Poem-Stuck? Try a Weather Poem!
I am in my sixth year of keeping a haiku journal. Each day I write a haiku (or something no longer than the three lines allotted), along with a note about what tea I am drinking that particular day and a weather note: the low temperature. I note the low because, living in the Texas Hill Country as I do, sometimes recording the high temperature plunges me into needless despair.
But I hadn’t written much weather poetry until I read Ted Kooser’s Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison. He wrote it following a bout with cancer, when he was taking two-mile walks early each day because his oncologist had warned him away from the sun. Kooser, who would serve as U.S. poet laureate only a few years later, was in a poem-writing drought of his own until he undertook this activity. Something about walking jostled loose poetry. He wrote his poems out on postcards and sent them to his friend and fellow poet, Jim Harrison.
Each poem is titled with the date and a one-line weather report. Each one is brief, grounded in what Kooser observes on his walks. Many have the most unusual metaphors I’ve ever read.
Here’s the one he wrote on my birthday. (Not that the former U.S. Poet Laureate knew it was my birthday). It’s been my little poem for January.
The blue moon. Windy.
In a rutted black field by the road,
maybe a dozen bulldozed hedge trees
have been stacked for burning—-
some farmer wanting a little more room
for his crops—-but the trees
are resisting, arching their spines
and flexing their springy branches
against settling so easily
into their ashes, into the hearth,
so that there is a good deal more wind
in the pile than wood, more tree
than fallen tree, and the sparrows
fly in and out, still singing.
This poem makes me happy on so many levels. It begins with a blue moon, something I have written about in The Joy of Poetry, in what is probably my most intimate poem about my mom. Kooser’s poem has trees resisting fate. It has singing sparrows. All I need to make this poem my perfect birthday gift is to imagine Kooser with a cup of hot tea while he writes this poetry postcard to his poetry friend.
All poets have seasons when it’s hard to write. The solution is to pay attention. Go outside. How does it feel?
This is a book that got me writing poems again after being stuck and that got me writing better poems. Kooser pushed me a bit farther down Metaphor Road than I would have traveled on my own. Without warning, he turns birds into a wheel, a house into a man, cedars into ink.
So if you are poem-stuck (or even if you aren’t), follow Kooser’s example:
1) Go outside and take a walk. Even in January. (Especially in January.)
2) Note the weather. How does today feel as compared to yesterday?
3) Pay attention to what is around you. Details matter!
4) Let the metaphor blow your poem into unexpected places.
One Monday morning I returned from a 21-degree walk to notice the white house, the one still for sale, was striped with shadows. Poems usually write about evening shadows, not morning ones, so this seemed like a good topic to explore. And what did the shadows look like? Like a zebra.
cold but not for long
Across the street morning shadows
stripe the white house. This is no
ordinary horse—a zebra in the heart
of the neighborhood savannah,
as unpredictable as myheart
perched on the hoof of spring.
read another poetry prompt about this poem on Wednesday at Poetry for Life
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro