Sometimes the partner that calls a poem into being is anything but silent. She or he is a live person asking us to write a poem for a specific occasion. (Think of the poems written and recited at presidential inaugurations.) These occasional poems can feel like drudgery—an assignment given by a stern teacher with a hard deadline. Worse yet, you're going to have to go public with your poem. It usually isn't what you wanted to be writing, but you said yes....
The real work, then, is to go deep and do what students have to do most of the time: turn this dreaded assignment into something you want and need to say by asking the poet's, the writer's questions: "So what?" "Who cares?" "What's at stake for writer and readers?"
I wrote "Illuminations" for the inauguration of CSB President Mary Dana Hinton. While I was delighted to be part of this wonderful occasion, I had all the resistances I just described. The theme President Hinton chose for her inauguration was "Become Illuminated," and that phrase became another silent partner. This is a selection from that occasional poem.
For President Mary Dana Hinton
Like a thousand luminaries lighting the path to Christmas
Like the sun condensed in a winter greenhouse hip-deep in snow
where a riot of lettuce and spinach, peas and kale convinces us it's spring
and like the questing students, in love with the Earth,
who dreamed and dared and did it
Like the supernova of a star long dead
scattering potent light across eons of time and space
to reach us here, this night.
Like the sheer, brilliant fact of existence
and steadfast resistance to all that would snuff out life. . .
Burn through thickets of fear and doubt—
Like kind-hearted people, not showy, often nameless
but warm enough to save a life as hands reach out for hands to hold—
it doesn't matter whose. . .
Burn like peacemakers whose ardent love and courage
quench even the flames of war
Or like God's reckless love and unquenchable mercy
kindling flames in and among us
until we all shine like sparks in stubble.
Like luminaries past and present, make of yourself a light
And then let your light shine.
--Mara Faulkner, OSB
Invitation for your writing:
Write a partner poem. First, find a willing partner. One of you write the first couple of lines. Then pass it on to your partner without saying what you had in mind for the theme or direction. Don't plan out the poem ahead of time! Poet #2 adds a couple of lines and passes it back. (Sometimes it helps to stop in the middle of a line or thought.) Pass the poem back and forth until one of you decides that it's finished. Then, if possible, get together and read the poem out loud, or do it on-line. Change it in big or small ways, cutting, rearranging, adding, etc. Give it a title, and read it out loud again. Give it as a gift to a couple of people who might be heartened or delighted or challenged by it.