Object Lessons

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

In our current series, Object Lessons, we’re thinking about the relationship between the experienced and imagined world. We have asked our editors and invited poets to present one of their own poems in combination with the object that inspired it, and to meditate on the magical journey from object to poem. 
Each essay is accompanied by a writing prompt which we hope you will find useful in your own writing practice or in the classroom.

Jennifer Atkinson on “Local History”

The island I called Hag Island in this poem isn’t, after the ten or so years since I wrote “Local History,” an island anymore, not even at full high tide. What was island has become something more like a hump in the marsh. The salt brook that runs through has shallowed out and shifted. Everyday erosion and hurricane winds will do that. The mixed grasses, beach rose, heathers, and reeds that sometime hold when gravelly sands and mud shift around them, came loose.

Gradually and all at once, the beach swept inland and the surf dredged a new course for the brook. Since the she of the poem staked her claim on the place, the marsh has never stopped shifting. Now the hump, its spindly pear tree and drowned stump, is fitted up with an osprey platform and a Department of Environmental Protection cordon. There’s a nesting pair and fledglings in residence every spring so no one’s been out on the hump for years. We have to re-imagine a john boat’s warped planks, a stone door sill, an overgrown garden, and tall, almost luminescently pale stalks of mullein.

Writing Prompt

Write a poem about an object, large or small, that is inaccessible except by imagination.

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Jennifer Atkinson

Jennifer Atkinson

Jennifer Atkinson is the author of five books of poetry. The most recent one, The Thinking Eye, was published by Free Verse Editions in 2016. Individual poems have appeared in journals including Field, Image, Witness, Poecology, Tupelo Quarterly, The Missouri Review, and Cincinnati Review. She teaches in the MFA and BFA programs at George Mason University in Virginia. More at https://www.jenniferatkinsonpoet.com/