Friday Draft: Lucille Clifton, Charles Wright, and Jimmy Buffett

39º ~ good, strong sun ~ the wind is stronger today and will get stronger still as a cold front moves in tomorrow, but for today: 60º

Today is a special day; today I turn 40!  In fact, I’ve been 40 for nearly an hour. (Many thanks to all who have left good wishes on Facebook!)

Each year, my dad calls around 7 a.m. to sing to me.  When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate the wake-up call (and neither did my college roomates 🙂 ), but now that I’m usually up and moving around by this time in the morning, I love it!  Today, he reported that it was about 40 degrees warmer in Waterloo than it was on the morning of my birth.  I’m a caesarean baby, as are my two older sisters, so the moment of my birth was chosen and lacked any element of surprise or drama.  Still, there was no predicting the Iowa winter, and everyone in my family continues to comment about that cold, cold day when celebrating my birthday.  In honor of my 40th year, Arkansas is ready to join the party with a cold front tomorrow that may bring snow on Sunday and highs that will stay below freezing for the rest of the week.  We start classes on Monday so it should be interesting.  Oh, and yes, I’m the instructor who says “cold?  cold?  you don’t know cold!” to my Southern students.

Now, to poetry.  I was really ready to get back to drafting today after a week of prepping for classes.  As I’m trying to make a habit, last night as I was going to bed, I reminded myself that today I would draft a poem.  I remembered then that Lucille Clifton had once told me that she wrote herself a birthday poem every year.  While I didn’t get out of bed to find the one I remembered, I did start thinking about how I might go about doing that.  First, I thought vaguely about Jimmy Buffett’s song “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and thought I might play with the title.  Then, I drifted to Charles Wright’s “1975,” which seems to be his own birthday poem for 40, but I’ve never verified that.  The poem appears in Country Music, one of my favorite books.  When the lines started forming in my head, I made myself stop, since I was too tired to get up and write them down, and I didn’t want them to be lost.  (I know this sounds a bit crazy.)

In any case, this morning I cleared the desk of everything except my journal, turned on the classical music (I can’t write with lyrics in the background), and took up my pen.  Then, I jumped up and got the Clifton poem from the shelf.  The poem I’d remembered was “climbing” and it appears in The Book of Light, which is always in my top 10 when asked to list my favorite books.  I read “climbing” several times.  Then, I drafted a few weak lines in my journal.  I have always been drawn to Charles Wright’s repetition of the phrase “Year of the …” in “1975” and I started a few lines with “Year I (verb).”  Getting a bit strangled at one point, I found the Jimmy Buffett song on YouTube and got a bit lost in that.  After listening, I knew I couldn’t use the song as a jumping off point, but it did energize me to go back to the poem.

There was a lot of puttering and for me a lot of shifting of stanzas.  Most days when I draft, the initial draft comes out in a certain order that remains fairly stable.  Today, I was all over the place and a bit frustrated at first.  However, once I got some lines on the computer and started shifting things around and broke loose from the order that had appeared in my journal, the poem sort of clicked.  For now, it is “A Poet Faces Forty” and begins this way: “Year I bless this body, ripe / as a peach in July, no sharp / and souring edges protruding.”  Who knows where it will go in the process of revision, but for now, I can chalk up ONE poem for ONE week in 2011.  Woo Hoo!

Posted by Sandy Longhorn


Justin Evans

Happy Birthday!

Sandy Longhorn


Ooo magical day

Dear Sandy! Happy birthday. Love your new pic.

Sandy Longhorn

Tricia, yes magical!
Sarah, thanks so much!

Happy Birthday here. Happy drafting in your 40s. And I was listening to Regina Spektor (genius) last night while cooking, which is when I do my best listening (and my mediocre cooking) because, like you, I cannot listen to lyrics while writing. But my husband can listen to lyrics while painting, lucky him!

Sandy Longhorn

Thanks, here, Kathleen!

Happy 40th birthday. Love that first line!

Sandy Longhorn

Thanks, Molly!

Karen J. Weyant

Well you know what they say… 40 is the new 20! (Says someone who is facing her 40th birthday in two years!)

Sandy Longhorn

Karen, it really is fabulous!

Happy 40th! Your 40s will be great. May you have a year filled with writing, friendship and love!

Happy Birthday, Sandy!! Did you happen to meet Lucille Clifton at St. Ben's?

I am late to say "Happy Birthday," but I shall say it anyway.

Your drafting process makes me want to look up those poems and play along! Maybe I will . . .

Sandy Longhorn

Erin 1: THANKS!

Erin 2: Yes, she was a visiting writer in 1993 or 1994, the year after I graduated, but I was allowed to participate. Yay, S. Mara!

Kristin: Thanks, and I hope you read the poems no matter what. They are among my favorites…or did I already say that?

Tawnysha Greene

Hope you had a lovely birthday!

Sandy Longhorn

Thanks, Tawnysha!