one way to respond to great poetry

Today’s exercise comes straight from one of the poets who taught me to write during my growing-up years. Marge Pellegrino taught workshops at our local library, and over the years I attended both her children’s and adult workshops.

For this exercise, Marge had me choose a poem that spoke to me. After reading it at least twice, she instructed me to choose something about it to respond to. Mimic the style, perhaps, or respond to the content. I did a little of both. My poem has the same number of lines, and I mimicked the style of phrasing and punctuation. As for the content, I wrote my poem almost as a continuation of his; it’s like a dialogue in which he spoke first and then I responded to the same scene.

{my process & my poem}

{my response}

It takes a moment of reflection;
a moment to choose to absorb the emotion
of a certain time and space
to appreciate what is of true value in the world.
What is progress?
What is productivity?
Only a certain person’s perception.
What is purpose?
Now that is a better question to ask
for purpose transcends
both progress and productivity.
Neither of these exist in a moment;
both must rest on the past and the future,
but purpose —
purpose simply is.
It does not rely on what has been
or what is to come,
but rather it defines that which is
as well as that which was
and that which will be.

Pastoral by William Carlos Williams

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.
No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.

{today’s exercise}

Two days ago you set aside some time to read poetry. Go back to one of the poems that stood out to you and write a response to it. Notice the style of the poem. Is it short or long? Does it have stanzas? Does the poem rhyme? Choose an element or two to mimic, and write a poem in response to what you’ve read.