In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a personal reason for these "working out our poetry chops" exercise posts. I am writing a libretto for an opera. So, exploring forms and tightening up my skill are both on the menu, as well as the reasons I outlined in last week's Sestina post in regard to why we are doing this. Although, having said that, we are going to depart briefly this week from strict forms and focus a bit on themes.
We are about to write an elegy. The elegy is one of the old forms of poetry. It is, put simply, a poem of mourning (which should go far in explaining why humans have been writing them for so long). Although there was a long period where people wrote elegies on the subject of love, don't let's muddy the waters that we are preparing to bathe in. Ron Padgett clears this up (and defines the difference from an epitaph) by saying that an elegy is mourning for something that is past, gone, or lost.
There is a classical elegiac form: Four lines stanzas, iambics, rhymed abab at the end of each line. I am not going to be using that form strictly speaking, but it always helps to have these things in the very back of one's consciousness when writing these things. Which is how I tend to do it myself. I get the key concepts and try to park it somewhere in the same zip-code as those concepts. I think next week I'll try to work within a stricter form and see what we come up with there. You are certainly welcome to write an elegy in the classical manner if you so choose.
The looser view of the structure of an elegy traditionally begins with the thesis, that which is being mourned, then the lamenting portion of the poem, and finally some form of resolution over that which is mourned. Keeping that in mind, let us write an elegy! Again, you can post yours in the comments here, or on Facebook if you would like, or keep it to yourself, burn it, bury it in a mayonnaise jar in the backyard, sell it to The New Yorker, whatever you want.
by Paul Mathers
Mourn we now the little glories lost.
The ticking sands of dailiness
that make up a life, discarded for more
dazzling, flashy peaks of moments,
no more real or valid than the mundane.
Child tired on cold medicine held
over mother's shoulder facing me
one row up in church. She watches me
my double chin wagging in baritone hymnody.
Absolutely fascinated for the moment.
I recall once telling six year old niece
that she wouldn't remember this conversation.
She would grow, recall childhood home,
that memory like a sieve on the beach
which holds stones like death and amusement parks
and a few odd large grits of sand
like when I looked in the teacher's lounge
Mr. Crabtree's sing-song voice saying
"You don't belong over here!" Thirty years gone.
Why is that still in my brain?
But this conversation would be lost forever.
"Had I but time--as this fell sergeant, Death,
Is strict in his arrest--O, I could tell you."
Theology may exist as the dim hope
that someone reliable is keeping track.
These grasping lost moments pile on my chest,
the weight of years like my high blood pressure.
The brutal oddity of my singing
viewed through child eyes on cold medicine
Is already gone for her. Not for me
as I write it here for you, pick my toenail,
prepare to mow lawn, cough, hiccup,
smell lentils, sound of Laurie playing Billie Holiday,
look at the ceiling fan's rotating
shadow on the wall from two rooms over
dot dot dot