Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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1129 words
SHJ Issue 5
Spring 2012

Gestation of “One Much One”:
Ditty Went the Long Way

Steve Davenport

Once upon a time, maybe as many years ago as thirty, certainly more than twenty, at a time when my only creative (writing) outlet was the occasional postcard or long (paper) letter to a friend, I wrote a couplet. I copied it in a notebook where I scribbled lines from movies and books, snippets of conversation, names of albums I wanted, that sort of thing. The notebook was made with a flat spine to look like a thin hardback. Fake brown leather, the cover trimmed in gold. A thing to keep forever; therefore, a thing I can’t find. I remember the couplet, though.

God’s to blame, not us we say,
for putting such beauty in their walking away.

I didn’t know what to do with it, so I called it a poem, gave it a title, scribbled it in the gold-trimmed notebook, and for years showed it to no one. I forget the title I gave it, but it may have been as simple as “Women.” I hope it wasn’t “Women’s Asses,” but it may have been. I was a young man, and I was writing for an audience of one.

Years later, five, maybe ten, a buddy of mine from Ph.D. school reads it and is surprised to see I have some skill. He suggests, though, that a friend or two of ours might find something in it not to like. (We decide I could be a misogynist. I put the notebook away.) More time passes. I have my doctorate for all of two years, two months, and two weeks, almost to the day, when I sit down and on purpose write a poem. It’s a New Year’s resolution and I keep it. I write a poem a day for quite a few days. Soon I’m spending more time on poems than on literary scholarship. It’s the latter half of the 1990s.

As I look for material, the couplet resurfaces. I can’t throw it away, and again I have no use for it. But it keeps bobbing to the surface and one day changes, becomes something different for no good reason. The couplet for an audience of one becomes a sentence for an audience of one. “Fucking woman walked the wrong way.” There’s no specific woman, but I like the sound the sentence makes. I like its potential for play, the interchangeability of its parts, the shifts in sound. I don’t know it at the time, but I’m becoming a formalist. A bad-ass formalist. Here’s the bad-ass poem.

Fucking woman walked the wrong way.
Walking woman fucked the wrong way.
Woman fucking walked the wrong way.
Fucking, woman walked the wrong way.

I think that’s it. I can’t find a copy of it. Walking-Away Woman becomes Wrong-Way Woman. The title’s probably “Wrong Way” or “Wrong Woman.” It’s not important. Unless I’m on trial for misogyny and a good title might save me. (I have five daughters, Judge. Have mercy on my hide.)

More years pass. Maybe as many as ten. It doesn’t matter. Not in the middle of a process that becomes one only after the fact. Not the way time matters in a gestation cycle that produces, say, a sticky human or a corn snake. I decide one morning to write an animal poem. It will be funny, I tell myself. For an idea or a start, I look at some abandoned or dead-end poems I keep in a file. And there it is. “Wrong Way.” If the poem’s ever going to appear in a respectable literary magazine, expand its audience beyond one to maybe three, I know “fucking” will need to be replaced with another word. “Freaking” hops up and down—pick me, pick me—as a useful substitute, and when “wrong” leads to “song,” the logic of music forces my hand. (I had no choice, Judge.) I change “woman” to “dog.” The four lines become nine and gain a title I remember.

Wrong Dog Song
Freaking dog walked the wrong way.
Walking dog freaked the wrong way.
Dog freaking walked the wrong way.
Walking the wrong way, dog freaked.
Dog freaked walking the wrong way.
Walking away, dog freaked wrong.
Freaked dog walked the wrong way.
Walking away wrong, dog freaked.
Walking away, wrong dog freaked.

It’s hard to forget a title that leads an on-line life. Two or three words in a search engine and bam! “Wrong Dog Song.” Try it yourself.

When I submitted it to Diagram, a good on-line literary magazine, as one of three or four poems, I expected the good folks there, if they took anything, to take one or two of the others. Amazing the legs on the poem they picked, which I intended as little more than a formal exercise. A couple of years ago, maybe five years after “Wrong Dog Song” was published, a student mentioned it before class and said she thought it was funny. Good that she found the freaking dog, I tell myself, and not the fucking woman. (Who wants to go to jail over a poem? How to explain that to your cellmate?)

In 2007, I’m twiddling with ideas for a new manuscript of song stylings, reworkings of pre-existing songs that I’m combining with other found lyrics and feeding through a formal pattern (pantoum, villanelle, diminishing poem, clerihew, and so on) to come up with new songs. Interpretations, interpolations. Recyclings. I soon find myself back in my poem files. There I see the word “song” in a title, “Wrong Dog Song,” and figure there’s something more I might do to the formal pattern, push it a little, rein it back in, something. Reinterpret not the song, but the pattern, the form. I end up back at “woman,” the first one, the one who started it all, Walking-Away Woman, who was never any one woman, from whom I originally moved to the woman she became, Wrong-Way Woman, and from there finally (finally, Judge and daughters) to Real Woman, the Only Woman (for me), the One to my One, who lives in the dedication.

One Much One
(Till Death Do Us Ditty)
for LMHD
One love One so fucking much.
One fuck One so loving much.
One much One so loving fuck.
One fuck One so muching love.
One love One so muching fuck.

The parenthetical subtitle’s a nod to the form, ditty, that I used to rework, to carry the Muchness of the vows we made One to One more than fourteen years ago. Is ditty really a form? It became one the minute Federico García Lorca laid his hands on it. Read his “Ditty of First Desire” to see what I mean.

Then go make one of your own. Get your hands dirty.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury