What Sparks Poetry

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.

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.

— Susan Tichy

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Susan Tichy

Susan Tichy

Susan Tichy is the author of seven books, most recently North|Rock|Edge (Parlor Press, 2022), a walker’s encounter with the coasts of Shetland, and The Avalanche Path in Summer (Ahsahta Press, 2019), a muscle-memory of a life in mountains. Her 2015 volume, Trafficke (Ahsahta Press), mingles prose and verse to investigate race, language, and her maternal family’s history, spanning from Reformation Scotland to the abolition of slavery in Maryland. 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. She continues to research slavery in Maryland, with a focus on assisting descendants to identify their enslaved ancestors. Now Professor Emerita at George Mason University, she lives in Colorado, spending much of the year in a cabin she and her late husband built by hand. https://susantichy.com  https://magruderslanding.com