For this writing prompt, I want to choose a short poem of his to which I keep returning. I enjoy poems that make brief statements but then hang on the air, lingering in implication. I doubt this small poem will garner much attention among all his other longer, more ambitious poems, and I suppose that’s one reason I’ve selected it. I admire his simple response to the title’s premise, a brief affirmation spread out over four lines. Sometimes simplicity is good, tucked in among the larger projects to which we give ourselves. Before reading the poem, though, do the following items:
· First, create a list of 5-10 participles (a verb + -ing), words such as guarding, restoring,
enhancing, redeeming, gathering, returning, etc.
· Second, create a list of abstractions (generosity, despair, goodness, sweetness, etc.).
· Next, make a quick list of things you’ve seen recently (a comb on the sidewalk, three leaves
on a rose bush, honeysuckle growing up a beech trunk, etc.).
· Now read Zagajewski’s poem:
DEFENDING POETRY, ETC.
Yes, defending poetry, high style, etc.,
but also summer evenings in a small town
where gardens waft and cats sit quietly
on doorsteps, like Chinese philosophers.
Now pair one of your participles with one of your abstractions in order to create a title, and just as Zagajewski does, allow your poem to be a response to the title’s premise. His poem is only four lines, a reasonable and manageable length, but don’t feel that you have to be bound to just four lines. On the other hand, see what happens when you limit your response to a single sentence, weaving in one of the things you have recently seen.
Just as illustration, here are a couple of my own (playful) examples:
Sometimes trying to, failing, of course,
but then I remember an old man
placing dimes, nickels, quarters into
storefront vending machine coin returns
because that’s the first place children check.
Not only these words bent toward joy
but that day two decades ago,
my grandfather standing, kneeing
the jeep’s jerky steering wheel,
cranking the seed spreader's handle,
the two of us adrift across a backwoods
field, giddy with laughter, not even
thinking of what we might reap.