I haven't attempted to write poetry for about fifteen years, and all in all this has been a good thing.
Here's how it happened:
One of my initial thoughts using "death and rebirth" as a jumping-off point was of one person's death being another person's metaphorical rebirth. This was a pretty simple (if not simplistic) idea, but it seemed to me either a premise for a novel that explores the nuances of the relationship between those two people (or maybe only its aftermath), or it's just the concept by itself. There may be an under 2000-word story in there, but I didn't see how to get there.
The title and form came from my suddenly remembering the existence of "Villanelle of the Suicide's Mother" by C. K. Williams, which is actually a good poem, unlike mine. (Another classic and more famous example of a villanelle is the Dylan Thomas poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.") Well, I thought, the sparseness of the form, with its repetition and meditation on a theme, might just be the way to handle that idea.
Then as I was doing research on exactly what constitutes a villanelle, I found the related form of the terzanelle, which is a twist on the villanelle using terza rima, and multiple refrains instead of just the same two throughout the poem. My first reaction was "ooh, too weird" but as I started trying to write the villanelle I realized my refrains were too weak to carry the whole poem, but could at best serve the opening and closing. (I don't think I've ever even tried a rhyming poem, let alone any of the formal forms ... what was I thinking.) Anyway, I started to see the appeal of the terzanelle as a form that actually moves forward, being one that can tell a story rather than convey a mood. It's sort of the spirograph of poems, looping back on itself while making gradual forward progress, which seemed like an apt approach for this kind of monologue.
Unfortunately, I still can't write poetry for beans. Sorry about that. I wrote one version and said, "Self, what is wrong with this poem? Besides the fact that I wrote it at all, that is." And my Self replied, "It seems you have failed to include any imagery of any kind, which, some people feel, is somewhat fundamental to poetry." And I said, "Right you are, Self," and went back and added some (I was going for tar pits, not asphalt, but that stuff sucks too, I guess). The first draft had been more or less a straight story told in bad verse form, inspired by a particular scenario in from an actual novel, but I vagued it up a bit in the end. Unfortunately rhythm and scansion are still completely beyond me. I submitted it after a few days to get it out of my head so I could move on and write a "real" entry.
Thanks to the couple of you who were at least amused by the terzanelle idea. I fiddled with the refrains in a pathetic attempt to make it more "modern" -- but I'm no Elizabeth Bishop, to say the least. Thanks to Scrymarch for picking out the one line that had any value at all, the seed that started the whole unfortunate thing. To everyone else who commented, thank you for being polite, but I feel I'm safe in predicting that there will be no Terzanelle Fun Challenges in the near future.
Apology for the bland story
See if you can spot where this went off the rails.
The premise was stolen from Poe's album Haunted, or rather, by the story behind the album, in which she and her brother found a box of tape recordings of her father's voice, some of which were audio letters to her brother (Mark Z. Danielewski of House of Leaves fame). The interspersed-recording gimmick comes from the structure of the album itself. D later told me that a similar device is used in the Japanese movie Sekai no chûshin de, ai o sakebu, which by coincidence he saw after I wrote the story. Anyway, in the liner notes to Poe's album she describes how she became obsessed by the recordings, and I had this thought that the character (Annie, not-so-subtly named after Poe's real name) would discover the tapes and by listening to them repeatedly bring her father "back to life" in some sense, but that seemed pretty tenuous as far as the theme.
So then I thought, well, what if there is a tape in there that suggests that he is not dead after all, but then I thought, that's not really death and rebirth, that's more like death and not-actual-death.
So let's dig ourselves deeper ... by this time I had a bunch of other miscellaneous thoughts related to the theme (see below), and one of them was the idea of self-invention, of someone consciously shedding an identity in favor of being "reborn" as another person of their own creation. I tossed this into the mix, in a sort of clumsy way dramatized by a name change and a different hairstyle. Somewhere along the line this involved the father having done the same re-invention trick in a somewhat more dramatic, and perhaps slightly less voluntary, way.
Then, for roundness, or shall we call it, "not knowing when to stop," I had the main character be re-reborn as her original self. Some of the comments indicated that this was definitely a step too far ("obvious" -- ouch).
