New Draft and Process Notes

54º and steady rain, backyard puddle/pond in existence

I’ve been trying to keep to Mary Biddinger’s challenge of 3 new poems before the new year.

Today, I drafted my second of the three. It is a Kwansaba, with many thanks to Saeed Jones for his post about this form. This is a new form for me. According to Jones’ post, the Kwansaba was created alongside the creation of Kwanzaa and is a poem of praise. The form requires a seven line poem, each line of seven words, with no word longer than seven letters. Jones blogged about using this form with a workshop for school children. After working with Writers in the Schools at the U of A for four years, I still think about what assignments would work well for K-12 students, and this one seems like a sure thing. I may even use it in my college-level creative writing class this spring. (Jones’ post contains one of his own Kwansabas, and I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.)

In any case, I sat down with the intention of drafting today, in order to meet Mary’s challenge, but I needed a focal point, something to get me started. I’d printed off the above post to take up to school with me in January, and it was sitting there on my desk, so I decided what the heck? Casting around for something to praise, what did I settle on but THE PRAIRIE…big surprise there! I thought I could just zip through seven lines and be done. Check another draft off the challenge list. Not so. As Jones hints at in his post, the form requires you to slow down and weigh each word, each letter almost and justify its existence in the poem. It also requires you to zero in on some SPECIFIC part of the thing/person/etc that you are praising (I typed prizing there first…cool). This is one of the reasons I think this will work well in class. Another benefit for me is that the poem is so short that when I was finished with the draft I wanted to write more, more, more just like it. (Of course, knowing that there’s a long road of revision ahead!)

I used this inspiration card (see this post and this one) for my draft.

Now, to the more troubling reflection that sank in afterward. I was reminded of my post from October about Ren Powell’s experience using an Arabic form while writing poetry in English and some of the negative reactions she got. For awhile I felt a bit shaky about writing a Kwansaba, as if I needed to ask permission to use a truly African-American form. But to whom would I address my request? If I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, am I entitled to use this form? If I’m not African-American am I? Still, it’s a praise poem, and nearly all of us can find something to praise. Also, if we’re ever to break down the idea of the canon, shouldn’t we each experiment with forms from different cultures?

I think I’m experiencing a bit of that privileged, white guilt that some of my students feel when we study race, class, and gender issues in composition.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn



Thanks for the link, Sandy–his poem, "To Polaris" is a wonderful example of the form!

I think all art forms move outside of cultures. One of the reasons that art works and teaches us, I feel, is that it exports elements of culture. If one of the benefits of art truly is, as I've always argued, about teaching us empathy, then what better way to honor a culture than to use its exported art form and learn from it and grow from it.

Sandy Longhorn

Sean, so well said. That's pretty much what I was feeling, but couldn't find the expression. Thanks!

Marie, glad you liked it.

I must check out Mary's challenge.

Thanks for stopping by the blog. E-mail me at and I'll send you a copy of Underlife!

Sandy Longhorn

Wow, January, thanks!