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(Process Notes for "Story Book-ends") 

Excerpts from a duet

by Mary Alexandra Agner and Peg Duthie

Mary: How do you feel about each writing a sonnet with the same ending line (as first drafty as you can feel comfortable with) and then having the other revise it? With the result being a 28 line poem of two stanzas with possible refrain?

Peg: Oooh, that could be nifty.  

Mary: Do you have any lines rattling around that you want to suggest as closers? 

A few days later...

Peg: For what it's worth, woke up with "a journey without a lovers' ending" in my head. A possibility?  

Mary: I love it.

I misread it as "a journey worth a lovers' ending" which I like too. 

Peg: Oooh, yes.

Mary: 14 lines, Shakespeare or Petrarch rhyme scheme, and metrical (pentameter? tetrameter?)  

Peg: Would it be okay to leave [the rhyme scheme] open, as long as some multiple of 2 and/or 3 is observed? Odds are I'll come up with something better (i.e., less forced) if I'm not confined to a specific scheme.

Mary: Is tetrameter an option?

That line, "a journey worth a lover's ending" could be headless pentameter or hypermetric tetrameter.

[Drafts exchanged two days after Christmas.]

Mary: How do we want to do this? I know the draft I sent you felt a bit drafty but every time I sit down with yours it doesn't feel drafty it just feels Peg-y. Is the point that I take your Peg-ness and make it Mary-ness? (But I rather like the Peg-ness of the poem.)

Peg: I'd like to come up with some sort of bridging stanza -- could be something as simple as a pair of couplets, or as ambitious as a third sonnet -- to link our two efforts.  

[ A week later. Mary sends Peg a GoogleDoc with the sonnets specially formatted... ]

Mary: I have done a strange thing with our poem. I think it is working.  

Peg: Onwards!  


[More tweaking and discussing]

Peg: Argggh, I thought I'd flagged this already: "Make peace with all the frogs I spoke" stops me in my tracks, because one doesn't speak frogs, one speaks with frogs.  

Mary: These lines (the whole sonnet, really) are a reference to the fairy tale of the girl who speaks gems and frogs.  That's why this line has no "with." ...what did you think the poem said?

[Intense discussions about fairy tales, including comparative popularity of different stories featuring frogs.]

[Heated discussions about allusions vs. our assumptions about readers' assumptions.]

[A half-dozen alternative strategems considered and cashiered. More discussion on what does(n't) work in our separate views.]

Mary: I capitulate.  I will take my line-of-loveliness and use it in another poem.  Here are two lines of generic fairy-tale for you and our readers. Suggestions on how to make them crisper?  

[Yet more finetuning from head to foot (and of feet, so to speak).]



Peg Duthie shares an old house with a large dog, a tall man, and a small piano. She works as an indexer and copyeditor. Her poems have appeared in qarrtsiluni, Strange Horizons, PicFic, and elsewhere.

Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. She was born in a United State made for lovers and currently lives outside Boston. Her family tree bears Parson Brown oranges. Her advanced degrees include Earth and planetary science, and creative writing; she's blessed to have a paying job that utilizes both of them. All her life she's observed the universe and written about it.


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. .BluePrintReview - issue 27 - Synergetic Transformations