I spent a couple days after submitting the story not entirely happy with it, but not exactly hating it, either. Usually after writing something I can immediately see what's wrong with it, or at least something stands out that could be better. This time when I looked at the story it was just a smooth surface of okay. I didn't really like the title, which was uninspired, but that was about it. (I should probably just have gone with "Anastasia," which was more specific, less hokey, and didn't telegraph the ending. I usually use the protagonist's name as the working title for my stories, though, so I tend to shy away from them for the actual title, for no good reason. But even that is not a particularly great title.) I had struggled with the content of the father's tapes (who knew that I'd find it harder to write a disembodied voice than someone who didn't speak), and it got pretty contrived in the second half there, but the pieces all fit together.
I think toxicfur's comment finally jarred loose something in my brain. She wrote, "I got a little spatially confused - 3rd floor, 1st floor, 2nd floor. Perhaps a line between finding the tape on the 3rd floor and then going to play it would have solved that problem." I don't think the spatial issue is the main thing that's wrong with the story, but the criticism made me focus on that section right about halfway through, which is where I think it starts to fall apart. I needed to nail the transition not only from the attic to the first floor, but also from flashback to "present." Thinking about it also made me re-examine the way I'd handled the cuts between scenes. It was a conscious decision to cut abruptly from finding the tape to already listening to it, skipping over the logistics of going downstairs, putting it in the tape player, etc. -- as well as the "ohmygod ohmygod what does this mean" moment. But in the process I also skimmed over any reaction she may have had to the presumably surprising news that her father was still alive. Or rather, her reactions seem a little detached and unengaged, which might be fitting for the character, but it doesn't make her very interesting, and it leaves the story kind of flat.
Oh well, file this one under "Trying Too Hard." Thanks for the comments from everyone who reviewed -- the feedback was really good this time. I'd rather hear about what people did or didn't like than get a lot of clicks in my checkbox (although I hasten to add, I do like clicks in my checkbox very much).
Ideas I didn't write
CRwM mentioned being interested to see my idea reject pile for the WFC, so I’m posting them. I don't think they are necessarily bad ideas (though some of them are not exactly good). Some of them could probably have made better stories than the one I did write, but "Homecoming" was the one that got written. These are some other thoughts that didn't make it into an entry:
- I had been looking for story concepts for superdiva's End-of-Summer contest over on Psych-E, so I tried to think about rebirth as embodied by the seasonal cycle (spring being a traditional rebirth metaphor) ... didn't get anywhere good with it though. Would have had to resist writing from the point of view of a plant, because no one wants to read that.
- Due all the dead dog books I'd been working on and talking about, I thought of a conventional reincarnation story where a dog dies and comes back as a human. I saw this potentially as a Dead Again type of situation in which the former dog runs into the person who killed him/her. While this might not have been a bad story, I think maybe I'm not the person to write it.
- In a comment attached to a diary of CRwM's, BlueOregon suggested a D&D-themed story. If I had decided to geek out in this way, I'd probably have done something revolving around the provision in the various resurrection spells that a soul must want to return to its body from the beyond. I've written half-decent D&D fic before ... but not this time.
- Courtesy of blixco, "Russian border patrol shoots dead Japanese fisherman on boat." You know there's a story there.
- In the "Do Zombie Souls ..." vein, I get at the Bible mainly through 20th-century reinterpretation, e.g. "I am Lazarus, come from the dead / Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all" (because I went through a phase when I thought T. S. Eliot had something relevant to say about anything) or, on a less literary level, "I Am the Resurrection" is also a song by the Stone Roses ... but I didn't get much further than that.
- A couple days before the deadline, I had a weird dream about a man who turned into a seed, and a group of travelers who were charged with the mission to take the seed across an ocean to plant it (and there were these incredibly cool boats too, almost like very large lily pads). The seed grew into a tree, which somehow turned back into the man ... it was really cool, but sort of impossible to write in any coherent way, at least in the time/space I had.
Apology for the cover
TPD's excellent cover was supposed to run away with all the votes. Cam was supposed to get props for being early and funny. Mine was originally going to be ever so slightly more artistic with the letters morphing into each other rather than just being substituted through a series of different words, but a combination of not knowing my way around Photoshop and having no way of getting freehand lines into my computer other than via finger on trackpad led to a bad ripoff of The Godfathers instead. So sorry about that, too.
Flash fiction entry
While I was thinking about the cover design, I thought it could also be neatly summed up like this:
10 BIRTHI figured the title could be something like: "BASIC Rebirth," "GOTO 10," or "Hello, World" -- geddit?
30 GOTO 10
Anyway, I enjoyed the festivities even if my contributions were not too inspired this time. Thanks to fleece for your valiant if scattered efforts at organizing, and for providing the excellent theme. I hope whoever wrote the winning story steps forward, so we can do this all again.
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