of saints, rabbit holes, and literary genuflection

WWII poster by H. Coffin; public domain from Nat'l Archives

The children went back to school last Wednesday, and on Friday I finally had a wide-open morning to spend near my favorite sunny window in the library. I keep a file called “the blotter,” which is just a long list of poem-seeds — ideas for titles or first lines; begged-borrowed-or-stolen phrases; questions that maybe, just maybe, could be answered by a poem. I was planning on drafting toward the latest title dictated to me by the Mail Order Bride: The Mail Order Bride Takes to Her Sickbed (for more info on how the Mail Order Bride came into being, you can read this post and this post on my old blog).

As I was packing up my desk to head out, I glanced at the headlines at The New York Times website. The task master in my brain scolded me for getting distracted — “don’t get sucked in by the Internet!” — but the curious soul in me saw a link to an article about Joan of Arc.

Who isn’t fascinated by Joan of Arc? Of course I had to follow that link.

Even as I read, I thought of an article in this month’s Poets&Writers about the downsides of our online world and the distractions it can cause for writers (and everyone else). The article spoke of writers who work on Internet-disabled computers, and one writer who moved his family to the woods of New Hampshire, away from the wired world, to write his book.

I get that, but the curious soul in me resists the idea of writing in an Internet blackout. So many of my poems were born of ventures down an Internet rabbit hole, just such as the one I followed last Friday that led me to my latest draft.

I followed that link, printed the article, and took it with me to the library. Once there, I dove in via Google and found a bazillion fascinating facts and stories about this girl saint. Before long, my curiosity had gone beyond what Google could dish up, and I found myself on my knees in the stacks with the reference librarian (I pause here to thank the Universe for reference librarians) paging through art bibliographies for references to paintings of Joan of Arc. On my knees in the stacks of the library is one of my favorite places to be.

So, now I had a bazillion facts and stories, the titles of several paintings, and a small word bank from a poem by Sally Rosen Kindred from her book No Eden. I also had the verb “to halve” echoing in my ears, so I let that be my starting place:

“I’m halved by what’s asked of me, / too. I’ve sheared my hair and tied myself /up in ill-fitting clothes…”

The draft goes on as the speaker of the poem talks to Joan casually, as one would talk to a friend in the kitchen, putting dinner together. But when the friend is Joan of Arc, “the saints’ urgings simmer / over our shoulders” and eventually a parting of ways must ensue. The draft ends: “And Joan, this is where / we part, you and I, at the crossroads / of faith inking itself on your every limb / your mouth ruptured by a sudden current of doves, while I / chew and swallow, turn back to the stove, reach / for the only things I can believe in tonight: // Salt, this spoon, / and stirring.

So, we’ll see where Joanie and I go from here. Meanwhile, I’m voting for following those Internet rabbit holes (within reason, of course) — you never know where they’ll lead you.

You just might end up making dinner with a saint.

P.S. WordPress is giving me fits about couplets — there’s an automatic feature that creates a double space between lines if the text isn’t wrapped at the end, so until I figure out how to turn that off, the linebreaks of poems will have to be noted by ‘/’ and stanza breaks by ‘//’.

4 thoughts on “of saints, rabbit holes, and literary genuflection

    • Hi Matthew John Davies, glad to see you here. Yes, there’s so much written about Joan of Arc – she’s such an intriguing & mysterious figure. Guess that means this poem better be really good, or stay in the resting drawer (that’s where I let my drafts rest) forever! Send a link to your Joan of Arc poem if you don’t mind. Thanks for reading.

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