Thursday, December 17, 2009

Get Your Poem On @ ReadWritePoem

Yes, I've fallen for another poetry prompt. But if you enjoy poetry and haven't yet checked out ReadWritePoem, then you have a real treat awaiting you! It's just a wonderful place for poetry lovers, whether you enjoy writing or merely reading poetry. (Obvious, I know.)

And for the first time, I've jumped onto (or into) this week's Get Your Poem On prompt. This week (#105) the theme is "Borrowed Words" -- words taken from a poem by William Stafford:

Cool, huh? So I jotted down the words in my Scribblings notebook and then glanced over the list. The word "abiding" jumped out at me, and, being the Advent Season and approaching Christmas, I thought (not very originally, mind you) of shepherds abiding (also the title of the Jan Karon Christmas novel, one of my favourite Mitford books). In the second draft, I moved the words to separate lines, deciding also to entitle the poem "Abiding." Such a wonderful word, abiding. According to Webster's 1828 Unabridged Dictionary (the dictionary that sings, in my opinion), "abiding" is defined as: dwelling; remaining; continuing; enduring; awaiting; (noun): continuance; fixed state; residence; an enduring. (I was taken right away with the idea of "an enduring" -- can't put my finger on why.) Please keep in mind that this poem is merely in second draft form -- using eleven of the eighteen words (often a variation of the word) in the prompt:


shepherds curl in
around themselves,
pierced by the cold,
moved by His call.

Flung into the sky
like a wind-strewn meteor,
a Star
halts above
the simple cave in which
a neglected woman,
shunted from inn to inn,
cradles the Precious One --
tear-stained but
safe in her arms.

Once for us all,
(beaten, pierced,
bloody, dead)
He will shed
His mortal shell
in a similar cave --
rising to Our Father
in blinding, wondrous

Copyright 2009 by Susanne Barrett
I'm not looking for a complete tear-down of the poem, but perhaps a constructive comment or two that can help me improve my work. I will take it for feedback to my local Writers' Workshop in January.

I'm trying to avoid the trap of "trite Christian poetry" that gets goo-ily insipid in its attempt to frame the Un-Understandable in hackneyed phrases. I hope I have sidestepped some (most?) of that trap here.


Paul Oakley said...

Suzanne, you have a good start here. I too like "abiding." I like the way the Star is "flung into the sky." The image of the "Precious One - tear-stained but safe" is strong. Good work.

Since you asked for a constructive comment or two, I would suggest looking again at the third stanza. (You did a good job with the birth, keeping the images and words fresh even though they are familiar. I would suggest similar work on the third stanza.)

I see the final four lines as perhaps depending too much on standard phrasing, something that is not inappropriate to church or contemplation but perhaps somewhat less effective as poetry.

Looking forward to more of your poems!

sarah said...

I don't really like critiquing other people's poetry because I know a poet's words are actually chips of her bone, glued carefully to the page. Whatever you tell me, however you tell me, is what you have to say. And it will either resonate with me or not - if not, that doesn't mean it isn't a good poem. (I don't resonate with Byron's works, for example.)

But if you want me to be technical, I will put on my teacher's hate and perhaps advise you to simplify. For example, why did you use the word halts? Did it have an important meaning or sense for you? If so, wonderful! But if not, you might want to use something more simple, like "stops", as simplicity generally makes for a smoother read. (Also stops goes more to the theme of abiding than halts.)

For the same reason I personally don't particularly go for, "flung into the sky like a wind-strewn meteor." But that's just me. Other people enjoy heavily imaged lines. And when I look at it apart from the poem I can imagine you may have had an idea, a point, a specific image, behind those words.

I like the sense I get of abiding all through the poem, and if you did indeed intend this, then perhaps you could strengthen the idea a tiny bit more in the last stanza, eg adding the word enduring :-)

Oh dear, that hurt me more than it will hurt you!! I hope it came across as constructive and not overwhelming.

Keep up the good work!!!

sarah said...

Oh my goodness! I meant to write teacher's HAT, not hate! Talk about Freudian slip! I really, really don't like doing critiques, lol!

Karen said...

