Ekphrastic Poetry Challenge

Writing poetry about a specific work of art is a good exercise to keep my writing skills sharp, and it conveniently combines my double interest in art and literature. The poetry magazine, Rattle, puts on a new Ekphrastic Challenge every month where any poet can submit a poem (for free) written about the work of art Rattle chooses. Then, after the month is over, the editor of Rattle chooses a winning poem and the artist of the artwork chooses a winning poem. I’ve never won, but it has been fun trying. Sometimes the artwork is such that I have nothing to say about it. But the art for June is my favorite yet! So I thought I’d share it. I already submitted a prose poem, but I might try to write another one. The country road is an image my whole life rides down (Oooo… maybe I can use that metaphor in my poem…)

Here’s the link: http://www.rattle.com/ekphrastic/. Enjoy!

Deep Light

From far a light, maybe a hill ranch
remote and unvisited, beams on the horizon
when we pass; then it is gone.
For the rest of our lives that far place
waits; it’s an increment, one more
hollow that slips by out there, almost
a gift, an acquaintance taken away.

Still, beyond all ranches the deep
night waits, breathing when we breathe,
always ready to offer new light,
over and over, so long as we search
for something so faint most people
won’t know, even when it is found.

— by William Stafford, 1993

I can see my parents’ yard light from my kitchen window, and early this evening I happened to look out there (I look out while I’m filling someone’s water glass from the fridge water dispenser), and the yard light blinked off. I actually braced myself, waiting for the electricity outage to travel down the road to my house. Except, I’m pretty sure it goes the other way. Our house would go out first. It was probably just the wind blowing snow across my vision of their light. The wind is howling cold tonight.

And it was that sort of night, too, when I had about given up searching for lights in the darkness. I’m still not smiling, not even on the inside. But there were faint things, I suppose. My daughter’s preference for Robin Hood over Magic School Bus books. An encouraging email I hadn’t expected. A warm quilt in a cold room. I pray I never really, truly stop searching for those lights.

The Children’s Hour

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

— by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1860

I needed to remind myself that this time of my life is The Children’s Hour and not The Crazy-Loud-Yelling-Complaining-Whining Hour. I really do love all three of my own blue-eyed banditti.

The Country of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

— from “The Country of Marriage” by Wendell Berry, 1971

“The forest is mostly dark…” I can’t agree enough. This quote is from stanza III of a longer poem in which the speaker writes about his life of love with his wife. Here I find beauty at the gentleness of married love. When is the last time I’ve read anything about gentleness and marriage? I don’t know. It might have been in a Christian marriage book, in a section written to the husband, telling him to be gentle with his wife. But does anyone assume marriage is gentle in itself? Passionate, confusing, difficult, long-suffering… but usually not gentle. In this part of the poem, I think we get several aspects: the gentle beauty, the blessings, the courage needed, and the sense of uncharted territory. Because every marriage is different, right? That’s why those marriage books just don’t work. They are good tries, but I think Wendell Berry is more honest than most Christian living authors. Here we find that the dark mysteries of marriage, rather than being the inconsistencies that pull people apart, are more blessed than the obvious, well-lit truths about marriage. I can say that my husband and I have dark, mysterious inconsistencies; we are creatures of opposites. I need to be brave enough to keep on going into that forest of marriage day after day.

The House in Illinois

The Baltimore Review has just released their summer issue, and they included one of my poems! I think The Baltimore Review sets their standards a bit higher than some of the other lit mags I’ve been published in, so this is a special one for me. The poem itself is about eleven years old. I think it’s time it was published!

Here’s the link to The Baltimore Review. My poem is called “The House in Illinois.” Find the picture of me to get to my poem!

Heartland

Heartland is a beautiful new book of poetry, published by Anchor & Plume, written by LeighAnna Schesser, who lives in Kansas with her husband and young children. I love the depth of the imagery and the integrity of the author. Below are some lovely bits and pieces from her poems:

Of little wooden bridges, missing slats, tiptoeing across tiny rivers, and anthills, dusty and eroded in a drought, of dried-out footprints.

— from “Urgency”

The kind of afternoon that calls for old book pages;/ not for reading, for smelling, for feeling slightly raised/ print–for inexplicably desiring the prick and scratch/ of skittering down the scattering sides of haystacks.

— from “Memento Mori”

The river deepened and tickled the stones, and we hungered/ for the flavor of chilling air. Savor September, he told me./ The month of yellow may never come again.

— from my favorite poem in the book, “A Sip of September is Yellow”

Rosewater light at sunset moistens a sea of wheat./ Love makes us transparent, sky-weathered–

— from “On the Westward Expanse”

LeighAnna Schesser blogs here: http://leighannaschesser.wordpress.com/

 

 

Early One Morning

Early one morning in May I set out,
And nobody I knew was about.
I’m bound away for ever,
Away somewhere, away for ever.

There was no wind to trouble the weathercocks.
I had burnt my letters and darned my socks.

No one knew I was going away,
I thought myself I should come back some day.

I heard the brook through the town gardens run.
O sweet was the mud turned to dust by the sun.

A gate banged in a fence and banged in my head.
‘A fine morning, sir’, a shepherd said.

I could not return from my liberty,
To my youth and my love and my misery.

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet,
The only sweet thing that is not also fleet.
I’m bound away for ever,
Away somewhere, away for ever.

— Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

I read a few of Thomas’ poems this month. He is an English poet, and an influence on Robert Frost. I like his poems for their simplicity, their quiet wisdom, and the way the end of the poem often brings in meaning to the previous lines. In this poem, I love the line, “The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet/” It speaks for itself, but it also turns the speaker’s little story into the reader’s big story. We are all set out, never to return, bound away forever somewhere.