Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Animal Poems

The UA Poetry Center is offering a workshop this summer, taught by Dawn Perdergast and Paul Klinger, titled Natural Selection: Poetic Ancestry as Traced Through the Animal Poem. This is very appealing to me, both because I love reading (and writing) animal poems, but also because of the slant this course will take. Quoth its website, at www.animalpoems.net:

Each week we will look closely at a brace of poets, whose animal poems will guide the discussion and workshop. Some poets we will study in tandem: Jorie Graham and Elizabeth Bishop, John Clare and Charles Baudelaire, Lisa Jarnot and William Blake, Pablo Neruda and Wallace Stevens. Respective ideologies, idiosyncrasies, temperament, and music will focus and organize the discussion. A major emphasis of the class will be compiling, individually at first, an extensive catalogue of animal poems, from all cultures and periods of history, which we will sort collectively into an encyclopedia. To do so, we will try to establish a physiological approach to poems, one that suggests how to identify stylistic traits. These traits will create a working vocabulary used to focus the workshops. Writing assignments will include imitation poems; adapting poetic strategies for your own writing. The process of your writing's development will proceed like a genealogical study, where you uncover predilections and influences in order to trace your lineage through the writings you study and imitate.

The workshop is being held on Saturdays, July 2 - August 6, from 2 - 4 p.m., and costs $150. Care to join me?

Here's one of my animal poems, from Riverfall:


I cannot follow the river of her myth.
Perhaps Papago, or Hopi.

In legend, she was born of the sharpest
cactus—the cholla—and spread her thin

roots into the desert soil.
She broke the underground river

and blossomed into life. As punishment,
the Great One gave her thickened fur,

and naked pups. Confined
to the desert,

she was weaker than the wolf,
could not hide like the fox,

took heavy heat from the white sun.
She ate the horned toad spitting blood

into her eyes, the gila monster leaking
venom through her veins, and the prickly pear shooting spears

through her tongue.
And she became strong.

I said, I cannot follow the river
of her myth; but I can

follow her sweet desert song
like a stream through the fiery hills.

What's your favorite animal poem?



LKD said...

Hello, Simmons. I found your blog thanks to Suzanne Frischkorn's mention of having received your book over on her blog. Hope you don't mind a complete stranger dropping out of the sky to say hi, and oh, by the way, this is my favorite animal poem:

Leaving Fox

so many fuckless days and nights
only the solitary fox
watching my window light
barks her compassion.
i move away from her eyes.
from the pitying brush
of her tail
to a new place and check
for signs. so far
i am the only animal.
i will keep the door unlocked
until something human comes.

--Lucille Clifton

It's one in a series of 6 fox poems. They all speak to me, but this one, this poem lives inside me.

Nice to meet you, Simmons.

And gee, since I've gone and barged in on your blog, and am apparently not all that shy (smile), I'll go ahead and ask you the same question:

What's your favorite animal poem?

Oh, gee...can I post one more? Another animal poem just popped into my mind, another poem that lives inside me:

Traveling Through the Dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

--William Stafford

Hmmm. I guess maybe it's more a human poem than an animal poem. Perhaps Lucille's poem is, too.

Thanks for asking the question. I like when poems I haven't thought about in a while rise to the surface. Both of these poems will be in my head for days to come.

(and sorry for this long, long comment....I do ramble on...)(smile)

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Thanks for the response Laurel. I really like Stafford's poem, as well. Add to that: "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop, "Goldfinches" and every other poem by Mary Oliver. And does "The Sheep Child" from James Dickey count?! Or even his "The Heaven of Animals?"