Raven was in a deep sleep, dreaming the world. He saw things and they happened, He dreamed things and they came to life. - Red Hawk, "Raven's Last Dream"
In last week’s prompt we explored “history”. This week, we turn our gaze to “mythology”.
Poetry began as an oral tradition to transmit the history, stories, and culture of a people from one generation to the next. Included in this was the culture’s mythology. Of course, mythology can overlap both history and religion in earlier cultures — in many cases, what we now label mythology were considered true accounts of the actions of the gods and other superhuman characters in those cultures, and legends were considered true stories about the actions of humans. Mythology and legends were often transmitted through epic poetry — consider one of the most famous examples of this, The Odyssey by Homer.
The term “myth” has become somewhat pejorative, denoting something that is fictional and not true. I’ll bear out this idea a little further with a question: if Zeus’ defeat of his father Kronos is considered a myth, what about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by Yaweh? In different times and places, both have been considered literal retellings of real events.
I present the previous question to broaden the idea of “mythology” a bit. For this week’s prompt, I’m going to ask you to take the word “mythology” and run with it — in any direction you choose. You can go epic with this. Or, if you’d like a modern example of mythology in poetry, you can check out “Raven’s Last Dream” from which I quoted at the beginning of this prompt. Do you look to mythology from your own culture? Might you look to the stories of heroes/heroines or warriors — what about Cú Chulainn, Hua Mulan (and not the Disney version!), or Samson? Do creation stories fascinate you — whether it be Yaweh speaking the world into existence, or the Maori story of Rangi and Papa?
Consider other possibilities. Would you do some mythologizing of your own — might you take a modern event and explain it as a result of a supernatural event? What might happen if an ancient mythological or legendary figure appears in modern times — would Saraswati perform on India’s Got Talent, or how would King David fare at a poetry slam? Or do you think in terms of metapoetry about mythology itself?
As Jim Morrison put it, “Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths of the ages/Celebrate symbols from deep elder forests”. I’m looking forward to what you create. 🙂
This wordle comprises a selection of words from poems submitted to Prompt 206 “Which Childhood?” So the following are the poets who’ve submitted poems and the list of words which I’ve picked:
Ms Pie: embryonic, borrowed, turtle
Nicole: toothpicks, earlobes, fatness
emangsteroo: fighter, hatching, jagged
Jules: aura, ripples, unwrapping
purpleinportland: stockings, shame, songs
Marian: color, emerald, snapshots
Misky: marshmallows, pine, sap
Stimmyabby: dissecting, microscope, almonds
Annell: snakes, coastal, leaf
Barbara: record, books, homing
Debi: unseen, lemon, foot
Irene: lame, birds, roots
Kind of a delightful potpourri, so hopefully they serve as your inspiration for meanings and associations so you create your own particular scent of a poem. That’s the whole idea. Be free to change forms and tenses of the words. And you may choose to use a sprinkling of the words or (gulp) the entire lot. Just follow your muse and play. Don’t you forget, this is the month for poetry and love. Or love for poetry. Or… (gulp gulp) never mind.
I am large, I contain multitudes. -Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
Welcome to the first We Write Poems weekly prompt of April! This month, I intend to take you all on a journey through themes — themes which inform the very craft of poetry in which we engage.
We have just begin National Poetry Month. Also, the first half of the year tends to celebrate history — February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month. This month, interestingly enough, is also Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Understanding Month in the United States. During these times, the histories of these groups (more recently autistic folks) is shared and celebrated.
I thought about these these ideas and these energies…and about history in general. History is more than just names, places, and dates: it is a part of who we are as individuals and it informs our writing. Sometimes, it is our cultural histories which leak into our work — and by culture I mean anything as broad as nationality, ethnicity, and religion or something as narrow as the culture of one’s family or social group. We may draw on historical events and people from other dates, times, places, and cultures and use these in our writing. Also, consider that poetry and history are natural partners, as the genesis of poetry as a form was a result of the need to transmit culture, stories, and history to future generations before the existence of the written word.
For an example of how this might play out in poetry, consider these lines from “O Black and Unknown Bards” by James Weldon Johnson:
Heart of what slave poured out such melody As "Steal away to Jesus"? On its strains His spirit must have nightly floated free, Though still about his hands he felt his chains. Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye Saw chariot "swing low"? And who was he That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh, "Nobody knows de trouble I see"?
Johnson considers the unknown singers before his time — unknown names and unknown faces, but their songs known and remaining.
Another example of how an event in the history in a smaller group — a family, a town, a village — might play out in a poem is in “Daredevil” by Sherman Alexie. In the poem, he speaks of an aunt who went blind after drinking antifreeze as a teenager. (Quoted from publication in Superstition Review at http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/issue3/poetry/shermanalexie)
She recognizes me with some other sense No matter how long I've been absent. I can silently appear on her front porch But she'll say my name as she opens the door.
