7:30 a.m. — Atlanta
Hello, all. We are going to approach place a little differently today.
Resist the temptation to read the poem. Uh huh, I saw the eyes drifting down.
We will read and talk our way through James Wright’s poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”. First, will you look at that title! Look again. Poets, if they use a title, usually go one of two ways: they choose titles that are neutral, reflective of what the poem speaks of; or, they add vital information that the poet does not want to use poem space for. In this case, Wright establishes that the speaker is in a hammock [lying down], on a farm, on an island, in Minnesota. So much information about place, without having to use poem space.
Now you may read the poem! Just read it without, if you can, letting your poet brain start working. I’ll meet you below.
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm
in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
the cowbells follow one another
into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
in a field of sunlight between two pines,
the droppings of last year’s horses
blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
Yes? Reread the poem and look for every single sensory image. Then, come back here.
Visual is almost entirely colour: ‘bronze,’ ‘black,’ ‘green,’ ‘golden’ and implied in ‘shadow,’ ‘sunlight,’ ‘blaze’ and ‘darkens’.
Tactile: ‘blowing’ = breeze
Sound: ‘cowbells’. You can argue that ‘empty house’ implies silence.
Smell implied: last year’s ‘droppings,’ cows, horses.
Now list verbs and verbals: ‘see,’ ‘blowing,’ ‘follow,’ ‘blaze,’ ‘lean,’ ‘darkens,’ ‘comes,’ ‘floats,’ ‘looking,’ ‘wasted’. While we are here, note the phonetics of Wright’s choices. After Joseph’s phonetics exercise, I am more aware than I already was of sound and its effects and found the use, or lack of use, of certain sounds supports the content in this poem [as it should]. Almost every sound is open, as is the speaker to his epiphany.
While we are at it, notice the strength of Wright’s nouns: ‘butterfly,’ ‘trunk,’ ‘ravine,’ ‘house,’ cowbells,’ ‘field,’ ‘pines,’ ‘droppings,’ ‘ horses,’ ‘stones,’ ‘evening,’ and ‘chicken hawk’.
What is the mood of the place, for you? How does Wright achieve that with the words he has chosen?
Writer Maxine Kumin says, “In a poem one can use the sense of place as an anchor for larger concerns, as a link between narrow details and global realities. Location is where we start from”.
The hammock, in this poem, is the anchor; the global reality is the speaker’s realisation that there is more to life than whatever he had been doing before coming to William Duffy’s farm. Wright has established this with a minimum of words that give us a wealth of detail.
Let me pull myself back on track. Once you have absorbed the poem, jot down places where you have had an epiphany, remembering that, while epiphany is a word usually associated with positive outcomes, an epiphany can be about anything, and they can be tiny. While you are listing places, jot notes about whatever you remember about each place: what happened, sensory details, specifics, and mood.
Choose one place you want to write about. Freewrite everything you can remember about the what and the where. Consider the anchor for your event and the larger concern.
My challenge is that you structure your poem as Wright has. The poem breaks into four tercets, each tercet being a full sentence giving us a sensory image, except the last tercet, which has three sentences, growing increasingly shorter, leading to the epiphany. The four tercets are divided in half by a short directional phrase, “To my right” [and what is that about?].
Did I lose you among the tercets? Write a poem in any form that gives us a place and then establishes an epiphany that connects to that place. Feel free to make up details if your memory is fuzzy. Make them up anyway. If you are not following Wright’s form, consider others you know, to decide what best suits the poem’s content.
As always, I look forward to reading what you write. You have forever to post [although readership may decline to me]. Take us through the process if you can. It’s a good habit and helps if you are going to revise the poem at any point.
See you Thursday for announcements [you can send them to me up until Wednesday night my time]; Friday for our romp through prompts; and next Tuesday for a break in place [no, that's not another type of place prompt, but a prompt that is not focused on place].
Happy writing, everyone.