It’s autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere, my favorite time of year, which always reminds me of the very first poem I ever memorized, “A Vagabond Song” by Bliss Carmen. At age 7 or 8, the poem appealed to my young sense of wonder—I decided that what I wanted most was to be a vagabond poet. I loved the way the lines looked and the way the words sounded. I still do and share the poem with you below.
A VAGABOND SONG by Bliss Carman
There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood —
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.
The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.
There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.
October also means Halloween! This year I plan to offer two season-appropriate prompts, starting this week with one that deals with Halloween but, more importantly with nouns and verbs in poetry.
The great poet Marianne Moore once said, “Poetry is all nouns and verbs.” Writing a memorable poem can be a matter of strong nouns and verbs. To use some Halloween language: nouns and verbs are the skeleton of a poem. Adjectives and adverbs are the costumes—if you use too many, they hide the deeper meanings of the skeleton.
1. Choose one word from the nouns list for your subject (of course, if you have another Halloween-related noun, feel free to use it).
2. Free write about the word you’ve chosen for your subject.
3. After free writing for a while, go back and read what you’ve written. Is there an emerging theme or idea?
4. Using your free write material, begin writing your poem, making sure that you use a few words from the verbs list.
1. Think Halloween.
2. Be creepy if you like.
3. Avoid overuse of adjectives and adverbs.
4. Create a tone or mood that appropriate to your subject. Remember that the verbs you choose will give your poem momentum and a sense of trajectory.
5. As you develop your poem, move away from the obvious and work toward deeper meanings.
“Haunted Houses” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Mr. Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern” by David McCord
“Theme in Yellow” by Carl Sandburg
And … by way of sharing, here’s a Halloween prose poem from my forthcoming book, A Lightness, a Thirst, Or Nothing at All
Trick-or-treaters come to the door repeatedly—little ones early, older kids into the night until she runs out of candy and turns off the outside lights. The wall between worlds is thin (aura over aura—stars flicker and flinch). The woman buttons her coat, checks her reflection in the mirror, and stands cheek to glass (eye on her own eye, its abstract edge). She leaves the house (empty house that we all become)—shadows shaped to the trees, crows in the high branches.
(Acknowledgment: US 1 Worksheets, Volume 59, p. 51)