Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

"Sailing Alone . . ." (2001) / billycollinspoetry.org

“Sailing Alone . . .” (2001) / billycollinspoetry.org

The speaker in Billy Collins’ poem “Snow Day” meditates on the “revolution of snow” (1) as he listens to the radio announcements of school closings, steeping himself in the pleasure of the sounds of the whimsical names of the preschools and the sights of the little girls playing outside in the “grandiose silence of snow” (37). That’s a summary of the poem, the first part of the assignment that I asked my students to write today in lieu of class. The second part of the assignment asked them to look at the poem with a critical eye—not to write a full-blown analysis but to consider at least one of Collins’ choices, a word or an image. For that, I turn to the porpoise.

In the third stanza, Collins’ persona, the “I” of the poem, speaks of his plan to walk his dog, whom he imagines in the snow—as he probably has seen him many times before–frolicking as a porpoise would in the water: “In a while, I will put on some boots / and step out like someone walking on water / and the dog will porpoise through the drifts” (11-13).

By using porpoise as a verb, Collins merges the movement of the dog and the sea mammal. Collins doesn’t liken the dog in the snow to the porpoise. Instead, he fashions a verb that transforms the dog. It morphs into the porpoise, at least for a moment in the readers’ minds.

The dog-porpoise isn’t the prevailing image in the poem. Children and snow cover far more real estate. But the dog-porpoise conveys the spirit of playfulness that abounds in the poem, the same unbridled joy we may feel in our own lives when the adult institutions that govern our days are shut down–as many are now–by snow.

Work Cited

Collins, Billy. “Snow Day.” The Poetry Foundation. The Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Last Thursday, when Jaki Shelton Green appeared at Lenoir-Rhyne as the first featured author in this year’s Visiting Writers Series, she spoke as both a poet and a storyteller, noting that her poems live inside her stories.

Jaki Shelton Green / visitingwriters.lr.edu

Jaki Shelton Green / visitingwriters.lr.edu

I found myself drawn more to her stories than the poems they linked, but my ears welcomed the sound of Green’s own voice reading her poem “i know the grandmother one had hands,” just a day after my students and I studied the poem and read it aloud ourselves in class. As she introduced the poem, Green recounted her stint teaching poetry writing to women on death row, giving them the assignment of writing about hands because of the acts that they had committed with their own hands. She didn’t say that the poem was her answer to the assignment, but it may have been, just as this blog entry and the earlier one on the poem, itself, are my answers to the blog assignment that I have given to my students.

Through her poems and stories, Green spoke of painful subjects on the eve of 9/11: the imminent anniversary, her great-great grandmother’s life in slavery, and the death of her own daughter. But her words offered hope rather than sadness. As I reflect on those words, I hope that the ones that my students and I write this semester will show us what Green’s showed us Thursday night: that writing gives us a way of making sense of the world.

Jaki Shelton Green’s poem “i know the grandmother one had hands” evokes images of a woman whose busy hands remain unseen as they perform a litany of tasks, some literal: “folding, pinching, rolling the dough” (3), others metaphorical: “growing knives” (14).

As my students and I read Green’s poem in class yesterday–in preparation for her presentation tonight as one of the featured writers in Lenoir-Rhyne’s Visiting Writers Series–I expected that the conversation that followed might be markedly poemdifferent from the ones last semester in my Introduction to Creative Writing class. Those students, after all, were reading poems, short stories, plays, and narrative nonfiction as models for their own work. Yet even though my current students in Critical Thinking and Writing will not produce creative writing for class, their responses to Green’s work were similar to those of my creative writing students.

In retrospect, I realize that the similarities should not surprise me since I asked the students in ENG 131 (Critical Thinking and Writing) to begin their exploration of Green’s poem by considering her choices, just as I asked the students in ENG 281 (Intro. to Creative Writing) to begin.

I do not know why Green uses a lower-case “i,” or why she refers to “the grandmother one,” rather than a grandmother or my grandmother, but posing such questions and considering the effects of those choices places us on the path of writing, whether the destination is a poem of one’s own or a study of someone else’s.

"Mov[ing] like a hovercraft . . ."

“mov[ing] like a hovercraft” across one of the granite steps that lead to the front porch

Earlier this afternoon when I spotted a snail on one of the steps to the front porch, I thought of the snail in Paul Muldoon‘s poem “Hedgehog,” the subject of my post from March 4. As I watched the snail glide across the granite, still wet from the rain, I remembered Muldoon’s snail “mov[ing] like a hovercraft, held up by a/Rubber cushion of itself,/Sharing its secret/With the hedgehog.”

And I thought of these lines from my post on March 4:

I cannot say precisely why Muldoon chose to run the simile ‘The snail moves like a/Hovercraft’ from the first line to the second, but I can say—and did say to my students—that it’s an example of enjambment, something to try if we want to achieve a similar run-on effect.

As we begin drafting our own poems, I keep thinking about the pleasure of reading that simile, the surprise followed by recognition. Never before had I thought of a snail moving like a propeller-driven hovercraft. And never before had I thought of the hedgehog and the snail as kindred animals for their ability to retreat into themselves.

The snail, the hovercraft, the hedgehog, the crown of thorns: these are now linked in my mind. That’s what ‘Hedgehog’ has given me.

. . . and the poet who wasn’t here.

New Weather (1973) / timkcbooks.com

Paul Muldoon was supposed to read at Lenoir-Rhyne last Thursday, as one of the featured authors in the university’s Visiting Writers Series, but the snow kept him away. Day classes were cancelled at the university, too, so my students and I didn’t read his poem “Hedgehog” together as planned. But yesterday, as the rain washed away the lingering snow, we returned to the classroom for our postponed study of poetry, beginning with “Hedgehog.” An early poem of Muldoon’s, “Hedgehog” meditates on the animal of the title as well as the snail, likening the snail to a hovercraft and the hedgehog’s quills to a crown of thorns.

The tentative responses that followed our reading showed how reluctant we can be to express our thoughts about poetry. We are so accustomed to reading straightforward prose that a poem’s roundabout way of making meaning can lead us to doubt ourselves, to sense that there’s something we’re not getting from the poem but should be.

I cannot say precisely why Muldoon chose to run the simile “The snail moves like a/Hovercraft” from the first line to the second, but I can say—and did say to my students—that it’s an example of enjambment, something to try if we want to achieve a similar run-on effect.

As we begin drafting our own poems, I keep thinking about the pleasure of reading that simile, the surprise followed by recognition. Never before had I thought of a snail moving like a propeller-driven hovercraft. And never before had I thought of the hedgehog and the snail as kindred animals for their ability to retreat into themselves.

The snail, the hovercraft, the hedgehog, the crown of thorns: these are now linked in my mind. That’s what “Hedgehog” has given me.


 Writing Ideas Torn from “Hedgehog”

  1. A poem that depicts the similarity between two animals and compares each of the two to something else
  2. A poem that features enjambment