Monday, January 18, 2010

January Poetry Prompt - What will we remember

I find the following poem by Gary Snyder incredibly beautiful. I think that the stasis of it, a frozen past moment captured in the photo, is part of that, as is the rhetorical question in the first line. In haiku writing there's a term 'wabi sabi' which means, as far as I can be sure, a combination of beauty and loss. Memories often have that quality.

Looking at Pictures to Be Put Away

Who was this girl
In her white night gown
Clutching a pair of jeans

On a foggy redwood deck.
She looks up at me tender,
Calm, surprised,

What will we remember
Bodied thick with food and lovers
After twenty years.

Gary Snyder
from The Back Country
© New Directions, 1957

I wrote a poem for my grand-daughter called 'What we remember' parallelling my childhood memories with what I imagined hers might be:

What We Remember

(For Summer)

How Dadcu wore his belt buckled at the back, pulled
so tight around his skinny waist the tops of his trousers

fluted like piecrust; how he swallowed raw eggs, breaking
the yolk in the chamber of his throat; how the fire roared

behind yesterday’s paper stretched across its mouth
and Granny melted cheese in dishes on the grate,

kept an open tin of condensed milk for tea. The lumpy
featherbed, the musty wardrobe, a chocolate coloured fur coat.

And what will she remember? Her granddad throwing her
in the air, the fat china woman on the edge of my bath,

the window at floor level in her bedroom looking down
on red tiled roofs, sheep in long grass, the apple orchard?

Or the day we smeared our faces with burnt cork
and she said You are my best friend. But no,

that is what I’ll remember, and how she asked
Why do you make that funny face when you look in the mirror?

Perhaps these two poems will help inspire a poem of your own about one or several past memories.

Free write in the first instance from the phrase - What will we remember... then, when and if you feel you're ready to start shaping your words into a poem, think about form.

Short lines or long lines?
One block, or couplets, or tercets or quatrains?

Experiment with different shapes and try and identify the form that suits what you're saying, the emotional tone of the poem. And, if you'd like to, when you post your poem, add a few notes about why you've chosen that particular form.

Write well.
Lynne x


Erin Lee Ware said...

What will you remember from that day in December
when the snow didn’t come?
Will you remember how it felt—
the lace of my dress between your fingers?
Your cold hands on my neck?
Will you remember the winter sun coming through the unblinded windows?
And how it made our skins look like porcelain?

Or will you just remember that morning?
My eyes golden in the church’s stained glass—
and how they sparkled when I said “I do”?

Erin Lee Ware said...

Note on the form of my poem:
I suppose I went with a free-verse sort of form because I wrote it like a letter, like a message taped next to a picture in an album.

Kathleen Jones said...


My father strides across the yard
slim, thirty, shirt-sleeves rolled purposefully
up. A milk pail clanks in his hand.

My mother stands at the door
bare-foot, last summer’s Sunday dress swings
as she turns - dark hair long to her shoulder.

I am six. The sunlight on the river
crackles like broken glass. If I want
I can sit on this bank forever.

JPK said...

Young woman (Old man)

“What lovely pictures, dear.”
(Shards of my life, captured in silver salts.)

“Weren't you the bright young thing!”
(Each one draining light, slipping shadow in its place.)

“Shall we hang some on your walls?”
(Snap! A year. Snap! A child. Snap! A wife.)

“You must miss them.”
(They are gone now.)

“Here, I'll help you into bed.”
(She slows, so I can almost make her out. I start to speak.)

“Still, such lovely memories. Tea or cocoa?”
(She resonates again. I smile, the lens will capture her light soon.)

This is a poem I wrote a while ago having visited an elderly friend in a nursing home.
I chose non rhyming couplets to suggest a dialogue of sorts, and the brackets to suggest that one half of the conversation was unspoken, or at least unheard.

Keith Wallis said...

What will I remember
when yesterday becomes a stranger
and fifty years ago a friend ?
What recent acts of kindness
will disappear into mist, as if undone,
uncared for and dismissed
as time warps and loops
in the trickery of memory.

If she has gone,
her scent will haunt the pillow,
bringing a smile
on interminable nights.

Photographs will help;
their instants salvaged,
their colours strangely twisted by age.
The soundtrack of significant moments
may herald flashes of history
rewritten by hindsight:
‘River deep, mountain high’
at a fairground in October,
brash and flashing
through the memory of an early kiss,
‘You’ve got a friend’
reading postcards from her school trip
alone in a high rise
cooking for one.

