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Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Poem

rough draft of TaraFly's cat poem

I’ve been meaning to spruce up my various online profiles with a new bio… but describing myself in a few succinct paragraphs, while still maintaining the essence of an active imagination and cat obsession, has proven difficult.
How does one talk about oneself without sounding either egotistical or self-abasing?

I have a dozen pages lying around with various scribbled intro lines…

“She was raised in an ordinary neighborhood, lived in a cookie-cutter Levittown house, and wore a plaid uniform to school everyday.
But lurking inside was a spirit far from ordinary or cookie-cutter. And her expressions were anything but plaid and uniform….”

See what I’m struggling with?!? ROFL!

While searching for Regency picnic scenes on Google, with a vague an idea for a “Welcome” door-hanging decoration *wink* ~ I came across this portrait photographer’s blog.
Now Kamee June has absolutely nothing to do with Jane Austen or Regency, but one of her wedding shoots was tagged thus, I suppose for it’s vintage, cottage chic theme.

I loved her talent with the camera… but I loved her bio page even more:

“i love the look of a man totally devoted to one woman because she completes his heart. i love the look of unexpected surprises… the look of christmas morning, the look of family, the look of mothers drinking in their new babies, the look of unspoken yet powerfully present love. …the presence of life and its undeniably endearing moments, and i love immortalizing them forever with my camera.”

Her charming poetic style not only describes herself vividly, but also gives potential clients the assurance that she “gets” what they want; she will capture those priceless looks forever on film.
Not to mention, her SEO keywords were sprinkled cleverly throughout the text. ;)

I was deeply impressed, instantly inspired, and just a teensy bit jealous.
If she wrote it entirely by herself, you might not even recognize me standing beside the Dracaenas. Hint: I’m the green leaf wearing a faded T-shirt and dark grey pants.

In a word, her bio was ‘brilliant’.

And it made me realize that my bio should speak to people, not just at them.
And lo, an idea was conceived… and was born on Friday.

I wrote this poem for my bio.

It was based on the premise that… “I see Cat People”.
Borrowed from one of my blog posts, it’s a title that cracked up my friends (and I’ll admit, I thought it was pretty cute, too). :)

The poem itself hasn’t been named yet ~ you might want to help me with that, as I’m creatively drained from struggling with rhymes and rhythm.

For all its flaws and cheesy metaphors, I’m calling it finished.
But I’ll give you an insider’s glimpse at some of the alternate lines and phrases which didn’t make final cut. ;)

I started out by stealing lines from my unfinished poem, “Call of the Cat Folk”….

The original poem had the narrator welcoming all various sorts of cat obsessed people, hoarders, and “those who simply admire”… into her home, to sit by her fire.

This time around, I decided to describe the clan of devious cats, who disguise themselves dressed as men, in order to eat, drink, socialize… and basically enjoy the privileges we humans take for granted.

The second stanza in particular was a mess of re-writes, which originally read like this:

“I’ll paint you a portrait of felines,
Who craftily don human clothes,
To walk among mankind as shadows,
And dine at our tables….”

Here I got stuck, because I wanted to say: “dine at our tables as friends.”

(The term ‘friends’ being used loosely, because they were only pretending to be our friends in order to take advantage of our hospitality)

Now ‘friends’ obviously doesn’t rhyme with ‘clothes’, so after exhausting my mental resources, I broke open my trusted Encyclopedia of Dictionaries (yes, I own one of those! Nerd that I am….) to find a suitable replacement word for ‘clothes’ in the Thesaurus.

As I suspected, no substitute for ‘clothes’ rhymed with ‘friends’.
However, I found the synonym ‘togs’ very attractive, and quickly amended the phrase to: “one who dons trappings and togs”…

Okay…. but now what?
That still leaves me without a rhyme, unless I wanted to “dine at the table with dogs”.
Logs… hogs… frogs… fogs….

I tinkered with ‘fogs’ for a while.

“To mingle with mankind like shadows,
And settle upon us like fogs.”

Hahaha!! Huh? …No?

Well how about this: “And permeate gentry like fogs.”

I’ll be damned if I was going to abandon ‘togs’ that easily.
So I went back to my Encyclopedia and checked the Rhyming Dictionary… which included a few uncommon words.
Like pettifogs.

Pettifog (v.) has a few meanings, according to Dictionary.com:

  1.  to bicker or quibble over trifles or unimportant matters.
  2.  to carry on a petty, shifty, or unethical (law) business.
  3.  to practice chicanery of any sort.

Since I had already described these cats as guileful shape-shifters, intent on masquerading in human clothing to fool the populace, I fell in love with ‘pettifog’ as a verb for shady dealings.

I could just picture my cats duping someone into giving them a dinner invitation, for a chance to sit at the table and eat from a plate. ;)

It might not be entirely what Merriam-Webster had in mind, but I’m rewriting the rules to suit my purpose… because I can.
As an artist, I will refer you to my license to take certain creative liberties.

I had to re-structure the sentence to end with a verb, as I had originally intended to use a prepositional phrase or some other noun form.
But after ‘pettifogs’ wrapped up that nightmarish stanza for me, the rest of the poem breezed along.
True, I could have made it longer… maybe someday I will.

The only difficulty I had with the 3rd stanza was the last line (again!) ~
I wanted to say something about “society of good breeding”…
but ‘society’ is four-syllables long…  three, if slurred..  and so it consumed too many precious beats.

So I went with ‘club’, although I’m not altogether pleased with it, does essentially mean the same thing.

The final line, of the final stanza, also went through a few shape-shifting moments as well.

“Then look at your face in the glass, dear:
Two cats perceive… aye, you and me.”

It started out as: “For cats we are, both, you and me.”

Then changed to, “Two cats you’ll find…”

And then: “You are one of them ~ aye, you and me.”

Again, I’m not entirely content with the line as it stands now, and may change it.
It needs to have impact.
A sense of ~ “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming”.

I just realized that the film “Sixth Sense”, where I stole my adapted line about ‘seeing cat people’, ends in a similar manner.
That never occurred to me when I was writing the poem! LOL

It took me all afternoon to get these lines written and sorted out.
Yes, literally hours spent on four measly stanzas… obsessing over obscure words, their potential meanings, and ability to rhyme.

I raced downstairs to show Joe my masterpiece… which he bravely tried to read aloud, but trailed into silence after stumbling on a word or two.
In the end, he pronounced it ‘really good’… then admitted he had no clue what ‘pettifog’ meant.

And offered his doubts as to whether my readers would know either. :P

So here I am, to shed light on my writing experience, and share the reason I fought so hard for ‘pettifogs’.

It really is a neat word, and now that you know what it means… or rather, what I intended it to mean…. *wink*
…you can return to my poem with a fresh perspective, laugh at my poor phasing, and perhaps suggest an appropriate title.

Or else, I’ll simply call it “The Cat People”.

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