Sep 24, 2010

Random Acts of Poetry: The Poems We Come From

We’re often unaware of the enormous influence poetry has had – and still has – on our lives. Song lyrics, hymns, many famous speeches and the construction of speeches all owe a debt to poetry. A brief example: read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address out loud, and read it slowly, and you will see the poetic form it takes. And then there’s the Bible, about one third of which is written in poetic form.

For this week’s Random Acts of Poetry, the prompt was to take a poem learned or first experienced in high school or college that had an impact, and to write a poem about it.

We slightly adjusted the prompt, and said the poem didn’t have to be limited to an educational experience.

And we ended up with poems inspired by the poetry of Robert Frost, Luci Shaw, Shakespeare’s MacBeth, Anne Sexton, King David (Psalm 86), Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes (we think), John Milton, Walt Whitman and Johnny Cash via Kris Kristofferson.

Firefly: Robert Frost

Firefly At Flickers of a Faithful Firefly chose one of the most beloved American poems – Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled.” She writes, in what is a faithful homage to Frost:

I chose the road less traveled
not a mark left
by father, mother, brother
nor any blood relation
any footprints I could follow
faded down a path I could not choose.

She will choose the narrowest of roads, and discovers it does, indeed, make all the difference.

Vee: Another by Frost

Vee at Living Journey chose a different poem by Frost, “Once by the Ocean,” and wrote two poems, one a poem (“Tsunami”) much like the Frost poem and the other a conquain (“Water”), a specialized five-line poem with a specific purpose in each line. From “Tsunami:”

treacherous and untamed the wall came in
Surrendering all within its path
underlying earth opened its mouth to spew forth
nothing this earth had seen before…

Jerry Barrett: Luci Shaw

Jerry Barrett at Under the Doorframe was inspired by a poem by Luci Shaw, with a different original title but now known as “Spring Song, Very Early Morning.” Jerry writes:

I wished to wade in the trillium
and be warmed near the white flames.
I imagined the arch of my foot
massaged by the mosses.
This field immersed in gravity defying growth.
Green and glorious.

(Just this week, The Image Journal published an article on Shaw’s new book of poetry, Harvesting Fog.)

Seiji Yamashita: Shakespeare

Seiji Yamashita at The Ignition Point chose MacBeth’s soliloquy from Act V of Shakespeare’s play, and writes:

Before today,
before yesterday
before the day, the year before
if I could see me
hear me
just maybe
even free me
from the fateful claws
and jaws
now closing in around me…

(I can hear the sounds of Birnam Wood approaching the castle).

Seiji says that the nature of his poetry “means it always sounds better when heard,” so he included a video of himself reading his text:

Maureen Doallas: Anne Sexton

As her muse, Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper chose poet Anne Sexton. With that precision and elegance she’s known for, Maureen wrote an early version of “Breaking It Off” in college, and then revised it for our Random Acts of Poetry. She writes:

I slept with your promises, too,
welcomed them like I did
the slit of your eye on my back.
I celebrated with an empty nightgown
in a bed too big for two,
seclusion the gift of Lucky Strikes,
my vodka my booze.

A Simple Country Girl: No Poem

A Simple Country Girl at Aspire to Lead a Quiet Life followed a different path. “Even though I was in high school honors English classes,” she says, “the closest thing that I remember sort of akin to poetry included tying a big ole knotted sheet around myself before and standing in front of a bunch of other make-shift toga-wearers.” (Hey! We did Julius Caesar, too!) But poetry, she says, helped her through some difficult teen years, and, inspired by L. L. Barkat, she wrote a poem about not having a poem to write about (very L.L. Barkat-ish, who’s been blogging a lot about the novel she’s not writing). A Simple Country Girl writes:

What if poetry
was something I wrote,
but nobody taught me,
showed me, or shared with me
A real poet’s words?
I may have danced with meter,
but I had nary a chance
to lead,
let alone meet her…

Kelly Sauer: Emily Dickinson

Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart loves the poetry of Emily Dickinson, “the person,” she says, “who first opened my eyes to poetry.” Kelly is a photographer, and if there is such a thing as a poet-photographer, it’s Kelly. She writes:

She knew certain where I knew not,
though I didn’t know it then.
I knew all there was of God,
but I didn’t know the end,

or the middle, or the next page torn
from the well-planned life I saw.
Faith sloughed off tattered, worn,
and came instead alive and raw...

(Does that sound like Dickinson, or what?)

L.L. Barkat: Langston Hughes?

The writing (and artwork) of L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone is permeated with poetry. Last Friday night, she read some of her poetry in a public performance in New York City with another poet (and some musicians). She believes, and I think she's right, that she was inspired by poet Langston Hughes. This was her grand finale:

I am so difficult,
the way a jar of honey
is difficult.

All that sweetness
gets stuck under the rim,
makes your hands


they have to work
so hard.

Sandra Heska King: John Milton

Sandra Heska King turned to John Milton and did a slight twist on his "When I Consider How My Light is Spent." In what sounds so like Milton it's rather amazing, she writes:

I long for years that I perceive long lost
While secret passion lay unclaimed, unused
And time that’s given all I fear abused
I didn’t take the time to count the cost.

Rissa Roo: A Second Time Around

Rissa Roo at These Three Remain wrote a poem when she was 15, and it was published in The Louisville Review. She and poetry have a history, and she wondered if she could pass poetry on to her children “without the bittnerness of it.” She took another look at her poem, and wrote a poem in response. Here’s an excerpt:

My children, take these words
this poetry
and bend it to your will
use it to speak, to shout, to sing
your hearts aloud.

Take these lines and mold them,
they will be your soldiers
an ever-changing army
at your command.

Nancy Rosback: Another No Poem

Nancy Rosback at Poems and Prayers says she did not study poetry in school. So, like  A Simple Country Girl, she wrote a poem about exactly that:

i come from
a poem of none
empty handed
leaf turning
white plain
into all time
i come undone
i do not

Laura Boggess: The Man in Black

Laura Boggess at The Wellspring says this to explain who inspired her poem: “There was no Shakespeare at our house. No Dickinson, Yeats, or Browning. Not even Mother Goose. Our poetry came through the 8-track – what played on the radio when we drove to visit the relatives. Flatt and Scruggs, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings. These were the poets of my youth. But the Man in Black was in a class all by himself.” Laura writes:

that deep voice—unlike any--tells
life’s hard luck poetry to us through
the car speakers. I close my eyes and
let sun pass over and through me as we
drive through shadow and dappled
country road. the trees sway too.

And she includes a video of the Man in Black singing a song written by Kris Kirstofferson. Just listen to the poetry coming through the car speakers:

From Frost to Sexton, from Shakespeare to Johnny Cash, poetry fills our lives. And our souls.

All the Participants

Poets Corner Sign by Dave Halley. Used with permission. Post written by Glynn Young. Glynn edits TweetSpeak Poetry with L.L. Barkat and Marcus Goodyear.

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