Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Happy February, and here's a poem for you

We can't like every poem we read, or are shown. Some poetry irritates me. Some poetry seems to have nothing to say to me. But as a writer of poetry I do try and articulate why a poem isn't working for me (in relation to craft choices rather than subject matter) and it's often the case that after taking a poem apart, looking at its language, its form, its dramatic development, and trusting in the sincerity of the author, I actually end up liking it more! But not always : )

But what is truly wonderful is coming across a poem that seems to speak to me before I have even thought about engaging my critical mind. A poem that really does enter the body first, that somehow feels true and honest and essential, even if I don't fully understand it.

The poem below had that effect on me. It might not have the same effect on you, but however you respond, try and use it as a model for a poem of your own. By 'model', I mean try copying some of the syntactical and language choices; try and use the engine of this poem to drive your own.

I had a go myself and you can read my unfinished draft below.

Small Town

You know.
The light on upstairs
before four every morning. The man
asleep every night before eight.
What programs they watch. Who
traded cars, what keeps the town
The town knows. You
know. You've known for years over
drugstore coffee. Who hurts, who
Why, today, in the house
two down from the church, people
you know cannot stop weeping.

Philip Booth
from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999
Penguin Group, 1999

And here's my attempt:


We know.
Sunlight moves
across the face of the house
between 9 and 3. The growl
of the postman’s Vesper.
Tuesday night episodes
of CSI with a break for tea.
Paving slabs wait to be laid.
The Bleu Lavande is cut
50/50 with an oil-based white.
The air is warming by degrees
despite the unexpected snow
this week. The Mairie have said
‘yes’. Twenty five years
have passed since we met.
Tears. Laughter.
These last two years have not
been easy. The jasmine hedge
will start to flower soon.
The days will lengthen. We know
we will grow old together.

Write well. I look forward to reading your poems.
L x


Erin Lee Ware said...

Across the Street

Funny, isn’t it?
Waking up to sneak a peek
between the slats of the blinds
at the old man shuffling around the kitchen,
lit by the open fridge door;
the black car running in its garage,
blowing exhaust, warming up;
trash cans out two days early
despite newspapers littering the driveway.

Though we call them
by the colors of their front doors—
Blue Door, Red Door, Glass Door—
we know who they are...
single mother,
med student.

And when we see them at the mailboxes,
they smile and nod
instead of asking questions.
Because they know us, too.

Keith Wallis said...

I heard.
Before sunbird rising
the early cry of dawn
the wakening of day. At 5
with raw strokes of consciousness
eyelids respond in chorus.
This day has me planned:
a history unfurling,
a remembrance to put aside.
You did not hear. Your throb
no longer sounding, your sleep
to deep for breath
your bed - lidded, nailed
to keep memories
from fading.
I heard.
Dust to dust.

martin cordrey said...

Red robin

You know
how the story goes; one day
a robin drops a worm
that passes a seed it has eaten
which grows into a tree. One day
a robin nests in a conifer
it watches a hawk fly off with her chick
cries out, drops a worm. One day
a man chops down a pinophyta
takes it in doors
decorates it with red bubals,
on their fire place is a photo of a robin
because, as you know
we all think about robins at Christmas.

Fran Hill @ Being Miss said...

She knows.
The way he slaps his news
into shape
over breakfast.
The sudden taste
for red, not white.
The fuss when she cut
her hair. The loss
of the midnight caress.
The kids know.
The way he cracks his jokes
is strained,
He reads to the end
of Red Riding Hood.
The way he no longer says
no. The loss
Of his cigar-breath.

He doesn't know they know.

Glenn Buttkus said...


Funny how mostly
we use the back door
strolling over our large redwood deck
for our comings and goings.
A lot of folks are like that here.
Front doors are for guests.
Wish the Hispanic neighbor
with the vicious dog would pay
more attention to it. I have been
singled out by that maladjusted drooling
rabid-jawed fleabag
as an adversary, and it tears out its claws
and breaks it’s old teeth on our
chain link fence trying to get at me.
But maybe the majestic hundred year old maple
towering in his back yard, throwing shade
on our deck, and golden leaves
on our tiny yard, compensates for
coexisting with a rabies-ridden Shepherd .
What halcyon warm and still evenings
are spent during summer twilight
sipping tea on overstuffed cushions
on that burly deck; staring out
at the strawberry fields sprouting
on the glaciers of Mt. Rainier looming
large over the corner of the alley—
living complacent in our small piece
of Americana, nestled in the muscular
foothills of the Cascades,
living on the northern edge
of the ring of fire;
hardly aware of the big city lights
twenty miles distant.

Glenn Buttkus February 2010

This is my first response. I love your site.

Anonymous said...

She knows
that his half-smile
blows across oceans. R.E.M.
are on repeat and his red shorts
no longer fit her. Winter is
Northern hard, it beds in,
bicycles are mothballed waiting
for Spring. The rose bush she loved
listening to its tip tapping
at the window-
someone dug it up. On a clear night
she whispers seven secrets to the Plough-
all include his name.

Eileen Carney Hulme

Lynne Rees said...

What a fabulous response to this prompt and in so short a time too. Thank you, everyone.

@ Erin: Great opening line- the colloquial question creates such familiarity and pulls the reader into the poem, into the lives of particular people who feel very real because of their particular, and precise, habits. And the understated ending is very satisfying too... makes us ponder on how other people see us, what names they might have for us, what habits of our own they notice. Lovely poem.

