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.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

November Poetry Prompt - Fire

Fire. It's the time of year that we light them. In our houses and in our gardens. November 5th, in the UK, is Bonfire Night, and fire becomes an entertainment.

Fire keeps us warm. It comforts. It can even, for some people, ward away danger. But fire destroys too - homes, land, lives. But it also purifies.

We can control fire to a certain degree, perhaps like the way we can only control our own passions and emotions to a certain degree, unless we're particularly self-contained. But does everyone have a breaking point? A point when the 'fire' will escape and engulf someone or something? A point when the 'fire' will clear the way forward, or destroy what is in its path.

Free write around 'Fire'. What are the emotions, images, memories, songs, phrases ... anything at all... that spring spontaneously to mind? Follow the thread of one that feels the strongest.

I look forward to reading your poems, and here's one of mine from my collection, Learning How to Fall:


It happened at the Turkey Farm.
Witnesses heard a woomph like someone
stepping smartly on a bag of air and when
they got there, found the charred remains
of cloth, some bones. And a man
in Minnesota had done it on his deck at home,
mid-morning, the temperature only 54
but the Budweiser in his glass was warm.

If she could do at will what all these people
did in error, she reckoned on a money-spinner,
all sorts of side-lines – self-help books like
How to Find the Warmth Within. She’d start
small, spend days imagining the glow
of an orange ball inside her chest. The weeks
focusing on the hairs along her arm until
she could feel and smell the heat, hear

a crack like a mosquito on an outside light.
She knew she was on a roll. Soon she’d be
hiring halls to accommodate the crowds.
She’d open with a nest of leaves transformed
to a smouldering pyre on her palm,
and build to her grand finale – the full
combust, walls racketing with applause,
the diminishing calls of Encore!

Lynne Rees