When I was growing up, back in the almost-dark, mythologically idyllic 1950’s, we were carefully taught to avoid certain subjects in conversation. You know them: sex, religion and politics.
Other topics were avoided or sugar-coated. Have you have gone to a mortuary to view the body of a friend or loved one and heard (or even said) “Doesn’t he look good (peaceful, serene, whatever)? Uh, well, no, I say to myself. He looks dead. In many cultures we bury our dead in gorgeous hand-carved caskets, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and place their bodies in well-maintained cemeteries, preferably in the shade of a giant oak. Like it matters to them. As a friend said to me once, “Just flush my ashes down the toilet if you want. I won’t know the difference.”
As poets, most often, we have the guts to face up to and write about those subjects once considered anathema to polite society, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to express.
One of my favorite poetry how-to books is “The Poet’s Companion: a Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry,” deftly written by contemporary poets Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. There are sections dealing with subjects for writing, as well as the craft of poetry. Included are separate chapters for some of these topics: “The Family: Inspiration and Obstacle,” “Death and Grief,” “Writing the Erotic,” and “The Shadow.” It’s been a couple of years since I read each chapter thoroughly, but one thread that bound them together for me was the usefulness of using imagery and trope to create the desired impression, rather than diving in head-first to a swamp of euphemisms, crudeness, judgment or platitudes. It gets down to that oft-delivered admonition to writers: “Show, don’t tell.”
Perhaps a few examples might help:
Philip Levine in his poem, “You Can Have It” wrote:
…we were twenty
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.
Tess Gallagher writing of her dead husband, writer, Raymond Carver in “Wake:”
There was a halo of cold about you
as if the body’s messages carry farther
in death, my own warmth taking on the silver-white
of a voice sent unbroken across the snow just to hear
itself in the clarity of its calling.
Jane Hirschfield’s 4-line metaphoric poem, “The Groundfall Pear.”
It is the one he chooses,
yellow, plump, a little bruised
on one side from falling.
That place he takes first.
For today’s prompt, I invite you to choose a difficult or spicy subject and write of it using imagery and metaphor. Here are a few ideas:
• Think of a family member with whom you seem to be in conflict. Write a poem from their point of view. Experience their reality, describing it with imagery.
• Write a metaphoric poem about one of your parents.
• Explore your first experience with death, as you remember it.
• Write a first person point of view poem about your own death, using sensory details.
• Using Hirschfield’s poem as an example, write a poem describing a sexual encounter, perhaps your first.
• Eroticize the landscape.
• Of course, you may take this where you choose. There are lots of possibilities.
(I gleaned the ideas I offered from Adonnizio and Laux. At the end of each chapter, they offer great prompts and exercises. If you haven’t read this book, it’s a keeper.)
For those of you who are new to the pub, here’s the drill:
• Write your poem and post it on your blog or website.
• Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post. Copy the direct URL to your poem in the space he gives you and add your name or identifier.
• Come on back to the pub to visit and comment on the work of your fellow poets.
• Enjoy yourself.
This is Victoria, acting as your hostess for Meeting the Bar. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is bringing a bit of colder weather and color. And those of you below the equator are preparing for flowers and sunshine. Wherever you may be, we have poetry and good friendship. Spread the word to others who may enjoy a shot of creative expression.