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The Story Behind “Fled”

I’m honored that my poem, “Fled,” from the latest issue of Cimarron Review, is the featured poem on Poetry Daily today. Thanks to Don Selby, Diane Boller, and the rest of the PD staff for all they do.

I wanted to share the story behind the poem, which also appears in my first full-length collection, Full Cry, available soon. In the summer of 2009, I was on vacation with my family at Fox Springs Lodge, a family-style resort in Missouri that features shared meals and group activities like bingo, a crawdad-catching contest, and horseshoe-tossing. Guests stay in cabins or in the lodge itself; it feels a little bit like the location of Dirty Dancing, with less Patrick Swayze and no linen tablecloths.

Mule_deer_doe_backlitThe lodge and cabins are nestled in a valley with lots of trees, so when I noticed I had a voice mail from a friend one day, I had to trek up a rock road to get a better signal for my phone. I decided to walk for the exercise, and as I finished leaving a message in return (not terse, I must confess, not “all business”), a deer ran out onto the road.

The poem describes well what happened next, but what I’ve changed is the context. Being with the doe made me think about the iconography of the hunt in love poetry (which I would soon begin to study at the University of Cincinnati), and I found myself wanting to turn around the paradigms, to have the speaker not be chasing the deer OR the beloved, even though that beloved is a distant, coy figure in his own right, the camouflaged man just out of the scene. So, I shifted the emotional valence of the interaction by placing it within that tradition.

It took me many years to get the poem just right, though. I would let it sit for months and then come back to tinker with it. The short, alternately indented lines were part of what made the poem work, and I finally felt like I was ready to complete the poem after finishing an independent study on Petrarch—I knew after doing some short translations that “Fled” needed some allusion to that deer-obsessed poet. The line about the “ripe season” counters the “stagione acerba,” or unripe season, in which Petrarch sees his white doe in Sonnet 190.

So, the poem mixes actual experience with some crafting of the occasion—sometimes necessary to make a poem work. Thanks to all those who gave me feedback on this one over the years, including my St. Louis writing group who saw the first drafts of it back in 2009! And thanks to Lisa Lewis for thinking that it was right for Cimarron Review.

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