Recently, in the Garden of Neuro Poetry Circle, I ran across a poetry prompt:
I thought that this might be an excellent exercise for young writers and novice poets, as well as those who are more experienced. As the prompt says, you can use your own, very real back yard – or the one that exists only in your imagination.
First, observe and take inventory.
What does your “back yard” look like? It doesn’t have to be a yard, and it doesn’t have to be real. It could be the view from your window, if you are an apartment dweller. Maybe it’s a community garden. Maybe it’s the back yard you’d like to have, some day. Maybe it’s the back yard you have today – and the one you’d like to have, some day. Let’s take inventory. Write notes and take photos; don’t just trust to memory. Mine looks something like this:
There’s a ladybug, rescued from a little birdbath in the back yard. She was surrounded by debris, but when I put my finger in the water, her tiny legs began to wriggle. I left her to recover in the shade of the Daikon leaves, in my vegetable garden, where she is protected from birds. Not pictured, but seen within the past few days: crab-like orb-weaver spiders, praying mantises, and a scoliida wasp with blue-black wings and a blood-red body, frantically darting from one squash blossom to the next. Its nest appears to be in the bell at the top of our wind chimes. Perhaps not the wisest or calmest place to start a home.
There’s a nice green compost bin, and a holding pen full of brown leaves my husband’s collected, that will eventually be mixed into the green scraps. Herman the dog-vomit slime slime mold lives inside the green bin, and now sleeps in the rich soil of my vegetable garden, where he feasts on dead and decaying things.
That raised veggie garden has been a learning experience, and there is a corner garden that is more wild than not – with volunteer holly bushes, crepe myrtles, and a plethora of spider plants and canna lilies that have crept under our fence from the neighbors’ back yard.
There are tall trees that shade us and saplings that try to reach the sun through the dappled shade cast by live oaks and Bradford pears.
There is also a sundial and an area laid out with blue rubber tiles to be an outdoor exercise and play area. Because this is a recent project, there are scraps of wood, rocks, glue, and bags of sand and concrete laid around the patio.
This is all visual information.
Pay attention to all five senses!
What do you hear? Birdsong, a lawnmower, children playing on the other side of the fence? A garbage truck, perhaps. A leaf-blower. Cars. A summer breeze, tickling the windchimes. Waking up the scoliid wasp, maybe.
What do you smell? Flowers, compost, petrichor. Earth. Freshly rained on? Or parched?
What do you taste? I pulled a few of the Daikons from the garden – they were in desperate need of thinning. I couldn’t resist rinsing one off with water from the outdoor garden hose and biting into that underripe and slightly-too-bitter crunch. A basil leaf. A pinch of fresh oregano.
What do you feel? Focus on touch, not emotion. Did you wander the back yard barefoot? I can’t, these days – well, I risk a foot full of pricklers from the carpet of weeds that winds its way through the grass, if I do. Still, barefoot girl that I am, at heart, I do risk it. I hop from one sun-warmed paving stone to another, avoiding the pricklers and the river rocks, the bits of broken stone. I let my toes sink into the cool, soft dirt while I try not to think of what might be wriggling underfoot. I dig in a mud puddle with a stick and transfer an earthworm to the garden, marveling at how fast they are when they’re trying to get away.
What symbols or themes begin to emerge?
Glancing through what I’ve written, I see a whole ecosystem. But unless I want to write an epic poem, I may try to narrow my focus to something like “birth” and “death” – how new life emerges and is nourished by the old, the dying; how it breaks down and builds up before becoming part of the cycle, itself. That may lead outside the garden, into the philosophical. Sometimes, a “back yard poem” strays from the back yard and explores uncharted territory. Follow where your thoughts lead.
Or I may focus on something even smaller.
Sunny and yellow
Greets the squash blossoms.
Silly little Haiku! But it’s a start. Start small; start big. They key is to start.
Elegy at the Bird Bath
Lady, who told you you could swim?
You were meant to fly;
Not to float upon your own reflection
Waiting for a clever robin,
Or a hungry, ill-tempered jay
To pluck you from the placid pool –
Cool on a bright, June morning –
To pick you, all blushing red
For their breakfast appetizer.
Lady, you were meant to bring me luck.
To dine, yourself, on sweet little aphids.
Oh, how they rejoice at your downfall!
But Heaven helps those who pray for their prey –
The mantis exacts swift vengeance,
Leaving the summer squash un-nibbled.
And I have pre-empted the robin’s repast –
A wriggling earthworm, uprooted,
Dumped beneath the Daikons, unaware
Of criss-cross shadows, a netted sky,
Shielding it from the watchful jay.
Now, it’s your turn. Please give this a try, then share your poems in a comment or link to one in your own blog. I look forward to reading yours, too!