Sunday, December 19, 2010

I believe...

I believe that the best poetry looks at the world from a slant point of view. If, as poets, we approach a subject straight on, talk directly about our ideas and feelings, we can risk being overly sentimental or didactic. And no one really enjoys reading things that either make us feel like a voyeur or someone on the receiving end of a finger wagging lesson.

Emily Dickinson sums up this idea up:

Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—

Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

 
 
 
I like that line: The Truth must dazzle gradually.

And that's exactly how I feel about the following poem by Michael Blumenthal:


What I Believe

I believe there is no justice,
but that cottongrass and bunchberry
grow on the mountain.

I believe that a scorpion's sting
will kill a man,
but that his wife will remarry.

I believe that, the older we get,
the weaker the body,
but the stronger the soul.

I believe that if you roll over at night
in an empty bed,
the air consoles you.

I believe that no one is spared
the darkness,
and no one gets all of it.

I believe we all drown eventually
in a sea of our making,
but that the land belongs to someone else.

I believe in destiny.
And I believe in free will.

I believe that, when all
the clocks break,
time goes on without them.

And I believe that whatever
pulls us under,
will do so gently

so as not to disturb anyone,
so as not to interfere
with what we believe in.


Michael Blumenthal
from Days We Would Rather Know
Pleasure Boat Studio, 2005

Can you write a 'credo' poem, a list things you, or someone else, believes in, but make that poem speak to other people too? I think part of this poem's success is how it shifts between points of view, from I to you to we. What matters to the narrator becomes something that matters to the reader (the personal you), to the world in general (the universal you), and to all of us (we).

I like how concrete images are set against abstract ideas: justice/cottongrass and bunchberry, clocks break/time goes on. I like the swings between opposites: weaker/stronger, sea/land. And I like how the rhythm of the poem changes with the enjambement (the read on lines) between the last two stanzas, how it gently extends our reading, and thus our understanding.

There's a quiet voice behind the poem, but it has authority too. The use of the first person, the I, often has that effect.

I suggest a poem of no more than 40 lines that draws on some of the craft choices in this poem: juxtaposition of image and idea, shifts between opposites, and a deliberate choice of point/s of view.

Write well.
L x

5 comments:

Keith Wallis said...

I believe.
I believe in tomorrow
for today always breathes its dying breath.
I believe that there is something greater than I drawing me ever closer to finding myself.
I believe in love and the gauntlet it throws down.
I believe in me, occasionally, when faith overcomes sight.
I believe.

Martin Cordrey said...

Rats and Cats

I believe
the Black Death is why
rats get so little sympathy;

unlike smoking beagles,
or pussy cats with makeup
rubbed in their eyes.

Do you believe its ok
to place forty white ones
in a wire cage

lower slowly
into a large steel box?
Turn on the gas!

I believe the males
who do this love their kids,
the females love pets.

Why is passing over
a big industry
that generates lots of cash -

We imagine
Mother Teresa’s smile
as the beginning of peace.

Who believes testing
on animals is cruel? Even
when loved ones fall ill...

Glenn Buttkus said...

Synapse of Serendip

As I am holding my 14 year old Sheltie
while the Vet is slipping her the long dream,
just as the light dimmed in her eyes,
I could only see her running free
chasing rabbits on my uncle’s farm.

Have you noticed wider smiles
on the holiday shoppers today,
even though Bobby Cruz lies
in his own vomit under the freeway bridge?

My nephew entered the barbed gates
of a state penitentiary the moment
my three year old grandson
slipped on his spider man costume
and leaped from the couch into my arms.

My tom-tabby scratched at the back door
at 3 a.m., announcing his need to come in
for the night right after four hundred cats
in China were gassed as pests.

I cherish the wisdom I have gathered
by staying alive, and then weep at my
inability to translate that commodity into
a form our children will understand or accept.

I vote expectantly for my chosen politician
because it is my privilege to do so,
weighing the costs of that liberty
against the fruitlessness of my effort.

Glenn Buttkus

December 2010

Lynne Rees said...

Thank you for the final poems of the year : )

@ Keith - the repetition reinforces the conviction in the poem.

@ Martin - entertaining opening stanza that then craftily slips us into much more serious territory. You pose a though provoking question.

@ Glen - This is very focused: I feel pulled along, my vision directed by the language and imagery. There are huge shifts in scene yet the consistent voice hold it all together.

One last post later today.
L x

foster_catherine said...

What I dream

I believe in rainbows,
each colour for Shakespeare’s seven ages
but not their pot of gold.

I believe as we sway
like osiers in the wind
there will be those that snap.

I believe the tree of suffering
will only grow so tall
and its roots are never talons.

I believe that signposts
that point some in the wrong direction
can be swivelled round for them.

I believe in justice-
when delivered by the just?
but who can make that claim?

I believe that amongst the flotsam, jetsam
thoughts we beach around us
some will not be washed away.

I hope that when a grandchild curls up
her fingers like a dormouse into mine
as gnarled as ginger she will feel their warmth.

I hope that at the end
we can go back to our beginning
with a chance to start again.