Poetry Friday: More Renga with Friends

Moonrise Over Santa TeresaCreative Commons License Dawn Ellner via Compfight

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Mary Lee Hahn (A Year of Reading) suggested we write another renga and Jan Burkins (Burkins & Yaris) agreed. Both are such adventurous souls! You can see a description of the renga form and our first attempt at writing one together here.

I loved being able to write a second poem in the same form with the same people. It was interesting to observe how having multiple opportunities to write the same thing opened up new layers of understanding for me; understanding of my process, our collaboration, and the ways the poem works to create meaning for me. Multiple tries at the same thing are important for kids; they are important for adults!

At some moment during the second attempt, I began to see the stanzas of the poem not as a linear form whose meaning resolved as I read, but as layers piled on top of one another, sort of like a pair of polarizing sunglasses that, when tilted just right block out the flashes of light on a lake in summer. The layered stanzas helped me see words and ideas in sharper relief and in deeper hues because they made certain images and words stand out.

For example, Mary Lee’s sharp wheel of cheddar/round of brie connected so nicely to the round cracker-moon in the stanza before, turning that image of fullness into one that I could taste as well. Similarly, Jan pulled from my crusts of bread a wide palate (fresh…sour…vast) that broadened my original idea of sparseness into one that had texture and verve. Finally, I loved the way Jan took my image of the wrinkled face and transformed it into a memory, which Mary Lee carried downstream to serve as the very soil for the renewal of a “new land.”

Lots for me to learn from these two! What fun to write together.

But enough of my marveling. Here’s the poem.

as the hummingbird sips the nectar

round moon not yet full
finds my cracker–full ‘til bitten
life full with roundness

sharp as a wheel of cheddar
smooth and creamy as brie

under the gnarled oak
an old couple tosses
dry crusts to the pigeons

we become what we take in
fresh foods, sour moods, vast ideas

mountain peaks tower
above the endless plains
full — sharp — old — vast — inspiring

toward evening, golden sunlight
settled on her wrinkled face

inside she’s a girl
surprised by her reflection
in her dreams she runs

river carries silt downstream
building up the new island

sweet alchemy —
orchard apples filled
by the light of a star

loose tooth lost with first bite
red orb of bittersweet

cold front passes through
scrubs away humidity
wren sings from the fence

once, he learned to see rainbows
in the oil on a street puddle

a skill important
for grownups who are often
too busy measuring

too concerned with to-do to
barter duty for beauty

You can find more poetry at Poetry for Children.

4 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: More Renga with Friends

  1. I love the image you chose! Jan and I were so literal with our hummingbirds, and there you were, showing us a glimpse of that cracker-moon getting ready for some cheese!

    What you wrote about the polarized lens, and then the examples from the poem that elaborated…perfect.

    Gosh this is fun! So cool to go public and see what outside readers have to say about our product, but (shhh…don’t tell them) the most fun is the process of watching the poem unfold…or the path find its way…or the pearls click together on the string…

    • It really has been fun for me, too. I look forward to the next lines and go to the Google Doc as soon as I see a message in my inbox. And I really, really love that path or pearl thing, too. Thank you so much for being willing to do this!!

  2. Steve, I like your cracker-moon, too. I appreciate your layers metaphor. It really is helping me think about round 3 and our new Renga. I also like the way reader response is illustrated through this process, as we all interpret each other’s work and take it to our own place. It is interesting that we instinctively give little information when we hand the poem off, letting the next person read into it what he/she needs. Seems to be a natural norm for this collaboration. Thank you for the opportunity, Steve.

    • It sure has been fun to write with you Jan! I, too, like that we do not give much information at the hand-off. Maybe that’s part of the treat, at least for me, to see where another takes the thought! Best to you!

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