In Amy Ludwig VanDerWater’s Poems are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres, the section which suggests that Writers Play with Language is a poem by Deborah Chandra. Chandra’s piece invites the would-be poet to “Personify Animals and Objects.”
The idea and poem here led me to think about J. Ruth Gendler’s The Book of Qualities wherein the author does just this. Personifying the intangible emotions, Gendler wraps the invisible in the familiarity and the feelings that make the elements feel like family. For many of her pieces within the book, Gendler offers a simple line drawing of the quality represented.
While Gendlers explorations generally fill a page of her subjects’ presentation and past activity, Chandra’s piece enters and makes itself at home in the smaller space that poetry can offer (one sentence/five lines) to offer a season in the life that is met with the intersection of another life looking to reap.
Here is Chandra’s piece:
stare and catch their summer
breath, while I pause, holding basket
There is a lot to unpack in these sixteen words and this speaks to the power of arrangement and line breaking that poetry invites and showcases. We see:
- alliteration (look at the ten “s” sounds in the short piece)
- internal rhyme: “stare” and “their”
- adjectives that lend to image without adding too much weight (or wait) for that image
- bookended “b” sounds whose words have a similar compositional “shape”
- “ladders” to classic poems in the stylings of William Carlos Williams or shape poets
James Castle’s approach to the “water color” drawings that comprise part of the body of his work were created by wringing the color out of advertising circulars his family would give to him. We were able to replicate some of this simple shading process by taking an emery board to colored cardboard the other day (it creates just enough colored “dust” to create color to “draw” and “shade” with.
And now our piece, inspired by Deborah Chandra’s “Suspense” and informed by J. Ruth Gendler’s The Book of Qualities.
Silence makes her bed crisp-cornered, fitted, neat
in the dirt provided to her by her mother, earth,
but she also spends seasons in the closed mouth
of a quiet man whose hands wringing all of the colors
from the newspapers and the circulars that come
and she adds no sound even lovingly to the labor
that sees now muted shades of the wallpaper hanging
with none of them so loud so as to say, “Look at me”
quietly hanging, drying on the rough clapboard wood
walls of a small room of some other man’s making.