The Poems of Others

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.

In the series The Poems of Others, we’ve invited poets to pay homage to a poem that first sparked poetry in them—a poem they read that gave them permission to write poetry or the idea that they might write it—a poem that led them down the path to becoming a poet.

Each essay is accompanied by a writing prompt based on an observation about the poem.

Brian Teare on Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

I remember the moment I learned words could record the reciprocal press of poet upon the world and the world upon poet. A truant undergraduate student, I had signed up late for a “Modern British Poetry” course, and came to the second class unprepared. The assigned reading was Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Someone read “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” out loud. I had never heard anything like it. I felt a pleasure I can only describe as a swoon. I gripped the edges of the desk to keep myself upright. The sprung rhythm in combination with the alliteration was like having my head inside a ringing bell, like being the swung tongue that, in the poem, allows the hung bell to “fling out broad its name.”

I knew then, as I know now, that the poem elicited an ecstatic physical experience because Hopkins brought what in another poem he calls the “heart in hiding” to the surface of words and let its quick pulse beat there, where it could coax my own into a sympathetic rhythm.

In the second half of this Petrarchan sonnet’s opening octave, Hopkins argues that

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself;
myself it speaks and spells.
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. 

In other words: being is. It’s action that reveals the selves alive inside things. 

Writing Prompt

Write a sonnet that attempts to render in language the self of a nonhuman thing or being you’ve encountered through observation. Keeping in mind Hopkins’s experimental sense of form, retrofit the sonnet to make a unique argument about the intrinsic nature of the nonhuman thing or being that’s claimed your attention; use the prosody of the lines to make it come alive and make the music that’s all its own.

— Brian Teare

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Brian Teare

Brian Teare

A 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, Brian Teare is the author of six critically acclaimed books, including Companion Grasses, a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award, and The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven. His most recent book, Doomstead Days, was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle, Kingsley Tufts, and Lambda Literary Awards. His honors include the Four Quartets Prize, Lambda Literary and Publishing Triangle Awards, and fellowships from the NEA, the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, the American Antiquarian Society, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the MacDowell Colony. After over a decade of teaching and writing in the San Francisco Bay Area, and eight years in Philadelphia, he’s now an Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, and lives in Charlottesville, where he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books.