@ Keith - this is one of those poems that delivers us to an unexpected place, so when we go back and re-read 'sunbird', 'early cry', 'raw strokes...' they take on a different significance and deepen the emotional effect of the poem. And those waking moments are the moments when loss can return to us with such weight - that feels so very true. I'd perhaps be tempted to re-think 'dust to dust' because the rest of the poem's language feels fresher, but poems that carry emotional weight for us often benefit from some time sitting silently before we decide to edit/re-edit them. A very moving poem.

@ Martin - I like the journey this poem takes too: the associations you make, which show and suggest meaning rather than spelling it out. For me this is about the interconnectedness of things, and approaching it obliquely like this avoids any didacticism. Quirky and thoughtful.

Three more comments to make, for Fran, Glen & Eileen, and I'll start another post for those.

Lynne Rees said...

Back again...

@ Fran - so much energy in this poem. I love the line breaks at the consonants s and t which, for me, add a hard emotional edge to the poem. We aren't told what the problem is, and we might all have different responses, but there's going to be hurt, I'm sure of that. I was wondering about the repeat of 'loss' at the end of two lines... it's only a little thing but I wondered if having it twice suggests that it could be an unconscious repetition, while using it consciously 3 times, making it a structural element, would be more effective. I'm not entirely sure though. But I still really enjoyed the poem.

@ Glen: I love the detail here and laughed out loud at the descripton of the dog! Maybe because that is so enjoyable it might be better not to expand on it later? End on the compensation of the tree rather than returning to the dog? I also wondered how this poem would read if it were given more space as regards its form - perhaps some longer leisurely lines, perhaps some stanza breaks? It's hard to tell without playing around with the form on the page and reading it again with a fresh eye. Although, being rather passionate about my own line-break choices, I know how irritating it can be when someone suggests major changes : ) But longer lines might re-inforce the sense fo 'story-telling' I detect here. An idea anyway. Thank you for posting this - lovely.

@ Eileen: I find this beautiful. I like the tension between the 'familiar' that has been lost and the 'familiar' that remains. And while 'loss' is communicated very strongly I also read an element of things waiting to happen too: the image of the bicyles, to be sure, but also the expanse of clear sky, there's always such potential contained/suggested in an image like that. Thanks, Eileen.

I'll post another prompt next week.
L x

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lynne, I really enjoyed writing this and reading all the other great poems and of course your comments.

martin cordrey said...


you know how you’re aching
to leave your own house, marriage,
your country, your existing life;
having forgotten how often rainbows
arch across your valley, the Varity
of blues tucked behind grey white clouds
or off pink hues of impending snow,
those glorious orange flames setting beyond
silhouetted trees. You watch the sun drop off
the horizon desperate to bite it like a dog
chasing a short tail, while on the other side
of the world is another you, watching
the sun rise, sighing deeply with regret.

Lynne Rees said...

Hi Martin - I love this poem. Perhaps you should try sending it out for publication. (Check the spelling/typo of 'varity' tho.) Thanks for posting it - you must be pleased. I hope you are.

Mary Rose said...


A nineteen-twenties bungalow
boasting neither character nor style.
Its walls absorb the scent
of burning pine and apple logs
from trees whose time had come.
Fifty years of living
have turned a house into a home
that understands and
bends to meet our needs.

But since you died it’s had to
shift its stance again
yet still remains the home I never want to leave.
Your memory inhabits every room and inch of garden,
the stalwart bridge you built with railway sleepers
with plaque that bears the date you built it and your name.
Our grandchildren run through the tangled greenery collecting twigs
to play Pooh-sticks, as the stream below flows on sometimes
trapping them as they are thrown.
Our home.

rnga said...

No wider circle

He knows,
as much as those close.
No dawning light in heads.
Just the stark facts for the family.
The regime his wife must follow, what
to expect the next weeks,
months maybe; a handful.
No wider circle of far flung friends;
and the neighbours could be to him,
as distanced as east from west.

Since youth to grand-fatherhood,
many times his swing,
from comfort to rage
by booze. While - who knows
when began - inside and out,
the darkness intensifies.

Now, a morning of searching moment;
how home, and the soul of it - her lover
loved and attended to as accustomed -
empties; and longing rips in.

Lynne Rees said...

Hello Ramon - very understated but also suggestive. I get a sense of an event that has changed everything in this man's life, or is about to change. I'm not sure what though. I wondered if it's his impending death, that he knows he's about to die, and does die. But if that's the case then I wasn't sure about the point of view in the last line ('longing rips in') as the rest of the poem seems to be from his (3rd person intimate) perception.

Some small points. Should there be an 'it' in:

who knows/
when ?? began

And should it be:
'searching moments' (plural)?

But I like it a lot.

rnga said...

Many thanks Lynne; I'll tinker with it a little more. Your perceptions about dying and then his death is correct. The ending is from his wife's perspective. But I'll work on that. I appreciate your help.

dsnake1 said...

Hi Ms Rees

i know i took a long time to respond to this prompt, but i just have to do it. :)

i wrote it sometime back in Feb and left it sitting in the pc for a while until i took it out recently to tidy it up.

i have posted the poem, "The Light", on my poetry blog at http://dsnake1.blogspot.com/

Lee San