When I was about eight, I realized that if I were going to the make the most of all the Saturday morning shows and cartoons that the new television season would bring, I would have to get organized. I took the newspaper TV listings, a pad and pencil, and sat down to make the most efficient viewing schedule I could. It took several drafts (each of them offering a new opportunity to dislike the look of my own handwriting), but I finally came up with a system for managing Saturday morning TV time.
At this same age I already had a penchant for notebooks, but because of the handwriting problem, I couldn’t bear to sully my lovely notebooks—hardbound blank books, not ordinary spiral or composition notebooks like I used at school—by actually writing in them. In ninth grade my handwriting developed into something that looked as good as what was in my head, and sometime around 10th grade I began keeping a dated diary/journal/writer’s notebook—using some of those blanks books I had saved.
Both these stories tell something about my current notebook practices. “Time Existing and Available” continues to be my organizing principle in life, and trawling through the riches that other writers and artists have shared here I find that my way of using notebooks—which I thought was extremely common—is perhaps less common than I thought.
Instead of piles and stacks of various pads and pages and notebooks and napkins and walls and ticket stubs, I have a long series of notebooks which are essentially journals that proceed in linear chronological fashion from 1979 onward (and which include frequent attempts at scheduling and timetabling and controlling every aspect of life; I never learn).
Here’s my current dotty-spotty notebook, on top of a stack of notebooks dating from 2001. Since I started writing poetry in earnest in 1999, my pattern has been to draft once, twice, maybe three times in my notebook and then move the poem to a document for tweaking and formatting, for shaping. I also keep a little “Bedside Poetry Journal” in case of late-night or early-morning strikes of inspiration.
My current notebook goes wherever I go, but since returning to full-time teaching this year, it has spent way too much time stuck in the depths of my bag. Here’s why:
…my laptop. Because I use it for so many daily tasks, over the last couple of years it has increasingly and imperiously usurped the role of my notebook. By November 2011, when I decided to try writing a poem a day, only the first two, disrespectfully crammed on a single page, appeared in the dotty-spotty notebook. I wrote all the rest on the computer, in Word.
It worked, but I really believe there is a different quality and a different pace to writing by hand, and of course it’s very hard to record the real process of revision if you’re editing a document rather than working over a page in your notebook with a pen. So when Amy invited me to share my notebook, I vowed to return to drafting-by-hand, and it feels good!
Here are samples of notebook drafts that eventually graduated to computer documents for final tweaking and publication. On the left, 7.23.02, you can see a Denise Levertov poem that really piqued my interested in “No-Poems,” poems which assert and then argue with themselves. On the right and below are the first and then immediate second drafts of “What I Wanted and What I Got” from Squeeze (2005). See how the form, the voice, the whole idea is wobbly the first time around, but under that squiggly line, it starts to firm up?
Next, from May 2006, you can see that I do occasionally find myself without a notebook. These are the first and immediate second drafts of “Shell Game,” from Pumpkin Butterfly (2009). I wrote these on a pad sitting in my car outside a school where I knew I would be doing several poetry visits, including one to a class that was incubating chicks. It wasn’t until I got the draft typed up that I saw it would be possible to make it egg-shaped! Once again, though, you can see me finding my way through the poem in the first draft, and coming almost to the final version in the second draft.
Finally, earlier this month I spent time at the Grand Canyon, writing a poem each day in the voice of an inanimate, nonliving thing. Surrounded by rocks and sand, I wanted to highlight the counterintuitive way we call all those infinitely numerous particles by one uncontoured collective noun, and look what the messing around with singular and plural turned up! (And check out that note to myself in the upper right-hand corner…like I said, I never learn.)
We is and
trillions of us
all of us our own particular
formed through unimaginable
somehow we are all called
Heidi Mordhorst 2012
all rights reserved
Being a classroom teacher, I have both a poetry challenge and a poetry prize suitable for classroom application!
Students, I know that the first draft of any piece of writing is a lot of work, and when you’re done, it’s hard to imagine writing it all over again. But an immediate second draft works well for me almost every time, so I encourage you to try it too.
1) Write the first draft of your poem on the LEFT side of your notebook or paper.
2) Read it out loud to yourself or a friend.
3) Start writing it again on the RIGHT side of your notebook or paper. Just start copying it with an
4) As you write, let the poem show and tell you what might work better…a new arrangement?
a better word here? take out a word there?
Maybe you won’t find anything to change, but maybe you will. By the end of the first draft, the poem is telling you what it wants to be; writing the second draft right away is your chance to show the poem that you’re listening!
For a teacher who comments here, I have an unbound copy of PUMPKIN BUTTERFLY which I’ll take apart, laminate, and mail to you at school for use as a collection of two-sided poetry posters in your classroom. Let me know if you want each poem signed as well. The drawing will take place this Sunday evening, May 6, and the winner will be announced on Monday, May 7.
Thanks to Amy for inviting me to share my notebooks, and happy double-drafting-by-hand to all!
Heidi Mordhorst is a kindergarten teacher and poet who practices her arts in Montgomery County, MD just outside Washington, D.C. Find out more about her books and other publications by visiting her blog at http://myjuicylittleuniverse.blogspot.com or her website at www.heidimordhorst.com.
THE WINNER OF ALLAN WOLF'S ZANE'S TRACE IS MICHELE KRUEGER!
PLEASE SEND ME YOUR SNAIL MAIL ADDRESS TO AMY AT AMY LV DOT COM!