Drafts, Drawings & Poems

By Brett Rawson

In memoir writing, you have to operate on yourself, and depending on the length of time between being patient and surgeon, that can be painful. I think it’s why I keep a notebook so close, but also why I need a community of other writers at the core: to have those private and public spaces to experiment with ideas, but ultimately, expose them.

Last winter, I was struggling with a prose-poetry project. The voice was off-balance, but in attending a workshop at The Garrison Institute, “Imagining Your Voice on the Page,” led by Robert Polito and Gregory Pardlo, I found calibration. They illuminated aspects of voice I hadn’t considered, such as the role of sincerity, form as a register of voice, and the difference between what is reality and what is convincing. Looking back at my journals from that time, I see continuity: each lecture, I took notes in the shape of drawings, and even though I wrote until two each morning and awoke at seven to sit with the others, that weekend of locomotion, snow, and quiet performance reminded me of what a mentor once said: writing is a physical activity. These are a couple poems that began back then as travel sketches. I’m grateful for these experiences.

Please note: The next poetry workshop at the Garrison Institute is with Robert Polito and Tina Chang on September 8-10, “No Walls Here: Writing and Art along the Edges, Borders, and Margins.”

Drawings made by Brett Rawson at “Imagining Your Voice on the Page,” a Garrison Institute retreat led by Robert Polito and Gregory Pardlo.


In the real world
there is an empty picture frame —
they dream that you will someday
move inside this image of you of theirs.
I wish I could take you to Times Square
tonight, so we could see how dark light can be.
Everyone is tossing and turning,
trying to find the right frequency.
In the morning, I imagine,
one of us would be sipping coffee
near a window,
pretending the wind is a guest,
and not the sound
of no one coming.

The Cradle of Storms

There is an island in the middle of the Bering Sea
where seventeen wild horses from World War II
are roaming out their time.

They were fixed underneath the moon,
and after they are gone, few reminders
of the thousand-mile war will remain:

a few empty bunkers aimed at the ocean, pits
where rotating guns once pivoted,
and unmarked bodies buried beneath stone slabs,
weeds now huddling over their silent sacrifices.

But all things must pass. The unangans,
the people of the passes, knew this well.

We will be survived by the wildness—
the thousand square miles of unpaved pastures,
the weeklong stretches of fog that settle
over the land like giant sheets of illuminated tracing paper,
and the single clump of sixty trees
that sway throughout winter.

There will always be zero bears
and eight hundred bald eagles,
and at the only hour of darkness,
two foxes will jog down pebbled roads
looking for abandoned eaglets
and injured ground hogs.

We will never be left, just leaving—
each season, three thousand feet will arrive
eager to return, but until they do,
the fifth and final tavern,
The Norwegian Rat Saloon,
will do very well.

This is Unalaska,
and it was my home,
but like many,
not for very long.

Brett Rawson edits and curates at the intersection of technology and culture. He is founder of Handwritten and Director of Outreach at The Seventh Wave. He received an MFA from The New School and has been published in The Rumpus, Narratively, Nowhere Magazine, PANK, and more.

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