Thursday, July 16, 2009

Time for a Poem

I haven't been writing new poems for the Readwritepoem prompts in the last few weeks - mostly because I have been sorting and revising poems for my poetry group's forthcoming book.

We will have about fifteen pages or so each to fill and I thought over the last few years I had easily written enough good poems to fill the pages. It turns out that is partly true, but choosing poems that are not only good poems but that fit well together is harder than I thought. When we did our first book I didn't have too much of a problem arranging my poems in a sequence that made sense. I think I left out one poem that didn't seem to fit with the others. This time, I have more of a range. Partly, this is because of prompts from sites like Readwritepoem. Though I enjoy writing to prompts as they make me expand my range and stop me from boring myself, I am left wondering how important it is to have a sort of "narrative arc" in a poetry book. After all, I find that I often dip in and out of poetry books and don't necessarily read the contents in order. I still have a couple of months to sort things out, so no doubt I will resolve it in time.

In the meantime, here is a poem that I haven't shared on this blog before. A slightly different version is found online here, along with a couple more of my poems.

This poem arose after I read the introduction to Best American Poems 2006, in which Billy Collins claimed that he couldn't bear to read a poem that contained the word "cicada" - it stopped him in his tracks. About the same time, I saw a nature documentary on TV which included the amazing phenomenon of the periodic cicada which emerges en masse every 17 years. Of course, then I just had to write a cicada poem. I assumed - but may be wrong - that Collins's objection was to the sentimental way in which cicadas are often used in poems, so I tried to write a non-sentimental cicada poem.

North American Periodic Cicada

It will happen like this:
after the struggle, he will leave in haste,
return with a spade and dig
a shallow grave in the quiet woods.
The victim, who lived alone,
will not be missed until the neighbour
sees the overflowing mailbox,
knocks on the door a week later.
The assailant is long gone.

Or, it will happen like this:
he will dig a shallow grave.
Too shallow. A boy will walk with his dog
through these woods. The dog will sniff
the freshly dug earth, paw at it,
uncover what has been done.
The assailant, blood on his shirt,
will be stopped at a police roadblock
crossing into the next state.

No, this is what will happen.
There is a struggle in the woods.
Later that night a phenomenon that comes round
once every seventeen years -
a horde of insects crawl from the ground,
make their way around the corpse, through
the soft earth, up the trunks of trees. They split
their shells, emerge soft bodied.
Billions of creatures harden on branches
until by daytime they take to the air.
Before the boy comes by with his curious dog,
empty shells will rain honey-coloured,
covering the ground for miles.
The woods crunch underfoot. The boy
will not venture far in, the dog
will not spot the soft earth.
There will be no manhunt until
the assailant is several states away,
living a new life. And if he keeps his secret
the cicadas, deep in the earth for another seventeen years,
will not reveal it for him.


More fresh poetry this week at Readwritepoem here.


Donald Harbour said...

Catherine, I very much liked the imagery you created with this poem. The cicada is one of my favorite insects, they lull me to sleep. Say hello to my daughter in North Havelock (should you ever run across a Holly Harbour there).

Kay Cooke said...

This is a wonderful poem Catherine - and I have read the other on-line version too, which I love as well. I am looking forward to buying a copy of that book when it comes out.
(Am reading Bernadette Hall's 'The Ponies'at the moment - it's great!)

angie said...

this is wonderful--what does Billy Collins know anyway?

I love the examination of the different outcomes, the repetition of 'dig a shallow grave' and the way that image is reinforced by the cicadas themselves digging shallow graves (of sorts.)

Tamra said...

What a wonderful murder mystery! I like everything about this one. Great job, Catherine!

gautami tripathy said...

Great narration!

acuity of touch

Finding the Happy said...

Yes, the repetition is grand!

Lawrence Gladeview said...

catherine short of better, more intelligent words, the poem is great. loved every stanza and every line. a dynamic story with an excellent conclusion. so glad i came across this this morning. -lawrence

Nathan said...

Excellent work. Definitely not a sentimental cicada poem.