Whiskerino 2009

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  • posted: November 20 @ 11:09am
Ode to Myself as a Rough Draft
by David Kirby

The key to today’s New York Times crossword puzzle is
a Miles Davis quote that turns out to be “When you hit
a wrong note, it is the next note that makes it good
or bad” and not the only other Miles Davis quote I know,
which is "If somebody told me I only had an hour to live,

I'd spend it choking a white man,” which makes me think—
the first quote, that is, not the second—about the time
the librarian asks me if I’d like to donate my papers
to the library and I say, There aren’t any, and he says,
I’m talking about the poem drafts, mainly, the first drafts

as well as the second and third and fourth ones you wrote
as you worked such and such a poem up into its publishable
state, and I say, Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, there aren’t any,
and he says Oh, that’s too bad, because your colleague
So and So donated her papers and got a $600,000

tax deduction and I say, Hold on a sec, give me
a weekend or two and I think I can locate those things,
but the truth is I really have destroyed my first drafts,
although “destroyed” is too bombastic a word:
it sounds as though I took off my coat and loosened my tie

and turned my sleeves back and took everything I’d been
saving for years in an ornate teakwood chest and made
a heap of them in the garden and struck a match
and then hesitated for a moment before the destruction
of so much beauty, such value, and then bent to the task

with grim determination, touching the flame to a sheet
at the bottom of the pile and then standing back
as the fire roars upward, smoothing my mustache
with the back of my hand as decades of careful work
turn black and then ashy as they float off into

the evening sky. But that didn’t happen, because
I never thought once of preserving my infantile
scrawlings, my dirt-dauber smears and scratches
that looked as though they’d been made by someone
who didn’t know how to hold a pencil, my half-witted efforts

to gin up something good, something semi-permanent,
which I did, but only after taking every word out and putting another
in its place and then removing that one and substituting
a third—writing “boomerang” and then “kangaroo”
and “Aussie hat,” only to have “kangaroo” become

“I don’t know” and send my stanzas in a wholly new
direction—until what I ended up with, what I abandoned,
really, bore no more resemblance to the scraps
from which it sprang than a baby does to the monkeys
and salamanders and jellyfish who either roamed the earth

or floated in its seas in the days before they decided
to evolve so that they, too, could have flat-screen TVS
and internet pizza delivery. True, there are a couple
of first drafts worth saving: in 1958, the pre-Beatles
Quarry Men (John, Paul, and George along with Colin

Hanton on drums and Duff Lowe playing honky-tonk piano)
recorded Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” as well as
an original composition called “In Spite of All the Danger”
in Percy Phillips’ soi-disant recording studio, a tiny airless room
where, since they couldn’t afford to tape first and then transfer,

they went “straight to vinyl” and produced what became
the Rarest Record in the World, a fragile shellac disc
that was passed around Liverpool to anyone who asked
to take it home for a day or two and then disappeared until 1981,
when it was rediscovered by Duff Lowe and bought

by Paul McCartney for an undisclosed sum, because
it’s a lovely souvenir of more innocent days, yeah,
but also probably so nobody could hear how crappy
they sounded back then! I like the idea of being wrong,
how being wrong can lead you to something better,

whereas being right might just lead you to something
that’s merely good. “Poison’s not bad,” says Keith Richards;
“it’s a matter of how much.” And I believe it was
the great Oscar Wilde who said, in his preface to The Picture
of Dorian Gray, in which case who else could it have been,

unless there are two books by that title, which I somehow
seriously doubt, that when critics disagree, the artist is in
accord with himself. Only sometimes the critics are ourselves,
Oscar! For each of us is genius and stumblebum, each wizard
and pinhead like Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle

Emmanuel Ambrose Diggs, who combined the first letters
of his first two monikers and went by “Oz” instead of the name
the other initials spelled. When Toto reveals that it is he, Diggs,
who pulls the levers and twists the knobs to create his spectacle,
he shouts in the wizard’s voice, “Pay no attention to that man

behind the curtain!,” but by then it’s too late. And when
his balloon takes off before Dorothy is in the basket, she shouts,
“Come back! Come back!” and he says “I can’t come back—
I don’t know how it works!” But it does work:
well, for him, at least. Poor Dorothy is left to figure things

out on her own, but that may not be all bad, either.
Here’s Tennessee Williams, in his story “The Resemblance Between
a Violin Case and a Coffin”: “And it was about then,
about that time, that I began to find life unsatisfactory
as an explanation of itself and was forced to adopt the method

of the artist of not explaining but putting the blocks together
in some other way that seems more significant to him.
Which is a rather fancy way of saying I started writing.”
And he, Tennessee, should know! Now as we move those blocks
around and put them together in new combinations,

it might help if we had one or more of the dozen “plot wheels”
that Erle Stanley Gardner used and I saw recently at
the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
on the University of Texas campus. Gardner cheerfully admitted
his Perry Mason novels were formulaic and, eager to provide

