Every month, we arrange the way we play poetry around a particular theme. You’ll see it in the artful content from our contributing writers, hear it in our inspiring thematic Spotify playlists, put your hands on it in the Monday morning poetry prompts, or experience it in the daily offerings from Every Day Poems.
To close out the year, we asked our editors to pick their favorites from our themed articles of 2012. Enjoy this rich walk back through the year. And stay tuned–our 2013 themes are already taking shape, beginning with January’s Coffee and Tea.
In A Sonnet’s Unlikely Resolution, Karen Swallow Prior discussed John Milton’s sonnet, “On His Blindness,” which breaks the rules of the form, offering its own resolution in the process.
The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, a form consisting of an octave followed by a sestet; the octave presents the problem, and the sestet offers the resolution. The situation, as we’ve seen, is quite clear. What’s striking, though, is that the problem is presented in only seven (not eight) lines, not quite in accordance with the rules of the form. What happens in the last line of the octave?
We are joined at the hipbones
like Rothko’s reds. Slight spaces
between like woman man skin
sticking, unsticking—blotchy fuzz
Rothko wrists into the painting.
No matter how you triangulate the canvas,
you see us. Naked pulsing red mists—
no boundaries on land,
pond, and autumn gold field.
With the irresistible pull of fresh baked rolls, butter, sugar, and glaze, Tania Runyan reflected on the power of images as the angels that save us in Keeping the Words that Keep Us.
When I begin to compare myself to other writers, the angel swoops—no, squeaks and turns—into my consciousness like a pulley. Lonely? I am visited by the geese from Mary Oliver’s poems. Scared? The splinter lovingly removed by a father in Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift.” Filled with malaise? Hopkins’ brindled cows and shook foil.
Karen Swallow Prior passed out poetry like candy at a parade, from the bubble gum of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” to the black licorice of Margaret Atwood in Hard Candy, Like Poems.
A little tougher than bubble gum, but just as stretchy is taffy–and e. e. cummings. (See, even his name alone is as playful!). Like a piece of taffy, his poetry is colorful and bright, but strong and chewy, too. Cummings’ poems look deceptively like child’s play, but there is much more than first graces the tongue, and it takes a bit of work to subdue it.
In May, Paul Willis took note of the seemingly limitless names of roses in By Any Other Name.
There was also, of course, a whole French Quarter: Duchesse de Brabant, Etoile de Lyon, Marie Van Hautte, Monsieur Tillier, La Sylphide, and—my favorite—Beaute Inconstante. Since I had never bothered to learn French, I ran around the garden mispronouncing these in Pig-Latin as I pleased: BE-U-TAY IN-CON-STAN-TAY, music to my ears alone.
Anne M. Doe Overstreet finds promise in the twigs trimmed from her apple tree, and the top drawer full of saved lines in Crafting Bells from Twigs.
Soon I am ankle deep, cuttings strewn across the grass like lots. The slender sticks are perfect, each joint slimming down until it forms a tip, a dab of mauve against the grey where a rumored leaf lies in wait. I find myself reluctant to discard them. Should I read them first? Climb a taller tree and take a photo of the apple wood’s silent language? Without a clear question to ask, maybe not. But the spilled strokes, the bridging line where one crosses another look like script to me, like even the abandoned have a word to speak.
July: The Cento
In a way that only he can, Matthew Kreider introduced us King Justinian, his strange feet, and the art of the mosaic in Juxtaposition.
Indeed, my first meeting with King Justinian during an art history course served as a befuddling introduction into the realm of Byzantine abstraction. Why did his feet hang down like a dead man’s? Why did his legs take up so much space, creating a royal disturbance of proportion? And why had someone chosen to gift-wrap someone’s head with a golden halo? Seriously. What happened to the taut, rippling muscles of the classical tradition?
With drought consuming much of the U.S. during August, we saw a chance of showers when Seth Haines compiled our very first thematic playlist, a genius eclectic mix of rain-themed music. Songs for Our Theme This Month was as right as rain.
September: The Poet
In Poet’s Penance, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell first avoided, then attempted to answer the elusive question, Who, or What, Is a Poet?
Poet: Bless me, Father, for I am a poet,
and I have no idea what that means.
Priest: I absolve you from your sin.
For your penance, write an essay
on what it means to be a poet.
October: Wine and Beer
In a piece unlike anything else I’ve read, anywhere, Matthew Kreider brought us The History of the World in Beer for our wine and beer theme in October.
If I ever make it to Valhalla, I’m going to meet a giant goat. (Let’s call her Stella.) With a coy smile, she’ll roll onto her back and show me her swollen udders. They’ll be heaving with beer. And then Ms. Artois will nuzzle my ear and beg me to drink of her unending and eternal supply.
Matthew caught the big one in November when he wrote a piece that rivaled Stella the Goat’s surrealist flair, Casting a Line for Surrealist Poetry.
I remember when Eleanor and I sat in a hammock together during 20th Century American Fiction. We loved Professor Scanlan, but we still wrote poetry during class. Eleanor cast a line. I cast mine. Her words were pickerel hiding in the grass. Mine were troutlets congregating in gravely riffles. Together, we dangled our Bics over a brown river of vending machine coffee and watched an angry bear on the opposite shore. Slighted, Hulga pawed and pawed after her missing leg.
Tweetspeak went haiku over the holidays, featuring a collection of thoughtful and lovely essays on the form, including Haiku: Pierced by Beauty from Angela Alaimo O’Donnell.
And what are haiku but small bowls of roses offered on the altar of our mortality, momentary flashes of Being that enlarge and amplify our own?
Photo by FutureShape. Creative Commons license via Flickr.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In January we’re exploring the theme Coffee and Tea.