Like hail from a blind sky,
the body falls. He drinks wine from broken
shot glasses and wears a goatee. This
is his appearance to some. For others, he continues
on his way in bare feet and white robes.
In either world, he takes his time.
Whether or not his words contain the rush
of truth and hard business is, for some,
debatable. But what we cannot ignore is this:
the woman floating down the Byway,
the healed cancer patient, turned vegan, and
our fascination with the Afterlife, put to the test
by all those mouths—gnawing and chewing
and somersaulting in the search of rest.
Whether or not all this meat ends in a place of
fixed healing or soiled bone
is yet to be answered. On his quest, this man
gathers what is left of all these bodies
and places them in a cellar, gives them the time
they need to age, to cure. What we know is this:
when he opens the door again, it will be light
and dirt-bodies, with eyes and open mouths
“Like hail from a blind sky” taken from Jericho Brown’s poem, “Prayer of the Backhanded,” published in his collection, Please (2008) from New Issues Poetry & Prose. Thank you for the inspiration, Jericho.
Throughout the month of November, I’ve been participating in the challenge of writing daily with a few of my colleagues and friends. At the beginning of the month, I offered to start a privatized blog, November Daily, on which our group could post the poems we were writing for the sake of accountability and potential feedback. I decided, additionally, to include daily, optional writing prompts that might challenge us to push our writing in new directions—from writing in a form to using particular words to finding new inspiration. We’re nearly a third of the way through the month already, and I’m happily back to writing every day, and it’s been a real ride.
My purpose in telling you all of this was for the sake of sharing what I believe to be an important issue: the inspiration from and conversation with other writers. For today’s (November 9’s) writing prompt, I asked everyone to choose a writer they were not familiar with yet—whether it was an old great they felt obligated to know, or a writer they kept meaning to check out, etc.—and use their name as the title of today’s poem. Then, I asked that they select one whole line from one of the writer’s poems and use that, either, as an epigraph or as the first line of their poem. From some of the feedback I received via email for this prompt, I expect my cohorts will not complete the prompt, or will simply cut the title and first line as soon as the day is over.
But for me, that presents an interesting question—Why?
I’m not worried about my cohorts disliking the prompts I present; they’re optional for a reason, and they’re obviously not going to work for everyone. But since when is borrowing a line from a writer you appreciate a demonstration of laziness, a lack of inspiration, or worse, disrespect?
In my mind, if a young writer were to read one of my poems and end up being so fueled by one of the lines that they started a poem from it? To be frank, I would be down-right flattered. To know that I had inspired someone into their own poem, to know that they were starting a conversation with me about what a line, a word, can mean, and then turning my meaning on its head to begin their own—I would become greedy and would want that to happen more often.
Our writing should never experience a time of stasis or complacency; it should always be breathing, thinking, adapting and changing. If that means completing an unusual prompt, then do it. If it means using a thesaurus or writing a dictionary poem (which, to this day, I love to do), then do it. If it means writing a poem backwards and rearranging the lines, to see what happens, then do it. AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE, experience your favorite writers’ works. If that means writing a poem that stems from a word or line or concept from one of their poems, as long as you give them credit where credit is due, then you are doing nothing but being innovative: you’re reading other writers’ works, you’re thinking while writing, you’re open enough to be inspired by their work, and you’re ending on a note of creation . . . and going so far as to start a conversation with that writer by including their name as the title.
I’m a young writer, and I have a lot to learn. For some of you out there, you may be asking why I feel I can speak to this subject, without having my work formerly published as a collection, and without having the experience of having someone borrow from my work. But maybe it’s because I am a young writer that I feel I can speak to this particular subject—I’m at a time in my life when I want to be as open to change and new ideas and criticism as possible, because I want my poetry to do everything. Including compliment writers I appreciate and love.
So in this particular case, this is my really long-winded way of talking craft, at least off-the-cuff, and it’s my time to say:
Jericho Brown, I really appreciate your writing and your collection, Please; and if you ever happen to (somehow?!) see this blog post, then know that I’ve written this poem as the highest respect, and from a deep, gnawing inspiration found in your poetry.