March 29, 2020

You Stay Home Too

I have been exchanging poems with friends during this "shelter at home" time. We use email not some video programs, like Zoom, because these are not workshops. We have a prompt. We write on our own. We share the poems and comment on them.

The inbox got a bit full, which was why I suggested and then posted here a prompt where anyone could post their poem response as a comment. I hope some of you will participate.

One of my poet friends sent this poem by Wendell Berry which seems appropriate for this stay home time. (Thanks, Dana!)

Stay Home

I will wait here in the fields
to see how well the rain
brings on the grass.
In the labor of the fields
longer than a man’s life
I am at home. Don’t come with me.
You stay home too.

I will be standing in the woods
where the old trees
move only with the wind
and then with gravity.
In the stillness of the trees
I am at home. Don’t come with me.
You stay home too.

I didn't remember reading that poem earlier, but the first thought I had after reading it was the opposing view in a Robert Frost poem. In Frost's springtime poem, "The Pasture," he asks us not to stay home but to go with him.

I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

Of course, we can go with Frost - and Berry - through their poems. That (along with email, phone calls and video chat) is a very safe way to walk with other poets.

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March 27, 2020

Mini-Prompt: Birds and Wildlife Watching

We're into the final days of our "official" March prompt at Poets Online which is about "lost and found." I saw in the past week several submissions that address the current COVID-19 pandemic. One was a lost and found poem but the others were just about the pandemic in general. I understand the need for poets to write about what's happening, even if that's not what the prompt asked them to write.

I'm writing more than usual. I'm also continuing my daily walks which are often in my local woods but sometimes just suburban sidewalks where people give each other a wide (at least 6 feet) buffer now. But people are waving, nodding and saying hello more than usual.

Today's poem on The Writer's Almanac is "Look It Over" by Wendell Berry which fits in very nicely with my own walks.

I leave behind even
my walking stick. My knife
is in my pocket, but that
I have forgot. I bring
no car, no cell phone,
no computer, no camera,
no CD player, no fax, no
TV, not even a book. I go
into the woods...

I like watching the chickadees at my feeder. They seem so hyperactive, flitting to and from the feeder while others like the little finches and bully jays hang around and keep eating. The video above finally gave me an explanation of why they feed in that manner.

Poets and Writers sent out its weekly newsletter which always contains writing prompt or poets and prose writers. Their current poetry prompt suggestion is "animal watching," particularly birds, which exist in even the most urban environments. They might be visible from your nearby window or at a bird feeder.

There's a poem by Billy Collins ("Christmas Sparrow") about a bird that gets trapped in his house that he included in a beautifully illustrated anthology of bird poems that he edited, Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds.

...Then a noise in the throat of the cat
who was hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap of a basement door...

He is able to capture the sparrow in a shirt and gently carry it outside and free it, but

...For the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms...

If you have written your "lost and found" poem (or that prompt isn't inspiring you) and want to try the Poets and Writers prompt on animal watching, please do so - and if you'd like to share the result - please post it as a comment to this post. (*NOTE* All comments to the blog need admin approval. Don't panic and post again.)

I will keep posting occasional prompts in the upcoming month besides our official April prompt. April is National Poetry Month and though events will be few, I think we need things like poetry more than ever right now.

Be well, write, and share your words.


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March 15, 2020

For the Anniversary of My Death by W.S. Merwin

“Poetry is a way of looking at the world for the first time.” ― W.S. Merwin

W.S. Merwin in 2010

W.S. Merwin died at home on March 15, 2019, at age 91.

I am probably not the only person who is thinking about him and reading him today and also remembering his poem, "For the Anniversary of My Death," which begins:

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

The idea that the day of your death is a day you have lived through over and over, like an anniversary, like a birthday, is another one of those things that W.S. Merwin has written about that has stayed with me.

I heard him read several times and I spoke very briefly to him about environmental issues in my home state of New Jersey. William Stanley (W.S.) Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and raised in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister and as a 5-year-old in New Jersey, he wrote hymns for the Presbyterian church where his father served. He earned a scholarship to Princeton, where he also worked in the campus dining halls.

Later, he went on to Europe, where he became a translator and a poet.

If you are new to his work, an entry point might be The Essential W.S. Merwin.

In the 1980s and 1990s, his writing was influenced by Buddhist philosophy and deep ecology. Residing in a rural part of Maui, Hawaii, he was a prolific poet and also was dedicated to the restoration of the island's rainforests.

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree”
― W. S. Merwin

1972 - Photograph by Douglas Kent Hall / ZUMA Press

“Send me out into another life
lord because this one is growing faint
I do not think it goes all the way”
― W.S. Merwin

Photo of Merwin on his farm in Maui by Jill Greenberg/Copper Canyon Press

March 7, 2020

Prompt: Lost (and Perhaps Found)

Jane Hirshfield has a new book of poems out this month titled Ledger (from Alfred A. Knopf). I saw one of the poems on The Writer's Almanac - "Advice to Myself" - and I immediately identified the idea of a computer file that comes up blank.

Her poem begins:

The computer file
of which
I have no recollection
is labeled “advice to myself”

I click it open
scroll further down

the screen
stays backlit and empty

thus I meet myself again
hopeful and useless...

Not only have I come across computer files that are empty or just don't make any sense to me currently, but I also have more than a few "poems" that I started in a document and when I looked back at them weeks or months later my reaction is "Where was I going with this?"

Perhaps this is just a sign of aging, along with the other lost things unpoetic - phone numbers, people's names, books read and movies seen and lots of events.

All of those seem trivial compared with the things we lose and don't find.

Carl Sandburg was "Lost" quite literally "Desolate and lone / All night long on the lake."

When Stephen Dobyns was "Lost," he asked, "Where had wrong turns been made?"

For Ellen Bass, it's a "Lost Dog." 

But for Lucille Clifton, it is a very serious "the lost baby poem."

Lucyna Prostko claims that "Nothing Is Lost."

I believe that most of us hope that when something is lost, it will eventually be found. Ron Padgett wrote a poem that said that "Man has lost his gods" but later wrote in "Lost and Found" and wondered "What did I mean?"

John Milton thought that it was paradise that was lost, but then he wrote Paradise Regained.

But back to Jane's poem that started this prompt. What appealed to me in that short poem was the idea that things lost are often not found.

For your writing this month, we are looking for poems about things lost - and are perhaps found or perhaps not.

Submission Deadline: March 31, 2020

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