Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 30, 2010

A Glimpse of a Person in Poems about Nature

The evening I returned from my west coast trip, I did my best to quell my fatigue and lead a library workshop about writing poems from nature. A woman there told how, though she’s in her sixties, she often writes the sort of poems “I should have been writing as a teenager. But I don’t want to seem self indulgent.” Now there’s a word few poets or people in general should bandy about. Yes, I’ve read poems that seem too deep in the grip of a single person, but that was the last thing this poet need worry about. Asked to write a poem about a place, she wrote then read a poem about a barn she then said had been a childhood refuge, enlivened by the foot shuffling and chomping of wordless horses. The poem gave only the barest hint of a girl who might crouch to hide and listen, in a much quieter place than her home. Really, I suggested, you could add a line or two about that girl. A poem about a barn can stand to use the word “I” two or even three times, and no one will think the poet is overreaching, self-absorbed. Promise.

Some of my favorite nature poems are favorites because of the hint of someone watching. We don’t need their resume. We don’t need to know their fears. triumphs, or obsessions. But we like a link, since we are after all humans and not pine cones or ponds or stones. As Maxine Kumin says in the wonderful volume of interviews, Poetry in Person, “The only reason for writing so-called nature poems or pastoral or anti-pastoral poems is because you are looking constantly to find out the human’s place in this order of things.”

Sometimes this can be done without even a single “I.” In this poem by Jane Kenyon, the title is all we need to link the writer and natural world.

Not Writing

A wasp rises to its papery
nest under the eaves
where it daubs

at the gray shape,
but seems unable
to enter its own house.

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit http://irenelatham.blogspot.com/
where poet and novelist Irene Latham is offering a giveaway: if you leave a comment there by midnight on Sunday, you may win a copy of Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards or – thank you, Irene! – my book of poems, Borrowed Names.

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Responses

  1. love this post, thank you!

  2. I didn’t notice the title of Jane Kenyon’s poem at first. The poem made me melancholy, and then I looked at it again and noticed “Not Writing.” How perfect! I mentioned to my daughter recently about how a title can provide information or a connection you’re not sure the reader would get from the poem, and this is a great example.

    Tabatha
    http://www.tabathayeatts.blogspot.com/

  3. Lovely. And I love that “should have been writing as a teenager.” I think, in getting older, we can shed so much that held us back before–thank goodness!

  4. Gosh, I can see the wasp and almost hear it. I like the textures, too.
    Excellent poem. I love the word “daubs.”
    Thanks for sharing this one.

  5. Great post. Teach me more!

  6. Jetlagged or not, you always have good advice to offer! I like to think of that girl slipping shyly into the lines. And the Kenyon poem is wonderful.

  7. Beautifully put! By both you and Jane Kenyon.

  8. Jeannine – it is so my pleasure to introduce your book to new readers! And I am a big fan of Mary Oliver, who manages to bring humanity to wild geese and blackwater woods. Brilliant. Love your comment about not needing the resume… that’s what I am constantly having to edit out when I revisit my work. 🙂

  9. Thanks, Jen! Hope August brings you as much writing clarity as July seemed to.

  10. Time with pine cones and ponds and stones: important. Hope you find them, Amy. Or they find you.

  11. Tabatha, isn’t it great when what we tell our daughters turns out to be… true?! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  12. I did write some of those gushy, feeling-full, terrible poems, but I certainly missed other things that, as you say, being older and less self conscious frees me to step toward.

  13. I love many of Jane Kenyon’s poems, but this is a favorite: what a glorious direct punch in the stomach. Oh, yes, and “daubs.”

  14. Aw, thanks Jenny!

  15. Once in a while, fatigue works for me, though I wouldn’t choose it. There’s some calm there. Like a guy who’s staining our house this summer, who works as a teacher during the year in charge of 70 special needs kids. And is so calm as he tells me some stories. I hope it’s not the fumes. It just seems stroke by stroke by stroke.

  16. Thanks, Jenn!

  17. Thanks for everything, Irene. I mentioned Mary Oliver to this woman, and she said the only poem she’s read by her was Wild Geese. Well that is an excellent start!

    And I think we have to write those resumes — I know I do — before cutting them out!

  18. from Laura @AuthorAmok

    Hi, Jeanette. I heard Donald Hall read/speak last fall. This poem reminds me — he talked about Kenyon’s love of gardening. As soon as the weather was good, she’d spend all day outside. Thanks for the poem.

  19. Re: from Laura @AuthorAmok

    I love much of the work of both Hall and Kenyon: loved the poignant book Hall wrote about their life together that came out a few years ago.Thanks, Laura!

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