I’m having a hard time getting into the groove of writing part II of my novel. I have many theories as to why this is happening, none of which I can do much about. So today, after floundering around with it for hours yet again, I decided to try something different. A few days ago, Brandi and I were talking about how using a traditional form for a poem (i.e. a pantoum or a sonnet or what have you) can be oddly freeing and unlock whatever it is the poem has been trying to say. As far as I know, there are no traditional forms for novels, and I’m not sure how that would work even if there were.

But I remembered the various exercises they used to have us do in school: write a poem in the style of so-and-so, fill in these spaces with this kind of noun and this kind of verb, or copy the entire rhyme scheme and form of a poem but make it your own. I decided to do something closer to the latter. Elizabeth Bishop has a poem called “Visits to St. Elizabeths” that I have been mildly obsessed with ever since I wrote a paper about it in college (if you’ve never read this poem, read it here). This is the one I’ve chosen to copy, and I’ve written it about Carmela, the main character of my novel. In particular, it’s about what she’s going through in the part that I can’t seem to write, or rather, what she will go through once I figure out how to write it. I’m calling the poem “Visit to St. Joseph’s,” which is the monastery Carmela goes to in her efforts to become a nun.

The thing about Bishop’s poetry is that it’s deceptively simple until you start to really look at it, and then, it blows your mind. There’s so much internal rhyming, so much going on. Needless to say, copying it was hard. I mean, really hard, and I’m sure I missed a lot of things and made numerous, inexcusable mistakes. But this was an exercise, an attempt to jog some yet untapped region of my creative brain. Hopefully, it worked. If not, it was a good way to spend my writing time. At least I feel like I accomplished something.

Visit to St. Joseph’s
after Elizabeth Bishop

This is the house of Silence.

This is the girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

This is the time
of the hopeful girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

This is a bell
telling the time
of the obedient girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

This is a nun
bearing the bell
that tells the time
of the blessed girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

This is the pathway pearled of oyster
tread by the nun
bearing the bell
that tells the time
of the young, humble girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

These are the hours and the cells of the cloister,
the stillness and calm of the rooms without roister
run by the nun
bearing the bell
that tells the time
of the gracious girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

This is a Catholic in a black linen veil
that tiptoes creeping down the cloister
over the soundless rooms without roister
beyond the nun
banging her bell
that tells the time
of the questioning girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

This is a world of a spirit gone pale.
This is a Catholic in a black linen veil
that tiptoes creeping down the cloister
over the soundless rooms without roister
of the solemn nun
that bangs her bell
that tells the time
of the sedated girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

This is a woman that paces the hall
to see if the world is lost, is pale,
for the contemplative Catholic in the black linen veil
that tiptoes creeping down the cloister
probing the depth of a narrowed oyster
by the noiseless nun
that hears her bell
that tolls the time
of the troubled girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

These are the hours and the cells and the wall
that shut in a woman that paces the hall
to feel if the world is lost and pale.
This is a Catholic in a black linen veil
that tiptoes frantically down the cloister
into the endless rooms without roister
past the knowing nun
that strikes her bell
that tells the time
of the woman, the girl
that prays in the house of Silence.

This is the destined response to the call.
These are the hours and the cells and the wall
that shut in a woman that paces the hall
to see if the world is bright or pale.
This is a Catholic in a black linen veil
that tiptoes brazenly down the cloister,
prying apart a tightly clamped oyster
with the faithful nun
that covers her bell
that tells the time
of the wandering girl
that prays in the house of Silence.