The Poems of Others (Inaugural Series)

In her essay “The Holograph,” poet Brenda Hillman speaks of handwriting a poem over and over as a method of revision in her own practice:

Emerging signs are very close to the nerves of the hand. Seeing a letter formed in stages… pulled into the thread or wick, to the thing of the word itself, gives a sense of participatory process, that the poem is still unfolding, that all of its unconscious dream nature has not yet been foreclosed upon.…

Hillman writes too about our “atavistic connections to the written expression.” Thinking about that “atavistic” quality, that reversion to the ancestral, Poetry Daily asked each member of its new editorial board to name the poem that first sparked poetry in them—the first poem they read that gave them permission to write poetry or the idea that they might write it—the poem that led them down the path to becoming a poet.

We then asked each editor to write about that special experience and to create a writing prompt for others based on an observation about the poem. We also asked them, finally, to handwrite that poem—as a kind of homage to its maker, the poet who came before—and an homage to the poem itself as a thing that first sparked their writing.

“I also like to recopy poems other than my own onto new pages,” Hillman observes in conclusion to her essay, “because there is an intimacy about that as well.”

We are excited to present to you these sixteen intimate homages to the relationship between poet as reader and poet as writer, and to what sparks poetry.

Susan Tichy on Gary Snyder’s “Logging”

I was eighteen when I picked up the original edition of Snyder’s Myths & Texts, a staple-bound chapbook published by Totem Press in 1960.

I had been writing poems for several years, and even had published a few, but something new happened in those pages: I heard/saw for the first time how a web of sound could juxtapose unadorned image + simple statement into something…not exactly larger than its parts, but other than its parts. No longer were expansive and intensive poetics opposed: they were allies, creating the voice of a mind and a body finding place on earth.

Always a walker in woods and hills, observer of birds, weather, and ways, I was immediately drawn to the lived, practical, right here moments in the book’s three sections, “Logging,” “Hunting,” and “Burning.” It didn’t matter that I had neither logged nor hunted, nor that my future in wildfire country was at that moment undreamt of; what I recognized was the rhythmic movement of attention from body to mind, image to abstraction, the human and the wild.

In the poem from “Logging” I chose to accompany this essay, I recall the sensation of leaping awareness, the joy and surprise of finding my infant knowledge of Taoism, Buddhism and Native American cultures embedded in and calling through this work of imagistic intensity, historical consciousness, and practical humor.

What is political here? Everything, simply because it is everything. (Also, I really, really love oysters.)

Writing Prompt

Go someplace you love, or someplace new—anyplace not under a roof. Using all five senses, plus body-awareness, record every detail you can. Stay long enough that you have to work hard to find new stuff. Write by hand, using alternating pages of a notebook, leaving the facing pages blank. Before or after you go, copy into the same notebook (and sticking with the format) some quotations from your reading that stimulate and challenge thought while remaining time-and-place specific. No free-floating abstractions allowed: pay attention to who/where/when these words come from. Now, on the blank pages start sound chains from key words in your notes and images. Get quickly past the easy rhymes to alliteration, assonance, and consonance, then to words combining sounds from different words. So, from beech among oak you might start with reach, soak, choke, plus various alliterations and repeated vowel sounds, then move on to retch, sink, beak, botch, book, chick, own, meal, mongrel, money, reason, chime, amok, keening, become, satchel, Boca Raton. (This is fun with a group: each person’s ear will choose different directions.) Keep it going by continuing the chains (retch + boca = rococo) and by mixing up words from different parts of your notes, maybe beach among oak with a sentence by Angela Davis or Rebecca Solnit. Everything in your notebook is fair game, so you make new phrases, new layers of phrases, following sound as much as sense. You start to make lines, cutting every unnecessary word. You move things around. You throw in a joke. You start a poem.

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Susan Tichy

Susan Tichy

Susan Tichy is the author of six books, most recently The Avalanche Path in Summer, a muscle-memory of a life in mountains, and Trafficke, a mixed-form investigation of family, race, and language spanning from Reformation Scotland to the abolition of slavery in Maryland. Both are from Ahsahta Press. She has written extensively about war and its human consequences, including the volumes Gallowglass (Ahsahta, 2010), Bone Pagoda (Ahsahta, 2007), and A Smell of Burning Starts the Day (Wesleyan, 1988). Her first book The Hands in Exile (Random House, 1983) was selected for the National Poetry Series. Her work has been published in the US, UK, and Australia, and been recognized by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Chad Walsh Poetry Prize, residencies at Hawthornden Castle International Writers Retreat, and numerous other awards. Recently retired from 30 years teaching in George Mason University’s MFA & BFA programs, she resides in Colorado.

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