while writing the poem, but there’s something so joyful and stimulating about discourse with friends. I like talking about art that isn’t mine.

What else were you listening to / reading / watching while you were writing this poem?

I was reading a collection of interviews with the filmmaker Claude Chabrol. I underlined this sentence—“I like mirrors, because they are a way of crossing through appearances.” He was talking about manipulating space but I was drawn to a conceptual meaning of the statement—how something solid that reflects the surface of things can also function as an entryway, a portal.

I was listening to Tangerine Dream, Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Dance II” by Discovery Zone, and this mournful song “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” performed by Mia Farrow in The Muppets Valentine Show in 1974. I love how sincerely she sings to that puppet. She sounds a little like Nico. And there’s something about the confluence of optimism and despair in her voice that might have influenced me.

It also seems relevant to mention that I had gotten an aura photo taken around that time—I kept looking at it. The aura photo I had taken a few years before was mostly red with a cloud of yellow and orange. I was told at the time that the color red implies a closeness to Earth.

But this one was so blue. I kept wondering what that meant. Where was my spirit in relation to Earth? Was it farther from Earth now? I was—am still—grieving the loss of someone I love dearly, and looking at the photo made me think of a sky within.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG admits he is a poetry snob.

“Often a poem begins wordlessly. It’s as if the text is a reply to some cryptic spot in the back of my brain” doesn’t sound like how the 20th century greats wrote poetry and the the beginning of the poem below doesn’t indicate (for PG at least) that the author is someone who really knows his art or his craft.

I used to be a lock

I used to be a dog
part malamute
part pointer
part bluetick hound

Never what will be
as banjo in hand

2 thoughts on “Making of a Poem: Leopoldine Core on “Ex-Stewardess””

  1. To very slightly paraphrase Ursula K. Le Guin, “poetry” is saying with words that which cannot be said with the same meaning in narrative text. (She was talking overtly about “metaphor,” not “poetry,” but her own writing demonstrates this rather well…) So any claim that a “poem begins wordlessly” is either redefining “begins” to mean something other than its ordinary meaning, or is changing the referent “poem” to mean “the feeling the author had before beginning any writing.” To be more polite than the OP deserves, such methods of description and argumentation are (a) distinct from poetry and poetics, (b) unlikely to communicate clearly with any audience that is actually paying attention, and (c) intellectually dishonest.†

    I’m afraid I’m a literary theorist. We’re much more dangerous than serial killers: One can stop a serial killer via incarceration — oops, different topic! — but nothing stops literary theorists. We will theorize again…

    † The less-polite version involves comments made in red pen in the margins of undergraduate essays that are not given a grade, just a large “SEE ME DURING OFFICE HOURS” scrawled at the top — the sort of comments that make the legendary “law school dean opening speech” seem overly generous (“Look to your left. Look to your right. In two years, one of you won’t be here.” which, at the particular law school that made this famous, hadn’t been true since the preceding century).

  2. I have a strong response to personal fascinations such as “aura colors” or “horoscopes” or “fate”. It makes me ignore interview subjects like this, as if they’d arrived too late for the exam of “we are intelligent humans worth listening to”.

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