The Story Behind “Two Poems” by Deborah Bacharach

DBacharach_Headshot-300Today’s post is written by Deborah Bacharach. Two of her poems appear in our Fall 2015 issue. 

Twenty years ago, I was lying on the grass at Green Lake reading my mom’s college copy of Whitman and writing what I saw, what I felt. It was a slim green volume with her name carefully lettered on the frontispiece in a handwriting that has not changed. I let Whitman’s music enter me and tried to ride its long waves. But of course, it wasn’t just Whitman that was entering me but everything about that moment.

Recently, I found that journal in my basement and mined it. A phrase from this page, a line from that—I found the material that still resonated and added it to material from other journal entries until I built the poem “After Whitman.” My process doesn’t always take twenty years, but I almost always give myself a cooling-off period and work by pastiche.

I had a beloved aikido instructor who died recently, Paul Sensai. He always talked about taking the oblique angle, that power came not from direct confrontation but from slipping in from the side. I have found this true with my writing. If I try to write directly about a topic, I’m usually stilted or preachy. But if I let my creative brain have free rein to wander about as it will, I often discover what I want to say and perhaps some strong language to say it in. Then I come back later with my critiquing brain and craft it.

Dictation from Fog” started in a similar moment of generation–what I saw walking my kids to school. I love Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems that came from his long lunchtime walks around New York. I’ve been walking my kids to school for eight years now and have several poems from it, and miles of rejected journal entries. I strongly believe in writing the boring, mundane, repetitive as a way through to writing that delights and surprises.

I also believe in trying whatever. At various points “Dictation from Fog” had a kangaroo, ten extinct animals including the moa bird and the water opossum, Keppler’s views on Mars, and the vestigial legs of whales. Once it was a sonnet. The wonderful poet and mentor Stuart Friebert entered my life about ten years ago. He told me to trust my gut. So, in this poem, like in so many others, I kept listening for the parts that made sense not in a logical way, but to my gut. That’s how I was able to jump from images of my daughter’s childhood to my own, to meditations on memory and what it means to be part of this universe.

You can see from even this small example of two poems the themes that obsess me—what it means to be human, how to love ourselves, how to love others. If I berated myself, as I sometimes do, for not widening my focus—why don’t I write about climate change for heaven’s sakes? why love again?—I would end up staring at a blank page. I’ve done that. I try hard to believe that what I need to say will become, with work and time, something worth saying.

About the Author

Deborah Bacharach is the author of After I Stop Lying (Cherry Grove Collections, 2015). Her work has appeared in Many Mountains Moving, The Antigonish Review, Literary Mama, and Blue Mesa Review among many others.

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