A Short Musing on the Cadence of Rain and Poems

I sat outside in the rain tonight, sheltered by a small umbrella and a brimmed hat. The rain’s rhythm was a soothing patter, gentle enough for me to attend to my thoughts, insistent enough to be all I could think about.  Do any poems sound like this, I wondered, apparently patternless but wholly recognizable? What if the rain came down in dactyls and iambs, like drumbeats, as regular as a ticking clock?  That would break me, I think, especially if it were asynchronous to my beating heart or breathing.  It would change me in the moment to conform with it, no matter how contrary to my internal rhythms it was.

But this is not the case for a poem with a defined rhythm. English sonnets can be transporting – in a good way.  To breath in the beat of William Shakespeare – here 400+ years since – is near magic.  The best Frost or Millay or Dickinson is entrancing. But so is Whitman (sometimes) and I just love so much contemporary poetry whose cadences and rhythms more resemble rain than drums (be they war or dance). 

I would like to learn the craft of letting regular rhythm guide me through the writing of a poem, but for now, it is the sound of rain (and waves and thunder and chimes and…) that I hear as I write.

Anatomy of a Poem

Really, this should be titled “Anatomy of ONE poem” because each is different, right? Some come in a flash – one bright moment when all one has to do is write what’s been given.  Some flow like a river – and just require editing. 

This poem was more “painful” (or at lease painstaking). The image of the crescent Earth and huge but barely illuminated moon haunted me – not as in a ghost might but as it took up residence in my imagination. I knew, for me it was a metaphor that begged for reflection. 

I typed what became the title – “The Nearly New Moon and the Crescent Earth” at the top of a page and let it sit. Early on, I suspected the poem was nominally “about” my distant adult children (5, not 3) and wrote:

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, five kids
grown, all living so far from home that 

airplanes are a life line, long car drives to see 
the grandkids a necessity. We raised them right,

 I then added:

If gravity is neither a particle or wave

If a falling object drops exactly the same 


on a planet or in an accelerating frame

If my children live so far away then why

What is up with this? There is so much intent in these lines (except one, right?) I had something to say and, as is often the case when a poet has something to say, the result is not poetry. It is rhetoric. But the process did yield “gravity…particle or wave” to the mix – which became the core of the poetic of the poem.

But then intent asserted itself again (and again and again). I added clunky lines, some with even more unintended end rhyme.

       Airports, long car drives to see 
the grand kids a necessity.

Clearly this wasn’t working. I went for a run, wrote some more excruciating lame lines (I / feel so drawn to call my daughter, to tell her / that I am never quite sure if she is the moon / or the sun that illuminates it), read up on the physics of gravity and unified field and string theories. 

My problem:  I knew from experience that I might break through.  But after five or six bouts with the page, I had nothing. I took one more shot and scratched out what became the whole of the first verse and finally trusted the poem rather than my own emotions and reasoning. By the time I wrote the second quatrain I had completely abandoned my prior notion regarding that the poems was “about” and finally had the confidence to excise my prior notes and drafts.

While the rest of the evening of drafting and revising was fraught with self-doubt, I had at least recovered a poetic frame of mind and let the poem wander of its own accord.  I should note that I did not know how the poem would end until I wrote that last line – and while it required some wrangling to fit into the register of the poem, as soon as I wrote it, I knew the poem was done. I did not know if it was a good poem, I just knew that it had found a point of completion and I could get to the fun work of cleaning up the syntax and sonics of the piece before hitting “save” and”send.”

P.S. I was shocked when the poem was accepted.  I really did not think well of it and didn’t even re-read it after I submitted it (my usual habit). Even after receiving the acceptance, I had doubts – but then read it though the eyes of a reader – a reader who had no idea of the lameness of the poems roots.  

I now love it.

The problem with publishing poetry.

In my non -poetry life, I have an “identity” that doesn’t really change from day to day.  I “am” a gardener, a poet, a runner, a father, a lover, an investment manager, a brother, a walker in the woods, an appreciator of naps, a geek (nerd?), and Poppy (grandpa to you). Of course, there are perturbations and wrinkles in this fabric of identity.  But the above list is largely unchanged from the one over the last 6 years (poet and Poppy having been added).

But with poems it is different.  A poem I wrote last week was written by a different “me” than one I might write today.  I contemplate this as my first short collection, a chapbook responding to Russia’s war on Ukraine, is due for release.  The poems I wrote in late February marked not just a different time in the war but were written by a poet open to different epiphanies. The poetic doors I chose to walk through – or even made themselves evident to me – were different then than now.