No critique from me. I'm just here to enjoy or not, and I did and do. I think you avoid the trap of the trite and show the contrast of birth and death well.

Jerry said...

Hi Susanne. I appreciate when the life of Christ is given the center of attention in poetry. Keep on revealing the word of life in your own words!

I'll visit again...

Susanne Barrett said...

Thanks, everyone.

Paul, I agree about the third stanza. It's been bugging me and I've changed it several times and still am not happy with it.

Sarah, I do appreciate your help. I did like "halt" -- it was what came to mind at first and I was thinking of the violence of the star in juxtaposition to the abiding shepherds. I'll reconsider it but I may just keep it the same. I love the idea of using "enduring" in the final stanza -- a lot. Thanks so much for putting on your teacher's hat for me. :)

And thank you Karen and Jerry for stopping by and commenting. I really appreciate it.

Tumblewords: said...

I enjoyed reading this poem, it has a nice flow and lovely images.

sarah said...

Blasted blogger, it vanished my comment. Trying again ... Yes, I see what you are getting at with halt. That makes good sense. I think you have a lovely poem here and I hope you'll show us your final version! I love your love for God which shines through this poem and all that you write.

Neil said...

Susanne, welcome to RWP!

This poem has a good flow overall and some of the lines I like very much.
"shepherds curl in around themselves, pierced by the cold", has good image and interest, especially for the opening. And yes, abiding too, is a good word and title both.

A lesson I am working with myself is reducing words. Leaving a thought just slightly untold (especially when a theme is a familiar one) creates more interest, more edge sometimes. For example, in the first stanza, if you keep just the first four lines, already strong, and let the forth one go - more "interest" do you think?

Thanks for participating! Nice work.

David Moolten said...

Hi Susanne,

I really like the subtle word choices you make here and their implications (shepherds curling (fetally) in around themselves (in search of protection they can't find there anymore than Christ can), "pierced" by the cold, the star as "wind strewn meteor" with the suggestion of buffeting and punishment rather than solidity, the simple cave (with its uterus like suggestion as well as the mystery of life and death itself), and the great word "shunted" with its mechanical and even animal indifference. For me in such subtleties and insights is where the power of the poem lies. Since you are interested in critical feedback, my principal recommendation is a general one: write this as if you wanted an unbeliever to be moved. Condense down to the small human elements (you already have in the places mentioned above) and strip off the parts that are part of the well known canon. Let the crucifixion, and the resurrection, exist as unstated postulates the poem simply assumes. If it doesn't offend your sensibilities, dispense with capitalizing. It's the human, vulnerable and still mysterious aspects of the story that will grab people.

Here is a poem by Louise Gluck that has always really resonated with me. It is highly reverent, but steers away from the familiar; and the final image of the star is both epiphanous and ominously prophetic (the brilliant life and the dark context of the brutal, eclipsing world):


Under the strained
fabric of her skin, his heart
stirred. She listened,
because he had
no father.
So she knew
he wanted to stay
in her body, apart
from the world
with its cries, its
but already the men
gather to see him
born: they crowd in
or kneel at worshipful
distance, like
figures in a painting
whom the star lights, shining
steadily in its dark context.

Susanne Barrett said...

Thank you SO MUCH, everyone. Your comments are soooo helpful!

I know I have a problem with wordiness, so I will work on stripping words and leaving images hinted at, Neil. Great comment, and one I hear from my local workshop as well.

Thanks for the Gluck poem,David. I love her work! And yes, I want to appeal to the unbeliever as well. And it's wonderful that you mentioned losing the caps -- I very nearly did so. I guess I need to learn to follow my initial instincts more.

And thanks, Sarah, so much for your help this week and always!

You all are absolutely wonderful! Your responses are invaluable!!!

Linda said...

I enjoyed the seasonal reflections in your poem and I liked the way you crafted your images and compared them. Nice work and thank you for sharing this, Susanne!

Wayne Pitchko said...

welcome.....and thanks for this

Lynn said...

This is a lovely poem! I'm not a poet so have no critique to offer, but I loved it, and found it not hackneyed in the least. Thanks for sharing this. Came by from the Saturday Evening blog fest thingie, by the way :)


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