Grace Bauer on her poem, “Crime Scene”

Grace Bauer‘s poem, “Crime Scene,” appears in our Spring 2012 issue, guest edited by Nick Flynn. The poem opens with this epigraph:

You expected to see blood dripping through his clothes
—writing prompt from a student

and these lines:

so you kept your distance
so you closed your eyes
so you ran as fast as you could
through that garbage strewn alley,
down that street lined
with dilapidated cars.

Here Bauer describes how her teaching exercise lead to the creation of “Crime Scene”:

As the epigraph suggests, this poem began with a writing prompt from a student in a workshop. Periodically we’d do in-class writing exercises of various kinds to “prime our pumps,” as I sometimes say. To mix things up a bit, experiment — just to see what happened. I’m a big believer in not asking students to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, so I played along. I drew this line – I have no idea where it came from — at random, and we all wrote for ten minutes or so.

So” seemed like the obvious word to follow the phrase I was given, which conjured a scene of potential violence that would call for some kind of response (And so? What did you do?). One so led to another, and anaphora quickly took over. I was writing fast, never knowing what I was going to scribble down next. Any of the first three lines could have been an opening – but once I got the “you” in the poem running, the scene opened up, became cinematic. And the “you” morphed into a version of “me” that I had to admit would (like many of “you”) most likely be a total coward in a situation like this. I’d want to get myself out of that particular Dodge as fast as I could, get myself out of any possible harm’s way, knowing full well that “safety” is a luxury not everyone gets to enjoy, and a tenuous condition even for those of us who think we are. When the stock phrase “wash your hands of…..” presented itself, things turned, momentarily, Biblical, then turned back to that slippery “you,” that could be me or the reader or even the bleeding man that got me writing in the first place.

It’s rare that these writing exercises turn into actual poems for me. If I get a line or an image out of the process, I’m happy. But this time, things took off and the poem sort of wrote itself. My revisions after the first draft were pretty minor – a few judicious cuts here and there, changing line breaks, etc. Looking at the poem now, I think of the E.M. Forster line “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”