Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles

It seems these poets have nothing

up their ample sleeves

they turn over so many cards so early,

telling us before the first line

whether it is wet or dry,

night or day, the season the man is standing in

even how much he has had to drink.

 

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.

Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

 

“Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune

on a Cloudy Afternoon” is one of Sun Tung Po’s.

“Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea”

is another one, or just

“On a Boat, Awake at Night.”

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with

“In a Boat on a Summer Evening

I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.

It was Very Sad and Seemed to be Saying

My Woman Is Cruel — Moved, I Wrote This Poem.”

 

There is no iron turnstile to push against here

as with headings like “Vortex on a String,”

“The Horn of Neurosis,” or whatever.

No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

 

Instead, “I Walk Out on a Summer Morning

to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall”

is a bead curtain brushing over my shoulders.

 

And “Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors”
is a servant who shows me into the room

where a poet with a thin beard

is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine

whispering something about clouds and cold wind,

about sickness and the loss of friends

 

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,

to sit down in a corner;

cross my legs like his, and listen.

 

Billy Collins

 

Writing Prompts:

  1. Write down some titles of your own possible “Chinese poems.” Perhaps one might be “On a Chill and Cloudy Afternoon,  in the Month of January, I Receive a Poem and Sit by the Fire to Read it and Sip Tea,”  or “I Contemplate the Sad and Barren Fir Trees at the Curb as Dusk Falls in Midwinter.”
  2. You may choose to write a poem to go with one of your titles, or just muse over the titles themselves.

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Categories: Uncategorized

If the Rise of the Fish

If for a moment

the leaves fell upward,

if it seemed a small flock

of brown-orange birds

circled over the trees,

if they circled then scattered each in

its own direction for the lost seed

they had spotted in tall, gold-checkered grass.

If the bloom of flies on the window

in morning sun, if their singing insistence

on grief and desire. If the fish.

If the rise of the fish.

If the blue morning held in the glass of the window,

if my fingers, my palms. If my thighs.

If your hands, if my thighs.

If the seeds, among all the lost gold of the grass.

If your hands on my thighs, if your tongue.

If the leaves. If the singing fell upward. If grief.

For a moment if singing and grief.

If the blue of the body fell upward, out of our hands.

If the morning held it like leaves.

 

- Jane Hirshfield

from The Lives of the Heart , NY: HarperPerennial, 1997.

 

Writing Prompt:

  1. What are the possibilities for your day?
  2. Write a poem, or a series of lines that begin with “If…”
  3. Write about a time you surrendered your body to something. Describe the sensation. What did you learn?

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Categories: Uncategorized

Axe Handles

One afternoon the last week in April

Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet

One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.

He recalls the hatchet-head

Without a handle, in the shop

And go gets it, and wants it for his own.

A broken-off axe handle behind the door

Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to wood block.

There I begin to shape the old handle

With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle

the pattern is not far off.”

And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle

By checking the handle

Of the axe we cut with-“
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century

A.D. “Essay on Literature”-in the

Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”

My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen

Translated that and taught it years ago

And I see: Pound was an axe,

Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

 

– Gary Snyder

 

Writing Prompt:

Consider your own father. How is he like the axe handle in your life? In what ways have you modeled yourself after him? How are you different? What do you know about the “axe handle” after which he was shaped (your grandfather)? And before that —- ?

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Sun

Have you ever seen

anything

in your life

more wonderful

 

than the way the sun,

every evening,

relaxed and easy,

floats toward the horizon

 

and into the clouds or the hills,

or the rumpled sea,

and is gone–

and how it slides again

 

out of the blackness,

every morning,

on the other side of the world,

like a red flower

 

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,

say, on a morning in early summer,

at its perfect imperial distance–

and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love–

do you think there is anywhere, in any language,

a word billowing enough

for the pleasure

 

that fills you,

as the sun

reaches out,

as it warms you

 

as you stand there,

empty-handed–

or have you too

turned from this world–

 

or have you too

gone crazy

for power,

for things?

 

Mary Oliver

 

Writing Prompts:

  1. In your journal, write a response to Mary Oliver in answer to her questions. Notice that she asks just 2 questions in this poem, which consists of one long, complex sentence.
  2. Write a praise song to the sun. In your poem, give as many reasons as you can for why you love and/or fear it’s power and beauty. Don’t be afraid of writing a loooonnng and rambling message.
  3. When you have finished your writing, pause and reread it. Then write a brief reflection on the process of reading the poem and creating your own writing.

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Categories: Uncategorized

Philosophy in Warm Weather

Now all the doors and windows

are open, and we move so easily

through the rooms. Cats roll

on the sunny rugs, and a clumsy wasp

climbs the pane, pausing

to rub a leg over her head.

 

All around physical life reconvenes.

The molecules of our bodies must love

to exist: they whirl in circles

and seem to begrudge us nothing.

Heat, Horatio, heat makes them

put this antic disposition on!

 

This year’s brown spider

sways over the door as I come

and go. A single poppy shouts

from the far field, and the crow,

beyond alarm, goes right on

pulling up the corn.

 

Jane Kenyon – The Boat of Quiet Hours. © Graywolf Press

 

 

Writing Prompts:

 

  1. Reread Kenyon’s poem, picturing the wonderful images she paints for your mind’s eye. Then write a poem of your own, telling of the small evidence you see around you of warm weather’s presence. Look near. Look far. Look within. And write!
  2. Rewrite your poem now, adding sounds and scents of early summer. What is the texture of warmth?
  3. Have you included your “philosophy” of warm weather? Kenyon mentions the whirling circles of our bodies’ molecules in “antic disposition.” What is happening in your body as summer enters into it?
Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Uncategorized