Draft Process: In the Aftermath We Became Prairie Sirens

38ยบ ~ sliding backward into winter temps, but at least we have sun and not the sleet predicted, rain is in the offing through tomorrow, highs only in the low 40s ~ cruel, cruel

Today’s time at the desk of the Kangaroo is a tale of both failure and what might be counted as a success. 

Last night, I remembered to remind myself that this morning I would write a poem.  I remembered to remind myself all through my morning routine of shower, dressing, breakfast, coffee, &etc.  Alas, no spark of inspiration like last week.  Instead, I sat down at the desk with all of my necessary ingredients (a clear desk, my journal & pen, some instrumental music [today, Thelonius Monk], and a window), and NOTHING.  So, I went back and read all my new drafts since finishing the sickly speaker.  The fall was mostly silent, with a few poems drafted in November, but things picked up in December and onward, so I have a nice little handful.  Luckily, I still like many of the drafts, and luckily, I didn’t get sidetracked with revisions, just jotted down any notes that struck me so I could come back to them later. 

Once I finished reading the work in progress, I expected something to happen, so I opened my journal and scratched out a few forced lines.  Bleck.  Then, I decided I would open up Traci Brimhall‘s Our Lady of the Ruins (my personal response to the book is here) because she uses the plural first person in many of the poems, and several of my newer poems (the angry sisters) use that point of view as well.  After reading two poems, I thought I was inspired; I thought I was beginning a draft.  I dutifully wrote out ten lines or so of really terrible narrative, the most non-poetic stinkbombs I’ve written in a long time.  Those lines languished on the page and did not give me the excitement, the tingle (yes, the spidey sense) that I needed to switch to the computer and finish the draft.

Le sigh.

So, back to the book and back to a process that has yet to fail me: word gathering.  I started at the first poem in Our Lady and gathered (i.e. stole) a bunch of nouns and verbs from Traci, with all respect and admiration.  Once I got abut thirty of them scrawled in ramshackle fashion across the page, connections began to spark.  I drew my arrows and circles connecting words (it’s important to note that I never collect two words from the same line and make sure to place words from the same poem far apart on the page in my journal; my intent is never to plagiarize).  The two words that sparked today’s real draft, the one that might be a successful poem someday were “honey” and “hourglass.”  I suddenly had an image of the sand in an hourglass replaced by honey and what that would mean in terms of time.  In that moment, the angry sisters snapped back and started singing. 

We filled the bedside hourglass
            with honey, slow slurry
to time our ill-fated rendezvous…

Another important note about word gathering: I usually only end up using three or four pairs from what I’ve scribbled in my notebook.  As the draft takes off and gathers to a critical mass, I’m able to access my own word store and find my own interesting clashing together of language.  I guess I’m a bit like those old engines that need priming before they fire to life.

As for the title, this poem takes place after the family catastrophe, and the draft ended up taking a really quirky turn with the angry sisters becoming these pulsing, sexual bodies, and I had an image of the sirens of mythology, but this time the setting is on the prairie (oh, how I missed it while I was away with the sickly speaker!).  I hope folks will get the allusion in the title when they read the full draft.  I know that sirens on the prairie are usually associated with tornado warnings, so I’ll have to see.

Until then…

Posted by Sandy Longhorn


I always love to read your draft process notes. Sirens on the prairie -yes, I thought immediately of tornados… then meandered into the farming community I grew up in (though not on the prairie, not too far afield) and thought of the 6 o'clock and noon whistles that blew every day without fail. Yay for a new draft!

Sandy Longhorn

Ah, Molly, well then, I may have to strengthen my images or go another directions. Time will tell. Thanks for reading!

Oh, how I love your process. And le sigh….

Sandy Longhorn


Oh, Sandy — I don't think you need to change your images… that was just my strange little brain going where it went after the tornado sirens ๐Ÿ™‚

Sandy Longhorn


Anne Wickliffe

I just discovered you today, Sandy Longhorn, via the Grist Journal website. You write the absolutely best titles; they siren song me right into your excellent poems (siren again). Your work is inspiring.

Sandy Longhorn

Wow, Anne, what high praise. Thanks! If you are referencing "This Vigil I Keep for Comfort," a lot of the titles in that series came about this way. Once finished with a draft, I would cruise Emily Dickinson's letters, Lucie Brock-Broido's *The Master Letters*, or a few other books, until I came upon a phrase that sort of fit. Then, I would tweak the phrase until I had a title. As for the prairie siren title, that's of my own making. ๐Ÿ™‚

John Vanderslice

Love the stanza you include here, Sandy. You're on to something.

Sandy Longhorn

Thanks, John. It's always like learning to write from scratch when I move on to a new subject/persona/style. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anne Wickliffe

This Vigil I Keep is the first one I came across, but I googled you and have saved six of your poems to my Poems I Love folder. You blog title is one of the best I have ever heard. Like Molly, I really like reading about your process. That is quite generous. Would you be interested in coming to Kansas City sometime to do a workshop?

Sandy Longhorn

Anne, wow, thanks for the kind words. Can you email me the details of what the workshop would entail? Sandy dot 40 dot longhorn at gmail dot com