And of course, there is always the option of fictionalizing history in poetry. Consider these lines from my poem, “Debutante Emily Looks for Buried Treasure“:
They lived on Seventeenth. The Negro steel mill workers, these new men recruited by ashen-coated promises of gold moved into these little one-story brick boxes with their families: and Helen’s was no different.
The poem uses real-life places and events: Seventeenth Avenue is in an area of the town in which I grew up. It was one of the streets on which the then-president of the local steel mill contracted builders to construct houses for his African-American employees in the early twentieth century; he did this because many of them were living in slum-like conditions. The town (albeit renamed) is real, the street is real, the steel mill is real, and the house is real, but Helen and her family are not.
So I ask you this week: what’s in your genes? What have you been inspired by, historically? What do you think, in a broader sense, about the idea of history? Would you like to fictionalize history? Meditate on this and write. I’m excited to see what you all come up with.
Welcome back for more We Wordle fun. This is wordle #12 (how wordles fly when you’re having fun!), and this week’s words are plucked from poems written to Irene’s prompt #205 “Your Neck of the Woods.” Here are each poets’ three word contributions to the Wordle.
Yousei: me you mockingbird
Viv: tea cake says
Ron: window road morning
Hannah: rain melting wind
Abby: churches bread sky
Irene: woods stars read
Marian: rabbit blue water
Roslyn: smile tease life
Debi: swearing thin again
Jules: Palm canal south
Barbara: madness neck out.
Looking forward to reading your poems.
The one from which you’ll never escape?
–Li-Young Lee, “A Hymn to Childhood”
In our adult life, writing as poets, do we find ourselves returning to childhood as a kind of base for who we are, how we’ve become? In your imagination, who was this child? Why is childhood significant? What is the nature of childhood? Is it somehow a frozen place, a place of fixed identity? How do your experiences in childhood shape who you are? One way of writing about childhood is to draw on the memory of an experience.
In Sharon Olds’s poem, “Killing My Sister’s Fish”, the narrator describes the steps taken prior to poisoning her sister’s goldfish and when the deed was done, she was just lying there, “as if without/regret, as if something set in motion/long before I had been conceived/had been accomplished”. The speaker seems to be referring to some sort of karmic destiny. It can even be said that it raises the question of our a priori nature. What is it that our DNA carries, that carries this piece of history? In accounting terms, it is the balance carried over.
Is childhood really a clean slate? Or does it carry imprints of our past?
So write a childhood poem with a twist and let it deal with karma, déjà vu or the sixth sense.
Announcement: As you know, April is National Poetry Month and most of you, I hope, will be all wrapped up in the writing. Somehow it doesn’t seem daunting even if it is. Or it’s daunting only if you let it be. They do get better with more writing. The poems I mean. Even if you have to drown in really bad ones while you’re at it. Of course there’re poets who can’t write a bad poem. But I’m not one of them. I post up every one of my drafts. I’m not much of a revisionist either. Is that why I don’t go from good to better? Or best? Is there always a good, better, best version of poems? There must be. I still haven’t got sufficient insight to figure it out yet. My method is really to keep writing new poems and hope for a kind of consistency.
I forget what I meant to say. And it is that We Write Poems will go full throttle in April. By full throttle it means Thursday’s regular prompt, and Monday’s wordle prompt. Then come May, we will no longer ramp it up. Sorry if you haven’t found the pace leisurely, to your liking. Like slow food or something. So as I was saying, from May we’ll post weekly prompts on Thursday, alternating regular and wordle prompts. Slow food…
We Wordle #11
This week’s wordle comes to you from the good poets at We Write Poems prompt 204, Measured Loss. Three words from each poem were borrowed to create this wordle.
Laurie: arms failed bones
Priti: clouds leaping fog
Annell: teacup broken history
Jules: calm devotion drowned
Laurie 2: air whispers you
Hannah: slate stumbles splintered
Nicole: roots sleep frozen
Emangster: gutters stare rushes
Amy: harvest unusable planet
Irene: dust wicker slack
Abby: fold swan Cities
De: petals breaths quiet
Debi: store time alive
Sara: tunes used bells
Marian: gentle bosom alone
And here are the pesky unruly rules: There are none. No rules, except that I hope you have fun. Use all the words or just a few. Change the tense, if you wish, if you must, if your muse is not amused and needs a wee small push. Post your poem to your blog, tattoo it on your leg, leave it here, leave it there, write it and leave it anywhere!! Post a link if you dare.
Looking forward to reading your poems.
Show us your neck of the woods, your backyard, your neighborhood, your town. Let it be the setting for your poem. Preferably set it at the end of the day. An evening poem. How do people unwind at the end of the day? A meal probably. Describe the mood. What’s the illumination like? What’s to note?
In case you’re wondering what those Chinese characters mean, they read “Malaccan chicken rice balls”. The photograph’s taken at a Malaysian food street. So a meal, evening, your neck of the woods. Write it, color it. We all wanna read it.