Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Yesterday I wrote a poem. Considering my level of production over the past few months, this was a momentous occasion.

Or should have been.

It was an assignment. After reading John Koethe, I was supposed to "imitate the features that most interest you." He struck me as a next-generation New York school poet--Frank O'Hara meets the philosophical (which is an obvious reading: Koethe's PhD is in philosophy and the poem I linked you to is about hanging out with Ashbery and O'Hara--but I didn't know that when I read the first set of poems I was given). There's also some lines he's pulled from Eliot, but I'm not sure I was supposed to notice that--it suggests an unhealthy love of Prufrock, which in turn suggest the anti-social status of my existence.


The poem was an assignment, and Koethe had one long, sectioned poem. The stanzas were tercets and each section had a different rhyme scheme. I was intrigued by an "axb bxa" scheme, and set out to imitate that, along with his ten-syllable lines.

This is a complete antithesis of everything I've been writing over the past year. My form has collapsed into what Kim Johnson generously terms "unlineated verse," and what Jeff Tucker dubbed "parastanzas." I love my loose, wandering poems--maybe too much. It was revealing to construct a poem with a strict form, to attempt rhymes and meter again.

I'm not sure what I found. I'm not sure what it is. What scares me is that, without knowing I was headed in that direction, the poem was in a garden. It was concerned with telling a story over and over again, revising and redirecting the reader's attention. It's the same poem I've been writing, only with an obvious, definable form.

I said it scares me, and it does. What if I can only write this poem: the couple in the garden. I know it's a classic subject. It's been done before, it will be done again. But is my mind so preoccupied with relationships and religion that I can't write anything else? If this is all I can write, should I be writing?

Should I be writing? This blog used to be a place where I offered up my worst fears, often the worst version of myself. I'm not asking if I should stop writing. But this career and life that I'm pursuing, am I worthy of it? Is my writing worthy of it? I love teaching, and you don't have to be a writer to teach. I love literature, and you don't have to be a writer to read. Is this MFA, this time I'm taking to "write," is it worth it? Not just for me, but for the people I could be with, the students I could be teaching.

I leave for you my exercise in form and humiliation. I'm terrified of class tonight, terrified to hear my professor--a poet I respect--tell me I shouldn't be a writer. What if she said that? Would I listen?

If I were to tell this story again—
We start our walk slow across the garden,
Our steps lingering on uneven stone,

On the uneven edge of garden grown
To mimic a field, the world uncluttered.
But the grass was trimmed and clean around when

We walked gate to garden, garden to door.
We walked apart, peregrines unaware
Of path, our hands grasped in prayer uncommon

Father, forgive us, Father, know us. Amen.
And in the garden, our grasped hands blossom,
Bloom red, bloom white, bloom and bloom and put your

Hand against my hand. This was the story—
We walked into a garden ungated,
My hand at your elbow, holding where flesh

Meets flesh, tentative embrace—our mouths left
Free to pray. We walked into a garden,
Sat under blooms and trees and somehow we

Watched the world, our garden, fade. Again our
Story. You, me, the garden. An easy
Comparison to everything that came

Before. We walk in the garden, come
To believe in grass uneven, in blooms
And trees and then the winter, in the hour

When our world turns and you are gone. I walk
Into the garden, outline the path
With careful steps, with the white bloom of snow.

My hands chap red, leave markings you would know—
This was our story. We walked into a
Garden. We walked in a garden. We walked.


Amanda said...

I love the rhythm of that.

I am only just starting to feel some of the things you talk about here with regards to writing and how much of our time should be spent doing it or studying it. I don't know. I think it's interesting that you keep coming around to relationships and religion because these keep pushing my writing in unanticipated and often undesired directions, too. I figure, though, that if you're gonna get stuck on a theme or two, these are pretty damn good ones to get stuck on, aren't they? If for no other reason than that so much (all?) of life can be boiled down to these themes--love and faith--and I think that's an okay thing.

Glad you're posting again. :)

Lekili said...

...No you would not listen if your professor said you could not write because you are brilliant and can write and will write. You have already received an answer about spending this time on an MFA so quit questioning yourself. Just believe in yourself and your passion to write and do it...

and I love the imagery and flow of your poem. Thanks for sharing.

"In the way . . ." said...

If you can't write about relationships and religion, what else is there to write about? Loved the poem. You are amazing.

Th. said...


Plenty of painters spend their lives reworking the same painting and no one does more than raise the occasional eyebrow.

My suspician is that this is a time-of-life thing. No idea how long this time will last, but write what you have to write. Or, conversely, force yourself to write something different. What do you see out the window + what's lying on your desk + the way you felt yesterday at noon. Go.

I'm not going to coddle you. You know you're talented. Ultimately though, you're the only one who can decide what to do with that talent.

God be with.

Anna B said...

i love this poem. i'm breathless from reading it. i love it. you should be a writer. you should definitely write. that's my vote. i say yes to eg writing.

Lekili said...

and Anna, we love and adore you.

brooke and forrest said...

i'm starting a "keep sarah writing" campaign. and anna will be VP.

you're incredible. you're an inspiration. if you stop writing, i'll die.

hope that makes things clear. xoxo.


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