If you’re going to do something risky or scary, if you’re going to do something that has no guarantee of success but doing it is the only option, if you’re about to take “the next step,” or are seeking the surprising answer, then I think you ought to surround yourself with poets.
I’m not trying to knock other genres — the fictionists and the CNFers. We are fabulous, no doubt, but we wear our anxiety and doubt like armor, whereas poets turn it into a thing of beauty. Here, they’ll say quietly, reaching towards us as we grip our pens like daggers, give me that insecurity, that navel gazing, that fierce skepticism and let me knit a cozy scarf for you. There, there. Let’s making something with all this pain and angst, shall we?”
“Everything has a duality to it,” Jeanne Murray Walker said once when she was teaching a group of us about Anna Kamienska’s poetry. I heard her say this on Whidbey Island, while I was in graduate school. One of Kamienska’s poems we studied was “The Time of Harvest and the Time of Poems Is Passing.” I read it there on the island and drew a square around the last line: “This hour too will be more lovely in recollection.”
“She will look back on this moment as a fondness,” I wrote below the poem. “And I’m going to look back on this and see that something wonderful was going on.”
There was Jill, Diane to my Anne, who I met in the Albuquerque airport, and who asked me in her friendly drawl, “Are you here for writing?” She reminded me what I had flown across the country for. She reminded me of the risky, no guarantees, next step thing I was there for.
Melissa shared carrots with me and listened as I clamored on about my daughters and the fact that this was the first time I was away from them — the first time, the longest length of time and the longest distance — while we shared a ride to Santa Fe. I have never seen anyone read poetry with more delight than Melissa.
Jess was my roommate during my first graduate residency. In order to get to her room, she had to go through mine. I like to think of myself as a late bloomer, but that year I felt like an old lady who had fooled herself into thinking she could learn to write. And, in fact, I was the oldest person in my cohort, perhaps out of all the graduate students that year (I was older than one of the mentors, the one who endorsed my first book). That first residency was probably the most insecure I’ve ever felt. Every day was like being in middle school times a billion.
One night, after I’d gone to bed, Jess opened the door to get to her room. We hadn’t said much to each other up to that point, save for smiles and how’s it goings, but that night she opened the door, stood at the threshold for a second and said, “There’s no way this will ever not be awkward.”
I laughed for the first time that week, thankful to have my insecurity named and made into a joke that dissolved the burden I was carrying because I was too afraid and not creative enough to do anything with how I felt.
Going to graduate school was a beginning for me, but it was an ending as well, to who I thought I should be. The adult woman I believed I needed to be was no longer, and I was figuring out the person who was emerging from my disintegrated definition. Being around poets helped me see beauty in endings, and it helped me pretend until I could believe.
With that in mind, today’s poems have to do with farming, but they also have to do with endings and pretending — two matters we must handle when pursuing the risky next step.
These poems are from Jess Gigot, Ph.D, who is one of the two farmers at Harmony Fields which is in the Skagit Valley of Washington State. She and her husband, Dean, tend to their sheep, grow organic herbs, and perform bluegrass music in their band called The Dovetails. I highly recommend her book of poetry called Flood Patterns.
As the last leaves gather
Around the base of the chestnut
Geese return to the westward field.
They coolly comb the vacant rows
Once corn, now stubble.
Snow spans its wings across the hills
Like angels; the glossy glow of dawn
Shines prophetic on leaf and hoof.
Donkey, sheep, gentle herb
Stand against the frigid dark –
It’s doggedness that does it
And faith in the next spring.
Let our bevy glide into winter
With no wisps of despair.
Let us celebrate every solemn
Slap of rime and remember –
A fire breathes beneath the cold.
Pretending to Be St. Francis
The sheep greet me at the fence
As I carry grain from the shed
To the wooden feeder.
I am groggy and waking up slowly.
I feel them sensing me out
Of their black dash eyes –
A bleat, and then a nudge
Behind my knee.
I strew barley and oats,
Jam the racks with hay squares.
They chomp and swallow
Many loud thankyous.
Sometimes I feel their gratitude
Sometimes I just see breath.
Use the farm as your setting, or use farming language, and write an ending or a pretending poem. As summer nears to an end and transition to a new season begins, what do you notice? What have you sown that has grown beyond what you dreamed? What can you pretend until you believe?
Featured Poem Excerpt
Thanks to everyone who participated in our recent poetry prompt. Here’s a poem from Sandra we enjoyed:
Between the Lines
from a Pictorial Review Standard Cook Book (Special 1931 Edition),
in which I found yellowed sheets where my mother-in-law had planned various menus
(including diagrammed table setups) for local farming events
Charlotte Grange Fried Chicken Supper
October 18, 1941
Served 190 persons
Planned on 200
25 chickens–none left
1-1/2 bushels potatoes–none left
50 pounds of cabbage
3 heads left, weighing 20 pounds
32 pounds of cottage cheese
40 quarts of applesauce
19 pies, 3 cakes and 3 quarts
of whipping cream
diluted for coffee.
Kieser Farm Face-Lifting Lunch
September 15, 1949
Planned on 1000 people
Mrs. Fulton’s barbeque recipe
hamburger buns for $8.82
from Holsum Bread Company
pies and fried cakes
chips and ice cream
on north and south sides
gum and candy on the east
cashiers on the west.
This is a book about being a teacher, and about being a mother, and, in its way, about being a writer. But it is most fully a depiction of living with a work of literature, about the conversations literature can spark and the memories literature can hold and reconfigure. The acknowledgments suggest that writing this book helped Callie Feyen remember why she loved teaching. Reading it made me remember why I love to read. —Lauren Winner, bestselling author and Associate Professor, Duke Divinity School