Here’s a guest post from Amanda Laughtland (written earlier this year) about how she was encouraged to write about spring and why she thinks its worthwhile for other poets to do the same. If you have an idea for a guest post too, just send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Poetic Asides Guest Post.
Twenty years ago, I was a graduate student struggling in a seminar taught by a famous poet who didn’t like my poems. Toward the end of the quarter, he invited each student for an individual conference in his office, and I’ll always remember the image of him eating a strawberry milkshake from the university cafeteria with a spoon and saying, “If this is what you want to write, I don’t know what to say to you.”
I didn’t reply. Then he did come up with something to say to me: “Why don’t you write about nature? Go out and take a walk. It’s spring. Write about spring.”
He wrote a lot of poems about wild animals and the natural world himself. I’d been writing poems about aquarium fish and Orson Welles’ club foot and Amelia Earhart’s missing plane; I’m sure he figured I needed to get out more. It was earnest advice, and I made an earnest effort to follow it.
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Earnest Effort to Write About Spring
I recruited my best friend for a series of walks and picnics near picturesque lakes and in rhododendron-filled parks. Though I was taking the professor’s advice seriously, I knew he wouldn’t like the poems I was writing because I couldn’t help but see spring in an unusual way. My version of spring involved describing the nearly illegible signs that must have been put up by park rangers in my grandparents’ youth, and noticing the sound of my friend’s almost-empty juice box as we finished our ham and cheese sandwiches and potato chips.
The truth is that I felt pretty down on myself. Why couldn’t I write a “real” poem about spring? I questioned my ability as a poet. When I sat at my desk on those spring evenings, thinking of Wordsworth and attempting to recollect my emotions in tranquility, images came filtered through the reality of my days, where despite the flowers and grasses and waterways, I saw the cover of the physics textbook my friend was reading as I steadily resisted the knowledge that I was falling in love with her.
Earnest Appeal to Write About Spring
All this to say: I, too, ask you to write about spring, but with a direct invitation to explore the unique and unconventional things that spring means to you.
Returning to Wordsworth, try this: take inspiration from the first two lines of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, and write a poem in which your speaker compares himself or herself to something he or she experiences or observes about spring, similar to how Wordsworth starts by having his first-person (and probably autobiographical) speaker compare himself to a cloud. You don’t have to make a comparison to something from the natural world; you might find a more fitting comparison with a car wash on the first sunny day in spring, or a windowpane during a hailstorm.
Another exercise inspired by Wordsworth would be to write a poem which includes a shift in time, such that part of the poem occurs during spring and part during another time. We don’t know for sure when the final stanza of Wordsworth’s poem is meant to take place, but we know he’s reflecting back on the springtime experience (maybe from wintertime, maybe from other springtimes...?).
For a recent poem that brings together past and present through shifts in images and metaphors, check out “9773 Comanche Avenue” by David Trinidad; the speaker shares spring-like, pastel-colored memories of his childhood home, alongside a modern-day representation of the same house through the lens of Google Maps.
Write About Spring...In Your Own Way
Spring is one of those traditionally meaningful topics that we know we’re supposed to pay attention to as poets. The idea of spring comes with a series of images and associations attached to it. I encourage you to think about spring a bit longer and from different perspectives; in other words, you might well start with typical notions about spring, but why not approach these notions in an original way that holds interest and meaning for you as an individual—and as a poet?
Amanda Laughtland is a poet and teacher who lives in the Seattle area. Her latest project is a series of short e-books of writing prompts, most recently Spring into Writing: Creative Prompts for Journaling, Poetry, and Prose.
She’s the author of a book-length collection of poems called Postcards to Box 464 (Bootstrap Press), as well as several chapbooks, including I Meant to Say, a sequence of poems inspired by personal ads.
Amanda has taught English at Edmonds Community College since 2004. Whenever she finds the time, she publishes original e-books, handmade books, and zines under her imprint, Teeny Tiny Press.