Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Name Poem in 3 drafts...


...a new spelling of my name

For my birthday they rescued my name from a bargain bucket in Barking
Too cheap to afford a new one

Dog-eared and ragged, they wiped it down best they could
Said I was an old soul anyway

I would have been a Lindsay Russell Daniel or Kurtis
But they gave me this one to suckle on

So I chewed on it, kicked it, rattled it
Till jazz piano lullabies tinkled out on my baby stool

I carried it to school on my shoulder
My friends called it Parrot, Chief and Mellow Man:

It was the way its yellow eyes shut on top of class desks
I guess it was because it lacked focus.

Older now, it became a pet I couldn't bear
To hear barked out on buses

I tried to drown it in the River Lea
It still skulked behind like a bad wind

My name was too dirty, too old
Too much like my father

I was LK Junior Ben Daniel D
And anything but
                            my name

But my name got bigger and grew claws
Stretched to 5'8" tall and became solidly built

It swallowed me up and belched proudly
Leaving me where I still remain: trapped inside

My name
                is now writing poetry, last I heard
Tells tall tales about its origins:

Far from the land of its adopted parents
Far from the bric-a-brac stalls lining East London streets

It can be found tracing its roots
To some old Celtic village where it once meant something.



Draft 1 
I thought I'd give a quick outline of how I sometimes draft poems...

Following a workshop in which a group of us used Patricia Smith's 'What It's Like to Be a Black Girl' as inspiration, I ended writing notes for something I titled 'What it's like to be named after your father'.

I numbered them, 1-7:
It is just one small syllable to swallow
One giant twenty-year leap to digest
After 1, I thought about 2 mistaken Facebook friend requests from my dad's friends, then created a number 3, skipped 4, thought about the 5 letters of my name, then the fact that there were 6 of us in the house when I was a kid, and I was the "Junior", before going through 7 more quirks about having my name.

Draft 2
I ended up with the first draft of a poem that I'll probably develop further in the future. Some parts worked, others not so well. For example, I used the numbering system to structure the poem. Instead of using the number "four", I used the word "for" and had a four-line stanza for the fourth item:
It is for not being a pianist, it is for not being named
After a pianist
It is for not being named
Just echoed.
By the time I got to seven, I ended up getting lost in the form and going away from the point, which was more specifically about having had a name passed down.

Draft 3
Continuing with the 'echoing' theme, for a school project I also had to write something about my name and where it comes from. One of the lines that didn't work from the 2nd draft was:
It is learning to recycle and re-invent.
I flipped that and started writing about a name that has been recycled. I also used the jazz pianist reference again but more subtly (in the original I relied too heavily on the fact that there's another famous Keith Jarrett out there with the lines: "It is two friend requests on Facebook last Friday/ from Jazz-enthusiasts, retreated in quick succession". It had little to do with the theme of the poem).

Draft 4 will come once I've given it some distance, and after some feedback.
So there you have it... my name in 3 drafts!

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