Saturday, October 29, 2011

Poetry Prompt #77 – Wilderness

In his most recent chapbook, Kicking the Rain, R. G. Rader included a poem entitled “Let There Be A Wilderness.” The poem immediately struck me because the dialectic of the poet’s observation is so immediate and direct, and so filled with metaphorical meaning. Clearly, R. G. wasn’t thinking only about “wilderness” in a literal sense, but, rather, in a context of implied meanings that suggest relationship, tension, and the conflict between “safety” and risk-taking.” It’s a love poem that’s not exactly a love poem, it’s sensual and passionate in its defense of romanticism, and it tosses out a challenge to those who are afraid to explore the wilderness (or wildness) within themselves.

Let There Be A Wilderness
by R. G. Rader

Let there be a path leading out of sigh
And at its other end a temperate zone:
woods devoid of beasts, roads that please the foot

From “Against Romanticism” by Kingsley Amis

Let there be roads that hurt the feet
at places I travel – exotic
outside the temperate zone.

Let there be a wilderness
where I taste the pleasure of wild food
where the winter cold is cause for no clothing

and the soft cushion of summer grass
is softer still when you and I fall upon it.
Avoid the temperate zone

where little is safe from each hour’s boredom
and all the words are neatly packaged
into the pages of a book.

Let there be time to share
and to lose our  passion
and a way to find it again,

a space where wingless birds can fly
a place filled with beasts
who dare do battle.

Copyright © 2010 by R. G. Rader. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
From Kicking the Rain (Finishing Line Press, 2010) 

Click Cover to Order Kicking the Rain

Many see “wilderness” as a path to awakening, and it is deeply present in many of the world’s “wisdom” traditions. Wilderness is transcultural and transpiritual – shamans and mystics, sages and saints have gone into the wilderness to find inspiration and enlightenment. Jesus Christ and the Desert Fathers went into the desert; Buddha and Lao Tzu went into the forest. Thoreau went to Walden Pond, and in Emersonian transcendentalism, nature was created by a transcendent god for the benefit for humankind. These examples all beg the question, “What is it about wilderness (in any of its forms) that draws humankind to it?”

Wilderness may be understood as a way and as a tradition, and throughout history, “wilderness” has been strongly symbolic. Importantly, wilderness is never merely the untarnished forest, the crystal stream, the field of flowers; it is also tangled vines and exposed roots, rain and mud,  rocky places and poisonous berries. Wilderness is wild nature in all of its aspects, and it may be expanded to include human nature.

Okay, I’m sure you see where I’m going this week. Our prompt is “wilderness,” and the challenge is to write a poem that focuses on a personal wilderness experience, a wilderness insight, a wilderness “therapy,” or  “wilderness” as a metaphor. What we’re not looking for are “nature” poems (which I love dearly but not this week).


Before beginning to write consider these questions:

What’s your wilderness?
What has a wilderness taught you?
Where has a wilderness taken you?
What life experience can you describe in wilderness terms?
What does wilderness offer your senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell)?
What specific wilderness images will you incorporate into your poem?


  1. An amazing prompt, Adele! And somehow, strangely right for Halloween week. Happy Halloween - may it be filled with poetry treats!


  2. Thanks, Jamie, and happy Halloween to you too!

  3. A great poem by R. G. Rader - I remember it from his book and from readings. Great prompt too!

  4. Love your prompts, Adele. The linked poem by Carl Sandberg above is amazing!

    I'm going to be spending this NaNoWriMo month trying to write a poem a day...and I know I'll be here often to raid your prompts.

  5. Thanks, Violet! I'm so glad you like the prompts. I love the Sandburg poem too.

    All the best with your NaNo WriMo project! If you'd like to share some of your poems, please post them. I'd love to see some, and I know the other blog readers would too.