You might think it a little strange for me to be spending a whole production log post on a poem, and in general you’d be right. For most of my poems, a production log would be a paragraph, if that. I tend to write poems fast and short, neither of which attributes leads towards long-winded explications.
But that’s exactly why “Mike Malloy” is ripe for a production log!
I’ve only written two long(ish) poems in all of history: “Siren”, now generally considered to be a critical failure, and “Phineas Gage”, still fighting the good fight out in LitMagLand. “Siren was written some six years ago and was produced in the spate of a week and was solidly begun by twisting a dream I had into verbal form. “Phineas Gage” was the result of National Write a Really, Really, Really Long Poem Month (which is November, for those who aren’t in the know) and took a month of solid work, writing every day. That poem was based, as you might guess, on the life of Phineas Gage.
The man picture below is not the Mike Malloy you are looking for.
With “Mike Malloy” I’m trying to reproduce what I accomplished with “Phineas Gage”, i.e. Write a poem that is based in historical fact but expands that history to envelop both the personal and the public, my life and times and those of the society at large, both then and now. Unlike “Phineas Gage”, which was written as a single, unbroken poem consisting of rhyming couplets (and, hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it), “Mike Malloy” is looking like it’ll be scattered into a number of smaller sections.
Mike Malloy became famous in New York during Prohibition when he was the focus of a murder conspiracy. Malloy was an old drifter, a drunk who only lived for the next time he could get a glass of alcohol in hand. He was also extremely easy-going and naïve. The owner of the speakeasy where he drank got together with a few friends and figured that they could sign Malloy up for life insurance, then kill him and collect their (mild) riches. Malloy signed the forms and labeled the owner as his beneficiary for the promise of everything he could drink. Now they just had to kill him.
The trouble was that Malloy wouldn’t die.
That’s the basis for the poem, but this production log is about the structure of the poem – which is really where all my creativity gets its origin anyway.
This article was not written by the Mike Malloy you’re looking for.
There are two ways I’m considering organizing the poem. The first is by murder attempt: regular alcohol; methyl alcohol; a sandwich consisting of rotting sardines, ground glass, and metal shavings; oysters fermented in methyl alcohol; ice-cold dousing in cold weather; and being run over by a car. The last method – which finally worked – was pumping carbon monoxide into Malloy’s lungs through a tube.
The other method for organization would have each section be related to – or told in the voice of – one of the conspirators, perhaps ending with Malloy himself (though I’m not sure if I want to give him a voice or leave him a force of nature).
Why is this important for me to figure out?
Because what I decide now will influence the way that the poem evolves. If I have sections in the voices of the conspirators, the subject matter will be determined by them, and be filtered through what I imagine their goals and beliefs to be. If I tell the story through the murder attempts, I’ll have more freedom with regards to subject – able to spin off into topics without worrying about consistency of voice – but I’ll lose what power is to be gained through dramatic monologue.
The real question is this: What kind of Mike Malloy am I looking for?