It’s funny how ideas for prompts and poems happen ...
Here in my part of New Jersey, the 17-year cicadas have begun to emerge and seem to be everywhere. There are literally thousands of them in my neighborhood alone, in various stages of changing from hard-shelled nymphs to winged adults. Once out of the earth, they climb to a rough surface where they struggle out of their shells (a process called molting). White at first, they darken within an hour. The adults move to trees and shrubs where they mate and lay eggs, completing a very short life cycle of just a few weeks. Admittedly, they’re not the most attractive insects but they are completely harmless, and their emergence every seventeen years is really amazing. Watching and photographing the transformations going on all around me led me to think about the process of transformation and how a transformation can be a revelation.
So … this week, let’s try writing transformation poems, that is, poems in which something becomes something else. One example might be the moment that something or someone you thought was unattractive or plain was suddenly beautiful—a kind of “ugly duckling to swan” idea. Or, a time when something you thought was awful turned out to be great. You might even explore the “poem possibilities” of someone whose personality underwent a transformation.
Things To Think About:
Have you ever seen a transformation of something in nature (caterpillar to butterfly, hatchling to fully feathered bird)? How would you describe it?
How have you been transformed (by an experience, a belief, another person)? What are the particulars of that transformation?
Have you ever experienced an emotional transformation (sorrow to joy, distrust to trust, alienation to belonging)?
Have you ever seen something physically changed (trees cut down to make a log cabin)?
Have you experienced a transformation in a relationship (discord to happiness, marriage to divorce)?
Has there been a time when your anger or resentment was transformed? How and why?
What have you learned from a particular transformation?
What does the word metamorphosis mean to you? How about trying a poem based on Ovid's Metamorphoses?
How about writing a poem from the point of view of something in the process of transformation (tadpole to frog, nymph to dragonfly, embryo to baby)?
Just as transformations can be startling, so should your poems. A poem should astonish its readers, either with an amazing story, with a unique view of something, or with insights that challenge (or change) the reader’s thinking.
Your poem should contain at least one image or idea that takes the reader’s breath away.
Work on a sense of immediacy (even when you write in the past tense).
Stay away from the passive voice, and be wary of words that end in “ing.”
Be specific—avoid abstractions and generalizations. Imagery is key. Write about things, not ideas. William Carlos Williams wrote: “No ideas but in things.” Tell it “like it is” in specifics, not through philosophical musings on the “meaning of it all.
Work on a dismount that elicits a “wow.”
What Floats is Called a Swan
By Renée Ashley
Amidst what's left where the shadows catch
At what feels like the shadow end of a life,
At what seems rubble and wreckage, what
Looks to be a dashing hopelessness raising
Its inelegant head, think this: What rises can be
Saved, what is saved just might turn beautiful.
Reprinted by permission of the author. From Basic Heart (Texas Review Press, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Renée Ashley.
And ... if you're interested in learning a little more about cicadas ... enjoy!