Thursday, February 19, 2009

Process, Projects, and Ballads

Have you ever been approached and asked to write a poem? Multiple times? By the same relative? This is my story: my first cousin twice removed (don't you love genealogical terms? I come from a big family, so I get to throw them around a lot) kept appearing by my side at family gatherings, no matter the seriousness, weddings, funerals, reunions, like that "bery, bery sneaky" guy in the Adam Sandler movie. "Have I ever told you about Sarah Mitchell?" he'd say in a near-whisper. And then he'd launch into the saga of Sarah Mitchell, who escaped death, but not capture, at the hands of "the Indians" way back when. I suppose I brought it on myself, having written a ballad about my great-great-great-grandmother. At first I was amused, then I was exasperated, and finally, I'm interested. He sent me some information. He asked the Kentucky Historical Society to send me some information. He sent me a sketch of the scene by a Kentucky artist. It just so happens that she is related to Abraham Lincoln, so this ties in very neatly with the bicentennial. Now I am armed with background material for the perfect historical ballad.

So that's my current project. From here I plan to scour the material and hum some old ballad to myself while I stew over the lines. "Caleb Meyer," by Gillian Welch seems a likely candidate. It begins: "Caleb Meyer lived alone/ in them hollering pines/ And he made a little whiskey for himself/ said it helped pass the time." Those are the happy golden bygone days of the story. Things get dark. If you've never heard the song, I recommend it. Just don't blame me when you wake up singing it in the middle of the night. It gets under your skin.

But I haven't decided whether to set this to music or not. Which is a decision that I usually make early in the process. I tend to write songs with melodies rather than lyrics and music separately. So if it's going to be a poem "only," then I can stop listening to the wind chimes for possible notes to steal.

Still getting rejection slips in the mail, but I got two encouraging parcels amongst the sludge: 1) 94Creations's long awaited first issue came out. I have an essay in that one. And 2) Women. Period. finally came out, too! I have two poems in that one. Both are beautiful to look and fun to hold in the hand. I love the cover designs. As I'm still reading them, I'll refrain from reviewing at this moment, but so far, so good.

Happy poeting,


1 comment:

Jill Koren and Matthew Vetter said...

Good luck on the project, Jill. It sounds really cool.

Remember too, rejections are better than nothing at all!