Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"When" Poem

"When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut..."
-When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

Last night we talked about "When" poems where you start off with the word, then at the end, pay it off. Mary Oliver pays it off with "I don't want to end up simply having visited this world." They key, also, is that this poem is not an imagist poem specifically, it's a poem that explicitly sets out to make a point.

The funny thing is, I never intended to write a political poem, but that's what I did. Hard to avoid, though, since I wrote about my AFA cadet brother. He's in his second year, which means he's getting close to graduation, which means possible deployment. A detail which freaks me out a bit. Also, something I’ve only just admitted by writing this.

“When my brother
goes from cadet to officer
as quickly as the words
can be pulled from lips
I am afraid the war will get him
…when he comes back
his face won’t look
like mine anymore.”

I brought my draft to David, and he looked at it for a while, and said the middle part was flat. Stereotypical “bullets will rush at him” stuff that we put in the war box. Then he had a eureka moment, “These are your fears, that’s what needs to be here, and the more strange they are, the better.” I’m still trying to figure out how to articulate those fears, but what he said made perfect sense. I’m digging into the personal, and I need to dig deeper.

David also mentioned that the poetry I’m writing now is the poetry he’s been waiting for me to write. He asked if I felt it, too. I do. Right now I’m finally confident enough to let go, to get into that personal territory that makes me so nervous, and to play with that anxiety. Strange, isn’t it? Ties right in with my last post, too. If you’re going to write poetry, don’t write what’s safe because no one cares about safe.

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