Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November Poetry Prompt - The Sacred

I like Stephen Dunn’s poetry a lot, and the following one, The Sacred, is no exception.

The Sacred

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.

Stephen Dunn
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.

Write well.
Lynne
x

10 comments:

Aditya Dogra said...

Really a good one . Thanks for the post :-)

Cioara Andrei said...

Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
O zi buna!

Erin Mathews said...

He didn’t say he was comfortable.
And he didn’t say he wasn’t.
It was his sunken cheeks and purple lips,
his waxy hands, his cold waxy hands,
the reflection of white roses in his glasses,
his best suit, now too big for his body,
the lacquered box, his satin-lined bed,
and the stillness, the absolute quietest stillness
that said he was gone.
Only the passing of white tissues
—sorry white flags—
spoke for him.
He wasn’t there.
And he was.
He was talking, talking, talking,
surrendering.

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Lynne Rees said...

Thanks for all the encouragement and appreciative comments. Always lovely to hear from friends old and new.

Erin - I love your poem. It's a wonderful elegy that avoids any trace of sentimentality. Thanks so much for posting it.

martin cordrey said...

Small teddy bear

golden fur, they leave it
discreetly on their shelf
nibbled ears, they let dust
settle gently on his head
tartan ribbon, they both
kiss him goodnight
black lips, they leave him
too sleep in peace alone
open bead eyes, they never
discuss him with friends
brown paws, they won’t
let other kids play with him
faded tummy, they worship him
the way you would a first born,

Lynne Rees said...

Martin - there's a lovely gentleness to this, and a quietness that suggests something sacred. You might not need to have 'open' with 'bead eyes'? And 'faded tummy'; the word 'tummy' hits an odd register for me, though it might be that the phrase is a little flat, a little too general in comparison, e.g. with 'nibbled ears'.

Martin Cordrey said...

Small teddy bear

golden fur, they leave it
discreetly on their shelf
nibbled ears, they let dust
settle gently on his head
tartan ribbon, they both
kiss him goodnight
black lips, they leave him
too sleep in peace alone
beady eyes, they never
discuss him with friends
worn paws, they won’t
let other kids play with him
shabby belly, they worship him
the way you would a first born.

Lynne Rees said...

Hi Martin - this definitely feels stronger for the edits you've made.

The only other thing I thought of was to make the title 'small bear'... but I'm probably being over picky. : )