In the Corn Field, Lars Plougmann (Wikipedia Commons)
A few weeks ago, Steve Peterson approached Mary Lee Hahn and me (Jan) to see if we would participate in a collaborative poetry writing experience. After some research, he had selected the form, a renga, which he describes in this companion post on his lovely blog, Inside the Dog.
After we finished the poem, we spent about an hour in a conference call reflecting on the experience and decided to simultaneously blog about our collaboration, with each of us writing about it from a different perspective. For me, I found the form really stretched me. Because each stanza of the renga is based solely on the previous stanza, not necessarily on any central theme, the poem morphs as it progresses, making it hard to nail down.
My type A personality really struggled with working with a form that didn’t work in the ways I traditionally think of poetry working. I found myself really struggling with my need to get things “right.” We have pretty different background experiences (I know little about prairies!), and our writing styles are also pretty different. I found myself feeling like I was doing it “wrong.” As we began the process, each time it was my turn to add to the poem, I emailed Steve and Mary Lee to hand it off and would send along messages that communicated my wobbliness and insecurity. At one point, Mary Lee said, “What has happened to your growth mindset?”
So, I let go and relaxed. I began to truly trust the form, the process, and my collaborators. The final product is included below. You will notice its serpentine nature and the way clusters of stanzas fit together. The stanzas serve as a path through the poem; when you get to the other side, you are, of course, not where you started.
In the end, we found it interesting that particular lines in the poem drew different visual images for each of us. For example, while we each have different church experiences, the “peace be with wheat” section drew distinctive, strong images for each of us. We found this reader’s response aspect of our shared experience powerful and fascinating, and Mary Lee explores it much more in her blog about our collaboration at A Year of Reading.
Here’s our collaborative renga:
in the prairie dawn
a spider’s web snares the sun —
meadowlark joins the chorus
breeze bends ripening wheat heads
whose lanky bodies
bow, sun’s church–peace be with wheat
and also with corn
they gather on folding chairs,
jello melts while the preacher prays
shoulders shaking with giggles
two clouds hide the sun
even the adolescent stalks are sober today
word of fire in the neighboring field
this dark sky —
thunderheads poke fingers
at a thirsty land
near the abandoned homestead
ditch lilies toss flaming heads
who called this place home
does the ground remember
stories brought to earth
a faded calendar tacked
to the wall above the stove
try to imagine
the layers of memories
beneath the dust
how much memory is imagination
how much dust is history
sun slants through wavy glass
in the stale air
motes rise to dance
down the road, far down the road
reverberations can be felt
Margaret has the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Reflections on the Teche.