Poetry Lesson

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Writing poetry is easy. You can start with a question:

When I see ants,
I think of _______ ?

Then the writer answers the question.

That’s enough of a poem just with those two lines, I’d think. Because you have a form and you have a relation, hence a tension. Its poetry rather than prose because the visual line breaking makes an emphasis in space and time, but that’s not important. But is this a poem?

When I see ants,
I think of ants.

No. Because no relation has been created and not a spill of tension comes from the two sides of the sentence. No thought, just reaction: no imagery. It could be a poem to write: “When I see ants, I think of my grandmother.” But would that be much entertainment?

When I see ants
I think of my grandmother
how her hand lay
on a white stone
and black ants
walked the rims
of her fingernails

My gardener grandmother
who combed the moon
through her hair at night
and spoke to roses
when the sun drew
fence wire shadows
on the wet patio stone
and taught me to see
ants as ancestors
to fingernails, suns, and moons.

One question, one answer. Of course, none of this is real to me. I did not know a gardener grandmother in this sense. But a few ants around the rock borders are a comfort. They don’t attack unless provoked and are inspiring to watch. It is, however, true in the poem and to the speaker that a grandmother had gray hair and taught her granddaughter to reconsider ants and to affect an image from living things.

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