I traded critiques with a poet friend: she reviewed my second Abishag novella (Indelible Beats), and I reviewed her chapbook of seventeen Pantoum poems this week. I’ve taken no poetry classes since the early 90s, but I remember three ‘rules of poetry’ vividly. Use words sparingly. Create fresh and compelling imagery. Measure meaning and sound equally.
To review her work, I researched pantoums. The format is: Stanza 1 A B C D (or A C B D) Stanza 2 B E D F (or C E D F) Stanza 3 E G F H Stanza 4 G I (or A or C) H J (or A or C). Also to more fairly review her work, I decided to try writing one myself, using both a Scripture reading and my thoughts about the writing process for content and theme. Hers looked so effortless but in practice, I found it challenging. Try one yourself.
With apologies for the format, I present my result:
Altars and Plots
Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem. Ezra 1:5
Dry winds stirred the Persian king
Who proclaimed a building plan, backed with
Silver and gold and a cardamom spoon,
To restore the house of the Lord.
Silver and gold and a cardamom spoon
For the returning sons of Ai and the sons of Zattu
Who restored the house of the Lord
With burned offerings of meat and bone.
The returning sons of Ai and the sons of Zattu
Sang psalms with cymbals and drums,
Burned offerings of meat and bone
And listened to dry winds stir.
We sing psalms with cymbals and drums,
Careful constructions of altars and plots.
We listen to dry winds stir
Silver and gold and a cardamom spoon.
In my silverware drawer, I have a tiny wooden craftsman-style spoon from the Huntington Library gift store that I use only for cardamom. For the last stanza: in my experience, writing is about the spirit stirring and stirring words…with some planning, investment and a burned offering or two.
I wrote the poem in a few hours, then took several days of fine-tuning before declaring it “good enough.” Oscar Wilde’s words played in my head while nit-picking over words and punctuation: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
By presenting it here, I did break the rule about storing the work in a drawer for a year before doing a final edit. Mea culpa.