As I give the obligatory (and joyful) readings promoting the book, I’ll have in the back of my mind the thought: “Yes.  But don’t you want to hear the poem I wrote today?”  I love reading fresh work out loud – both as I draft and revise it and at readings. It’s then that the work seems most honest and surprising – to me and so, I imagine, to you the reader or listener.  

I’d be interested in hearing what you think – as both a poet and a reader of/listener to poetry.

Naming

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Lots of poems have gone out into the wild, but few I’ve written have elicited as much thoughtful response as “The Miracle of Naming,” up today on Rattle. When I sent it out, I was not as confident in its quality as I often am. But I have gotten so many insights into the poem from readers who dug deep into the piece.

That’s the thing about poetry for me. If I abandon myself to the process and writing, I am always surprised. In this case, most of the “work” was preparatory – re-reading the myths surrounding Icarus (which led to his father who built the labyrinth, which led to Ariadne whose string helped Theseus escape the man-beast-Minotaur), learning that dandelions have been around for 30,000,000 years, to finding out more about cooking brisket, and, of course, reading all of the news articles and elegiac and celebratory posts about Fern.

“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” (Wendell Berry)

There is no improving on Wendell Berry’s adage from Given.There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

150 years old. 100 feet tall. Senseless and brutal destruction of this stalwart right over our property line. Our relationship with this oak and her dozens of sister oaks taken from these neighboring woods goes back 45 years. We’ve run or walked our trails nearby 1000s of times. We’ve observed Yom Kippur afternoon with our kids every year when they were younger – pairs of us sitting at the base of this very tree (and others) seeking and giving forgiveness.

No one will seek our forgiveness for this desecration. But I know we will seek forgiveness from these old ones every time we walk by.

A little awkward interview and reading of my Rattle Poets Respond poem, “Into the Metaverse.”

Start at 4:30

I felt I could have done a better job discussing how the poem only worked for me after I abandoned all my preconceived biases against Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg. It was only after reflecting on the effects such terms as “metaverse” have on how we experience the world that I was free to write a poem that surprised me as I wrote it.

Signs of Autumn

The signs of autumn are piling up. Given how freakishly warm it has been up until the last few days, much of what I think of as Fall has been held at bay. Most of the leaves are still green, no hint of frost has come our way, and I’ve only worn long sleeves for my daily run a couple of times.

But yesterday, we finally gave in to switching on the furnace for a few hours. Our old(er) bones were not up to the 60° temps the house held onto for a couple of days. And today, this: I pealed, cubed, and roasted my first butternut squash of the season. Every dinner (and lunch?) from now until April will have some sweet orange goodness – squash or sweet potatoes – as part of the recipe. I am already warmed by the thought.

Pepper time.

I am a picky eater when it comes to peppers and chilis. Red is ripe and I am as disinclined to eat a green one as an unripe pawpaw. That mean we get increasing pepper harvests right up to frost and end up preserving as much as we eat fresh. The dehydrator is working overtime and we’ve trays flash freezing in the deep freeze – all in service of color, tang and heat in our cooking this winter.

Sweet Potato Day

We’ve grown sweet potatoes for the last 45 years here on the farm. Out goal is to grow enough (along with winter storage squash) that we can eat them in every meal from early November until April or early May – when it will seem too warm to eat them. It is certainly a labor of love – “labor” being the operative word. From mid-May when we raise the hills to plant them in through a summer of keeping down weeds, fending off dear, and wrangling their rangy vines to fall when we dig, clean, cure, and store, I estimate we spend 25 or 30 hours nursing this crop. But, as with much of the work we do in the garden, every step has its own satisfaction. It is much like a sand mandala – the labor is as much of the joy as is the final product – which vanishes by the time we begin again, next spring.

Haiku Day

Once a month, I sit to write Haiku. It is the closest I get to the practice of meditation in my media mediated life. I turn off all my normal tools of writing and just stare out of my little office window until something happening “out there” works its way into my imagination. Yesterday, I noted a few reddening leaves blazing in the still-green silver maple, I recalled the field-corn stalks withering in the sun, heard a few walnuts bounce off a nearby steel roof, thought about harvesting a ripe butternut squash for dinner. As predictable as these things are when I think about what early October should look like, to just sit and take it all in felt simultaneously surprising and comforting – and a little alarming given the preternaturally warm weather we’ve experienced this fall.