his readership with what they already knew they liked,
hand-lettered his cardboard wheels with every possible plot permutation
under headings from "Acts of Villainy as Story Base"
(such as “Villain Murders a Beautiful Woman and Tries to Hide
the Body”) to "Wheel of Solution" (“Meets Trickery With Logic”)

as well as "Wheel of Hostile Minor Characters Who Function
in Making Complications for Hero,"the choices here including "Gossip,"
"Meddlesome Friend," and "Hick Detective."
My own start in the department of moving the blocks around
and making new connections begins when I am six years old

and a first grader at Sacred Heart Academy and decide
one day to rake my lima beans, which are mushy
and flavorless and not at all like the one Miss Josie makes
at home, into a planter in the school cafeteria, in which act
I am caught by Sister Mary Agnes, who tells me

that wasting is not a venial sin, such as pinching your baby
brother or talking back to Sister Mary Agnes, but a mortal one,
like murder or blasphemy. Let me get this straight,
I say to myself: I rake my lima beans into a planter and,
before I can go to confession and be absolved, I am hit

by a speeding car on my way home and wake to find myself
sitting on a rock in Hell, and Judas Iscariot is on the rock
next to mine, and he puts out his cigarette and says,
“What are you in for, kid?” and I say, “Raking my lima beans
into a planter in the school cafeteria – you?”

Now it has taken me until now to tell this story, because,
as Thomas Merton says, prayer is “a raid on the unspeakable,”
and is not poetry an assault on the unspeakable as well,
and what is more unspeakable than one’s self? And I mean that
in both sense of the term, folks! Of course, after one has

spoken, then it’s revise, revise, revise: you write “jelly:
grape” and then “sup knot” and say to yourself, “What the hell’s
a sup knot?” and think “supper” and “Last Supper”
and see the apostles’ hands criss-crossed in a knot or “sup knot”
as they partake of the “grapes,” though not in “jelly” form.

I say let the poet be a rough draft, and let that draft
never be completed. And I say let the poem be many drafts,
and may even the final draft be a rough one, even though
we give it another name or no name at all. Revision’s fun:
in Paris, Monsieur Marcel Vatelot the violin restorer

has grown too old to do the delicate work required by his trade,
and so he has turned his business over to his son Etienne but still comes
to the workshop on Rue Portalis every day and sits in
his overstuffed chair saying, “I want to die gazing at the restoration
of violins.” Also, revision’s the only way to get the poem

to where it speaks for someone other than yourself. So now
you’re wondering, “Dave, who is that other person I’m speaking for?”
Well, reader, I’ll tell you: you’re speaking for Pancho Villa.
That’s right, he who was born José Doroteo Arango Arámbula
and rose from beginnings that were humble, to say the least,

to became provisional governor of the state of Chihuahua
as well one of the foremost leaders of the Mexican Revolution
(1911-1920) and who, at the end of his life, was ambushed
and shot dead by rivals, but not before saying to his companion,
“Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”

Comments

benfrank says:
i envy you for that awesome suit.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 11:12am -
Scrivener says:
Thanks. It was originally my costume when I played Tybalt in a production of Romeo and Juliet last year.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 11:13am -
XscatteredshowersX says:
slick (clame)
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 11:26am -
Daniel says:
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, do I have to read all t hat?
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 11:27am -
Scrivener says:
@XscatteredshowersX Thanks for the link. Interesting project.
@Daniel you don't gotta do anything you don't wanna do.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 11:28am -
brandon says:
I just got a cramp in my finger scrolling down to the comments. But this is a killer shot.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 11:39am -
Scrivener says:
Thanks Brandon. Well, I had to outdo @cary norton because @mackle said that he had beaten me out for longest caption ever.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 11:45am -
jnonfiction says:
You look so nice.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 11:46am -
gfmorris says:
SWEET ACTION! The women oughta be mobbing you in that getup.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 12:05pm -
TheStride says:
That suit ooozes class.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 12:06pm -
orangebeard says:
I want that suit. for realz
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 12:28pm -
keifel says:
i have suit envy.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 12:52pm -
Caronna says:
you pull this off very nicely.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 2:20pm -
Spoony B says:
lookin' sharp scriv.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 6:58pm -
Johnny Rebellious says:
I want that suit. Right now. I'm a sucker for 3-piece suits.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 7:05pm -
alijoon says:
mellow yellow.
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 8:15pm -
Poe says:
winner for longest caption. way to go double breasted!
Posted: Nov 20th, 2009 - 8:52pm -
folliclejuju says:
i'm not sure what else to say about this, but the governor of the state of Chihuahua called and wants his ode back :) but he also said you look way cool in his suit and that you should keep it!
Posted: Nov 21st, 2009 - 11:08am -
Site closed!
Whiskerino. fin.