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Caution: Poetry at Work

February: Poetry: Work or Gift?

February 23

This poem came to me as I was listening to a sermon in a church during the Christian season of Lent. I promise I was truly listening to the sermon, until I got distracted by the image of stones calling out, and by the work of precursors and prophets, and how their voices must sound exactly like stones.

The Grief HosannaSaint John the Baptist

The stones are shouting --
          Are you listening?
     The stones are shouting out --
               Why are we silent?
          From beneath the strewn palms they cry out
                     as we withhold the blessing of Hosanna.

The Praise that does not stop death
     rises from the bedrock, from the earth
          crying blessing, asking us to prepare the way.
     We know what is at stake,
               where this Hosanna will lead --

I see someone arriving
     someone I do not understand
                    Hosanna in the highest
          who will bring change to me and mine
                         Blessed is the one who is coming

Weeping over Jerusalem, hosanna flutters in my heart
     Denying as the dawn breaks, hosanna rises in my throat
          Looking to grieve where life is not found,
               hosanna rolls the stone away

--Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:

If you have had "gift poems," did the form come before the words and images, or did words and images arrive first, with the form emerging through your work, or did they come together? To play with form, take two (or more) images or concepts that seem dissimilar, and combine them in a title. Experiment with formats, giving one concept/voice in italics and the other in boldface, or one in capitals and the other in lower case, or one to the left and the other to the right, or one inside boxes and the other in circles, or one in the middle of the page and the other(s) all around it in the margins. How does the form of the poem constrain your writing? Is that constraint inviting or liberating in any surprising ways?

February 16

embersBut sometimes poems do come as gifts, unexpected and unearned. We see the lines on the page and can barely remember having written them. To receive the gift, we have to "listen with the ear of the heart," as Benedictines are fond of saying, and be humble and brave enough to follow where the poem is leading. This poem is one of a very few gift poems I have received.


                            Things I Didn't Know I Loved

"I know all this has been said a thousand times before and will be said after me."
--Nazim Hikmet, writing in exile after 13 years in prison

I didn't know I loved
the wrangle of phones and human voices, rough, insistent
until I entered this silence and closed the door. I didn't know I loved
this silence until the hooked voices reached for me. I didn't know I loved
didn't really know I loved the treeless prairies until green bars grew up
between my eyes, the airy sunset, and the moon. Didn't know I loved
the thorny green thicket of my self
contrary and bear-haunted, until I took the straight smooth road
and found it strewn with death. I didn't know I loved
black bears lumbering through my dream toward my sister
whom I didn't know I loved
even though I've lost her now in the blind thicket and she
doesn't love me any more. I didn't know I loved
my mother until her rose-heart burst and bled
red petals into her chest, didn't know I loved
the garden of her flesh. And you, my God
under her ashes so silent and so cold, I didn't know I loved
you until you woke every morning in my little stove
so lowly in your prison house of wood and flesh and fire
so eager and so needful of my hands. I didn't know I loved
my hands-clumsy, tender-until they stirred the fire and found
                                                                                                                      these words.

         --Mara Faulkner, OSB

From Still Birth, Copyright © 2013 Mara Faulkner. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press,

Invitation for your writing:

How do these ideas of work poems and gift poems play out in your writing? Do poems sometimes come to you from out of the blue? What sustains you when you have to work with that inspiration to make a poem? To find out, take a line, image, or idea for a poem that comes as a gift; then work with it to see what it wants to become. Follow author Doug Woods' advice to writers: "Start. Finish. Edit."

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