What will I remember to forget
as I forge a history
to live within.

Martin Cordrey said...

Napoleonic cannon

You took this picture of me
sky-blue jumper by the sea,
next to canons on a fort turret,
the Silly Isle’s. We’d had mullet
earlier in an old tavern by the bay
‘life was perfect’ ‘wanted to stay’
forever there, stay young forever

didn’t last, despite our endeavors
to hold back the inevitable tide,
you and I, in the face of God we lied.
My kids can’t hear the cry of gulls
tearing food from washed up shells
know nothing of you, like a ghost,
‘our’ honeymoon on the west coast.

I love France, am proud to be British; looking at the ‘Napoleonic cannon’ it is hard to imagine the death and destruction of another age, friends becoming enemies, lovers becoming foes. Objects are links to our past. So, unfortunately are photographs.

martin cordrey said...

sonnet - love
2 sections before & after
skyblue - good weather
sharing fish / face of god - religeous / mariage
you & me, you & , we, our set againts 'my kids' dont know about you.
cannon - war / battle
hope this makes sense!

Lynne Rees said...

Hello Erin - thank you for posting your poem on AppleHouse. The rhythm and rhymes are wonderful, and the music they add seems absolutely right for this poem. I think the term for a song/poem that celebrates a marriage is 'epithalamium'. Perhaps that would make a good title? I particularly liked the matching rhythm/stress of 'remember' and 'unblinded'. It's a reminder to us all how music can be incorporated into a poem through stress and metre and not just rhyme and parallel syntax.

Hello, Kathleen: what an exquisite close to your poem. The concrete image of the riverbank melts seamlessly into a metaphor for recalling the past, for sitting on the 'bank' of the present moment and reflecting on the precious past.

Hi JPK - yes, couplets are ideal for the two voices here. I can imagine this as a performed piece too. Thanks for posting.

Hello again, Keith. I found the opening of your poem so original. It's a wonderful and moving way to describe how short term memory diminishes and how long term memories get stronger for the elderly:

What will I remember
when yesterday becomes a stranger
and fifty years ago a friend?


Hello again, Martin. I like it when the use of sound in a poem works well, and it does here, as the noisy gulls suggest the 'noise' of a particularly strong memory. Great. And the two 7 line stanzas instead of the usual 8/6 format works fine with the division of past/present too. And 'love', won or lost, is always worth exploring within the sonnet form.

Mary Rose said...

I remember.

I’ve searched through my memories of 70 years ago
They need no effort to recall.
I’m making coconut ice in the shed with my brother
who’s lit the wick on the Valor stove and we’re ready to begin.
I remember the distorted shadows made by the stove
on the roof .

We mix the sugar and coconut ice, it will be half white
half pink.

The white is turning into grey sludge but tastes good.
Karl puts half into one of two Sharps Toffee tins,
smoothes it over.
I put drops of cochineal in the other half, ignoring his reference to dead insects.
It turns an exciting pink and he pours it into the other tin. We carry them outside to cool over night covered with paper - they are to be a surprise.
The next morning we are up early for the best part of all.
Karl cuts each tinful into squares and we rearrange them like a coloured
chess board, wishing the grey ones were snow white.

We rush in while they are busy with breakfast and pass them round.
Daddy chooses a grey one and says it’s scrumptious and almost white.
Alison has a pink one and Mummy says not just now thank you.

I jog my memory again and find a gentle Sunday air over everything.
My father takes his walking stick with amber-coloured handle, unhurried.
I feel the stiffened fingers of his war-wounded hand,
familiar, safe.
He tells us stories as we walk down country lanes,
pointing ahead to tree roots where toffees lie hidden
left among long grass by fairies.

Now I hold the handle of the shabby pram,
the seats removed and picnic lunch packed in the deep well beneath,
bound for the beach.
The hardened soles of my bare feet scarcely feel
the pebbles as with my sister’s hand in mine we run,
from pebbles onto snaky ridges of wet sand until
the sea laps at low tide around our ankles.

Lynne Rees said...

Mary Rose - these are such wonderfully sensuous memories. I love the story of the fairies leaving toffees in the long grass. Thank you for sharing these.