Have you seen the “The Next Big Thing” meme circulating on the internet? It’s a chance for writers to answer 10 questions about their next big project. Typically, I’m very shy about these blog chains because… well, because I’m very shy. But Donna Vorreyer and Marie Gauthier were both kind enough to tag me, and it seemed like the best kind of blog chain I’d seen: a chance to learn about the process and projects of other writers. So here I am to answer the call of Donna’s and Marie’s “tag” — except that instead of writing about my next big thing, I’m going to write about the last small thing. Forgive me, Reader, it’s the best I can do.
The project I’ve been working on lately is a series of poems centered around the story of Demeter and Persephone from Greek mythology.
What is the working title of your project? Actually, I’m having a little bit of trouble with how to title these poems. Right now the poems are titled with the speaker’s name (Demeter or Persephone), and, in parentheses, the first phrase of the poem. So far, I have:
Demeter (They have us set in stone, her curled)
Demeter (Days I hunted the mend)
Persephone (Since she kept asking)
Persephone (Where cold rings and ringing)
Persephone (I no longer know)
Persephone (How can I explain? I feel him remembering)
Demeter (Every year I try to stop the barely-felt tilting)
Where did the idea for your project come from? This is one of those projects that came in on the wind. I’ve always loved all the old tales — myths, sacred texts, fairy tales and folk tales — so they’re always there, simmering on the back of the creative hearth. I had recently read a poem by Linda Pastan titled “Penelope” (can’t find it online – bummer), and I admired how she had brought Penelope’s story into a very modern moment of cleaning up at a beach house after a family vacation. So that poem was simmering, too. But this series came forth immediately after I’d declared a hiatus from my desk, in the aftermath of my son’s illness last fall. Small snippets of language came to me, and I’d dash to my desk to take them down and see where they led me. It has been a true joy to draft these poems.
What genre does your project fall under? Poetry.
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow, of course!
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your project? “Parting is all we know of heaven, / And all we need of hell.” (thanks, Miss Emily D.)
Will your project be self-published or represented by an agency? (here is where we begin to suspect that this meme began with fiction writers) Well, obviously this question doesn’t really apply to a series of poems. I’d love to have these poems published together as a series, or at least in small groups, so I’ll be researching journals that are interested in longer selections from one poet.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your project? I didn’t keep track of that. Most of the first drafts came fairly quickly, and developed over the course of 4 or 5 weeks in December and early January. I’ve spent many, many hours revising since then.
What other books would you compare this project to within your genre? I’m not sure I know how to compare these poems with other poets’ work. I just hope they’ll earn their way into the long and rich tradition of poets using old tales and myths to bring light to today’s struggles and joys.
Who or what inspired you to write these poems? I think the Demeter/Persephone story covers such rich ground. I’m interested in Demeter’s predicament of innocence (don’t you think she was probably just hungry when she ate those pomegranate seeds?). I’m interested in the cleaving that occurs when children grow up and leave home, and the joy and grief that can bring to both parent and child. I’m interested in what happens in a parent/child relationship when the child has experienced something dark and traumatic and then comes back home. I think, ultimately, for me these poems explore the experience of being brought down into a dark place against one’s will (in my case, the experience of serious illness) and the aftermath of that experience, its affects on relationships, my world view, etc. I like to leave enough breathing room in my poems for readers to be able to take what applies to their life, though, so I didn’t make the issue of illness explicit in this series.
What else about your project might pique the reader’s interest? Well, let’s just say that, in the end, Persephone can’t imagine any other life for herself. And Demeter gets that, despite her grief.
So, enough about me. I’m tagging Marie Gauthier (who was also tagged by someone else, so her post is already up), Risa Denenberg, Drew Myron, Sally Rosen Kindred, and Kristina Marie Darling. Sally and Kristina will be guest-blogging here; the others will write about their next big things on their blogs. I hope you enjoy learning about their work. Check back for updates.
And now, is it just me, or is it always dimissal time? My kids will be home for lunch any second. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you back here for the roundup.