Here's the prompt National Poetry Writing Month gave us for April 4, the fourth day of the creative ordeal offered this month to those seeking to write a new poem each day:
Today, we challenge you to write a poem that is about something abstract – perhaps an ideal like “beauty” or “justice,” but which discusses or describes that abstraction in the form of relentlessly concrete nouns.... For example, you could have a poem about sadness that describes that emotion as “a rowboat tethered with fishing line to a willow that leans over a pond. Rainwater collects in the bottom, and mosquito eggs.” Concrete details like those can draw the reader in and let them imagine the real world where your abstract ideal or feeling happens.
I responded by borrowing a famous phrase from the Victorian poet A.C. Swinburne, who in a poem addressed to the Nordic earth goddess ("Hertha") catalogued all the wondrous gifts Earth was removing the notion of a creator God and bestowing in turn on humanity. Here's the part of Swinburne's poem where the phrase appears:
But to you, as time takes him,
This new thing it gives,
Even love, the beloved Republic, that feeds upon freedom and lives.
Here's my poem for April 4:
4.4 Love, the Beloved Republic
All politics are personal
The song sparrow hectoring a mate
(Not tonight, dear, it's much too March)
While hopping like an eighth grader in need of the men's room
with pubescence on his mind,
Love is faithful as a mated pair:
'What happens in February, honey, stays in February
You know you're the only beady-eyed, big-beaked, feather-bosomed
Momma for me.'
Love hops like a bower bird
and sings in the spring.
Love endureth in the frowning countenance of Obstacle
The flight of the butterfly speaks of love, steadfast in her journey
Four generations later to the homestead of the heart
And the whale sings across oceans a song of reunion
to the distant pod,
despite the separation of so many plankton-warm baths in the tropics,
a feasting frenzy of microscopic kisses off the fish- friendly banks of British Columbia,
Love connects through invisible networks,
spume-spouted with photo attachments:
'That's me breaching and spouting off Yucatan Mex
See you on the far side of the Marianna
It's lovely this time of year in Antarctica'
Love keeps the stars in place, the planets connected
Invisible hands fingered with zillions of subatomic digits,
clasp in the embrace of astral Sein Und Zeit
Love keeps the galactic market open for eons to come
Remembers the dinosaurs fondly: sorry about that asteroid
Love brings its lonely satellites home to Mater Terra
The moon cycles endlessly, hoping to close for a kiss,
noses brushing, risking the warmth of the final embrace
willing to be singed in the clinch
To burn, one ultimate moment, for Love
Love has many Followers,
We wind its sacred bindings, unwrapped from the immortal dead
about our days, tie ourselves to its stakes
Strike matches just to admire the beauty of the flame
Rise from hallowed sleep to feast our senses
upon the known geography of the Beloved, that terra connu,
that unforsaken republic, the country of Love
We pay our allegiance in souls coined from above
Today, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem that reacts both to photography and to words in a language not your own. Begin with a photograph. Now find a poem in a language you don’t know. Now start translating the poem into English, with the idea that the poem is actually “about” your photograph. Use the look and feel of the words in the original to guide you along as you write, while trying to describe your photograph.
Here's the photo I chose.
I found a poem from a suggested list written by a Belgian poet. The language, I believe, is Dutch. Suffice to say that I did not understand a word. So what follows can't realistically be called a "translation" when you can't read what you're supposedly rendering into English.... And the result, as the prompt assures us, is a "poem" that could not have been written any other way.
Nevertheless, I cobbled together some words:
4.5 The Rites of the Land
The earth stands up, hands reaching for the rain, for water they need,
those who drink from the bottom lands and those from the top,
using what words they know.
That which lives in the gift of self, that which stands apart
on the stationary plane of rifts and stabbings
blameless in the stirring life underneath the fires and the stars
connects the right to grow and the words the angels speak.
The meadow rolls where it will on the roundness of the land
bluing the sky with the plume of rising words and slanting song.
The grasses that grow in the strikes, the staffs of the archers,
wake to the summons of the blinking sky -- and boiling mists --
resurgent in the dusk. They too drag land-dwellers into
the remnants of the dance and the summons of the night,
before even they can recall the names of their own.
For more about National Poetry Writing Month, here's the link: