(Pre-Script: I really love the poem that opens this chapter, “To a Poet, For a Poem” by Jennifer Wagner.)
As with Tania Runyan’s companion book, “How to Read a Poem,” this one is also organized around Billy Collins’ poem titled “introduction to poetry.” The first chapter is about getting started.
“In fact, I recommend starting without a poem at all.”
Instead, she says to start with freewriting.
“I use it when I begin essays, fiction, and, always, poetry.”
I started doing this a little more than a year ago. What started as a journal got too maudlin, and so I veered into freewriting. Now my columns, my poems, even the intros and conclusions to articles usually emerge in my freewriting.
As I said in my last post, I wanted to write about the day my brother planted a cross beside the highway where my cousin died. In Runyan’s book, she shares her freewriting followed by several drafts of the resulting poem. I’ll do the same here. One of Runyan’s prompts was “a roadside oddity,” which will eventually become the title of my poem.
It’s not a roadside oddity. There’s nothing odd about seeing a cross on a Texas highway. Although this one is not in some dead man’s curve or at the edge of a cliff. It’s just past mile marker 95 on I-27. Miles of flat pasture, so flat you can see the curve of the earth. How could anything happen here? How do you crash when there’s nothing to run into? And the cross—not white but made from grapevine. Brown. Adorned with tacky fake flowers, which, he told me, he tore off and threw away. Bare brown. Rising above the parched October grass. “Careful. There could be snakes,” he says. But there’s no water. Is it a dry county or only partially wet? The sky is white, clouds streaked across like someone poured all the water into the white and thinned it and painted over what had to be a better blue. Tire tracks lead nowhere. “Do not cross” the sign says. We cross. We walk unshielded, unbidden and plant a cross where nothing grows.