I like Stephen Dunn’s poetry a lot, and the following one, The Sacred, is no exception.
After the teacher asked if anyone had
.....a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank
in their chairs, the most serious of them all
.....said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing
things he'd chosen, and others knew the truth
.....had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,
their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
.....the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person
who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
.....and how far away
a car could take him from the need
to speak, or to answer, the key
.....in having a key
and putting it in, and going.
from Between Angels
© W.W. Norton & Company, 1989
I like it for what it says: how a teacher encourages students to share intimate thoughts, (good teachers are gifts we need to celebrate) and how the familiar (a car) is elevated to the sacred.
And I like it for its form: how the line breaks introduce exquisite hesitancies before we read over to find out what the next line/stanza will reveal; how they put emotional pressure on ordinary language and draw attention to what is being said, and what is being suggested.
It’s a joy to read aloud. Try it, and introduce a slight pause, as if you’re catching your breath, at the end of each line where there’s no punctuation.
The second poetry prompt/challenge for November is to write a poem about a sacred place. But… the place has to be an ordinary place, a place that you wouldn’t normally associate with grandeur… so, no cathedrals, mountain tops, or star-watching in the open air.
The second limitation is that I’d like you to write the poem in the 3rd person – he/she/ they. Now, you might still decide to write about yourself, and if you do you might find that the 3rd person actually gives you a little more freedom to ‘observe’ yourself. Or you might choose someone else’s life and sacred place to write about, and that’s good too: to step outside our own concerns and explore what the world might mean to someone else.
You won’t be hearing from me for three weeks, as I’m taking a holiday, but I’m already looking forward to reading your poems when I get back on 8th December.