|Blake print, from Jerusalem - |
winged muse atop a floating sunflower,
I was at a workshop with Mark Doty recently and he was having the group compare William Blake's poem "Ah, Sun-Flower" and a contemporary answer to it by Alan Shapiro.
Blake writes a poem to a sunflower that longs for a life beyond this earthly one. Shapiro's writes a poem for a sunflower that is not "weary of time" at all, but is defiantly living in the now.
I like that idea of answering an earlier poem and of the opposing view.
William Blake's "Ah! Sunflower"
Ah! sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;
Where the youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves and aspire;
Where my sunflower wishes to go.
We might also have looked at "Sunflower Sutra" by Allen Ginsberg -
I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—
—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake...
or at sunflower poems by Frank Steele or by André Breton or others. Sunflowers are popular with poets, at least partially because of Blake's famous precedent.
|Laura Shovan Photo: J.Lewis|
I was reading Laura Shovan's poem "Tomorrow Is Going To Be Normal" (from Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone) and thought about how that poem has both that redefining and opposition at its center.
The boy in that poem finds relief in the day being "normal" and predictable, while the mother says she waits for the "remarkable to land on my shoulder or call me on the phone." Two different philosophies. And the remarkable moment for the mother in that poem is that she and her son could be so different.
For this month's prompt, start with the meaning of a word. It might be a thing (sunflower) or idea (normal). In the poem, present two opposing ways of defining or describing the thing. You might have two voices, as Shovan does, or have the conflict be internal with one voice.
Submission deadline: June 5
Laura Shovan grew up in New Jersey. She is an honors graduate of the Dramatic Writing Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. During her first career as a high school English teacher, Shovan was active in the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s Poetry Program and coordinated poetry readings by teen poets at several Dodge Poetry Festivals.
Since 2002, Shovan has been an Artist-in-Education for the Maryland State Arts Council, leading poetry workshops for school children.
Shovan's collection, Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone, is the inaugural winner of the Clarinda Harriss Poetry Prize.
"For me, this collection tells a story about the transition from childhood to parenthood," said Shovan. "I hope the poems speak to those moments when something—a strange scrap of memory, an odd comment from a child—compels us to stop and pay complete attention to the sensory world."
Her personal website is at laurashovan.com her blog is Author Amok and her blog for poetry site for kids is at Mrs. Poems.