These poems are excerpted from my forthcoming novella-in-verse, we take me apart (Mud Luscious Press 2009). Now in its sixth- and final - draft stages, this manuscript has undergone substantial revisions and bears no resemblance (but for its title) to the original. Drafts one through five, however, got me here - gave me this speaker’s voice (which was initially inspired by the narrator of Lydia Millet’s novel, My Happy Life), and brought me to this particular way of structuring the text: if this were more traditional prose, then where there should be commas, periods, or question marks are where I instead insert line breaks. The comma breaks, I feel, lend the “prose” a breathless, rushed quality, while also retaining space for pause; and the period and question mark breaks, I think, are here to jar the reader from the breathlessness so as to invite her or him to stop every so often, to return, re-read, and reflect. Overall, I like the speed with which the prose can be read; and an added benefit (in terms of character development), as a result of forgoing traditional exposition, is that although this speaker exists to tell her story within a certain time frame (yes, there is a narrative arc here), there is no way of knowing for sure how much time passes from this novella’s beginning to its end - a minute, perhaps, or less, or, on the other hand, maybe decades.
I am both nervous about admitting what I have to say next, and excited by it: this draft operates entirely as a word-association project. (Early drafts’ narratives felt too forced, and I wanted to free myself of “having” to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. I wanted the writing -the actual sitting down to write every day - to determine the narrative. I had the speaker’s voice, I had the emotional core of why she was telling her story, and I had the structure: all I needed was a constraint that, oddly enough, could free. So I turned to Gertrude Stein and Tender Buttons. I had thirty-six chapters, so I made a list with one through thirty-six on the left-hand side. I opened Tender Buttons, and I started writing the nouns and adjectives, in order and as they appeared, vertically on my list. The first word on the number-one line was “carafe,” the first word on the number-two line was “blind,” and the first word on the number-three line was “glass,” and so on. The idea was to use all the words in Tender Buttons, but by the time I got through “Food,” I had over fifty words on each line. I stopped with “less,” the final noun in “Food.” (Perhaps one day I will write a sequel inspired by “Rooms.”) In any case, I will share with you here the words from Tender Buttons that inspired these four poems (which are all on my list’s fifth line): in the poem “gratitude,” the words are cousin, squeezing, and cut; in “mission,” the words are piano, actual, direction, and purse; in “courage,” the words are cool, gracious, leaning, steady, remarkable, sewing, and lace; and in the poem “bouquet,” no words were used; “bouquet” emerged, like so many other poems in this project, as a response to the others.
My final note: these four sections do not appear consecutively in we take me apart, and I like to think that a reader could take any random sampling of the sections and put them together to create a cohesive, self-contained storyline. The multi-textuality of this final draft is exactly the type of organic byproduct that I hoped would occur when I, in desperation, asked Tender Buttons to rescue and guide me away from what I had when I knew it was not working.
Molly Gaudry publishes other writers' books at Willows Wept Press, edits Willows Wept Review, co-edits Twelve Stories, and is an associate editor for Keyhole Magazine. Find her online at http://mollygaudry.blogspot.com/.