December 8, 2008


Since I posted this month's prompt, I came across an interesting article online titled "The Poetics of Housework" that references the Behn poem I used as a model. There's a section on laundry that mentions several poems that might also serve as models this month.

I'm not familiar with Judith Minty’s poem "Making Music," but I can identify with the sounds described in the poem as the woman uses an old style wringer washing machine. It's what my mom used in our basement when I was child.

Rita Dove has a poem called "Taking in Wash" that doesn't deal directly with the laundry process, but uses it metaphorically.

every light hums, the kitchen is arctic
with sheets, Papa is making the hankies
sail. Her foot upon
a silk-stitched rose, she waits
until he turns, his smile sliding all over.
Mama a tight dark fist.
Touch that child
and I'll cut you down
just like the cedar of Lebanon.

The mother protects the clean laundry from the drunken man, and then she protects her daughter.

I said that serendipity played a part in this end-of-year prompt, since it was a chance browsing session that led me to Jane Kenyon's little poem titled "Wash." That started me thinking about all the clotheslines in all backyards of my youth. I loved the smell and heat of summer sun that was on the cloth fresh off the line. Everyone I knew had a clothesline, but now I can't recall the last time I saw one.

Later, I was clicking around the web looking for poems and came across "Whether or Not There Are Apples" by Robin Behn - another poem about wash on the clothesline. Both poems share that feeling I had of sun-warmed and season-scented cloth. I still remember visiting my cousins for a sleepover and being disgusted by their bed sheets that had been baked in a dryer.

The two poems together made our very simple prompt for December. Write a poem about laundry, wash, clotheslines or anything connected to that whole simple experience past or present. (extended holiday deadline = January 10, 2009)

Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) was a well-known contemporary American writer. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she published four collections of poetry and a translation of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova before her untimely death from leukemia in 1995. She was featured with her husband, poet Donald Hall, on the Bill Moyers' special, "A Life Together."

Robin Behn is the author of Paper Bird, and The Red Hour and is the co-editor of The Practice of Poetry. She teaches in the MFA Program at The University of Alabama.

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