Writing Process: The Writing of the Poem “Elegy for a Daffodil”

Renee-LaTulippe-bioby Renée M. LaTulippe
Reposted from NoWaterRiver.com

Every now and then I participate in a yearly event called March Madness Poetry…

in which poets are assigned a difficult word and then given 36 hours to compose a children’s poem using that word. Since it’s a high-pressure, high-stakes kind of game, I thought I’d share the feverish process that is devising a poem for March Madness.

daffodil

For Round 1, I had 36 hours to compose a poem for the word GAIETY. In light of words like verjuice, parallax, and grok, I thought I had it easy, but this word gave me some trouble indeed. Besides that pesky extra syllable, I felt boxed in by the meaning of the word. I had to write a poem about frolicking, it seems, so I dutifully made my list of words.

impish gaiety
frivolity
vivacity
hilarity
alacrity…

…and I was bored already. So I googled “use gaiety in a sentence” and scrolled through the findings. They were also boring except this phrase: gaiety gone. And that’s what I wanted to write — a poem about the absence of gaiety. This would be a departure, a serious poem!

These are the words that came out first: 

I watered you from bulb to bloom,      [had to look up if daffodils have bulbs; they do]
watched you waltz away the gloom,
shining in your green-gold gown          [it’s a female daffodil?]
(something here)

dewy dawn
limp and jaundiced, gaiety gone.
I curse this wind I thought I knew
that fertilized the death of you.

Ooh, there’s been a death! I immediately attached the title, “Elegy for a Daffodil,” which pleased me, so I went in that direction. I also really liked fertilized the death of you, but how did the wind fit in there? A secondary thing that had happened in the quick-write was the alliteration of bulb/bloom, watched/waltz, green-gold/gown and so forth, so I wanted to extend that.

I thought the first two lines were keepers, so I moved on to the next two. Shining is ho-hum, and I wasn’t sure about the gown. This daffodil felt male to me! This line changed its clothes several times:

twirling in your green-gold gown:
nothing, no one held you down.

gaiety in green-gold dress:                [gaiety moved here from the second stanza]
you danced with style and finesse.     [ugh! pedestrian! cliche!]

gaiety in green-gold suit:                    [nope, this daffodil’s a girl]

gaiety in green-gold gown:
that was you, my dancing clown.         [clown? really?]

I settled on this for the first stanza, though I didn’t like lines 3-4:

I watered you from bulb to bloom,
watched you waltz away the gloom,
gaiety in green-gold dress:
you danced with style and finesse.


daffodil

 

 

For the second stanza, I had started with this:

dewy dawn                      [cliche; will have to do w/o the alliteration]
limp and jaundiced, gaiety gone.       [move gaiety, but keep gone? – what to fill with?]
I curse this wind I thought I knew         [makes no sense!]
that fertilized the death of you.               [I likey!]

I was on my way to a serious poem! At last! But that wind…what to do with that wind?!

I found you sprawled upon the lawn,     [assonance sprawl/lawn/jaun/gone]
limp with jaundice, gaiety gone:      [fix this]
it was that cat I thought I knew      [where did the cat come from? what’s going on here?]
that fertilized the death of you.     [cat? fertilized? huh? Also: death is too harsh, much as I like it.]

[MOMENT OF ABANDONMENT/DESPAIR during which I decide this thing is too weird and I’ll never write again. I move on to other ideas. Researched archaic words. Yawned. Made tea. Ate yogurt. Worked. Nothin’. Came back. Sent this poem to a couple people. One likes it but has suggestions, one scolds me for not doing better. Back to it.]

So…when last we saw this poem, a cat had shown up and my dreams of a serious poem were consigned to the compost heap. Had to go with the cat because wind doesn’t fertilize and time was running out. And as long as there’s a pooping cat, I might as well bring in the clowns.

A final consultation with my poetic husband, a few more tweaks to line 6, which still isn’t right, some touch-ups here and there, and I said good enough. The final poem:

ELEGY FOR A DAFFODIL

I watered you from bulb to bloom,
watched you waltz away the gloom.
Gaiety in green-gold gown:
that was you, my dancing clown.

I found you sprawled upon the lawn,
jaundiced, flat, decidedly gone:
curse the cat I thought I knew
who fertilized the end of you.

daffodil

POEM #2

But that’s not all! I really wasn’t sure about this poem, so I wrote another one. This time, I thought I’d try gaiety in a rhyme with spontaneity. Then I looked at my wonderful opponent’s word (random) and this is what I saw:

random                spontaneity

That seems redundant, doesn’t it? Just like gleeful gaiety. Let’s play with that! And this is what I got, with no real revisions:

TWICE AS GOOD

Redundant Ray was happily glad,
the antipodal opposite of gloomily sad.
The source of Ray’s gleeful gaiety?
Spurts of random spontaneity.


daffodil

My two readers thought this was clever and I almost submitted it, BUT … I don’t want to be just clever. It’s fluff. It’s fun, but it’s fluff. Don’t get me wrong, I love les bon mots as much as the next person, but I’m really trying to stretch and broaden my skills. If it isn’t completely serious (stupid cat!), at least “Elegy” is more poetic than this one.

So yeah…”Elegy” wasn’t so much a stretch as a muscle spasm, but I’m working on it. Under pressure!

business cat ate daffodils

 “Elegy for a Daffodil” and “Twice as Good” copyright 2013 Renée M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.

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