Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Writing Prompts and a Poem that Uses Eggnog as Symbol

I've been having a good poetry writing week. I wonder if it's because I'm avoiding other work. Probably not. I'm doing that work too (back to assessment documents; I wonder if they teach that type of writing/analysis/professional life in grad schools now).

I think it's because I had a few weeks of not writing poetry. I always worry when I'm not writing that I will never write again. You'd think that at some point I'd say, "Relax. You always work in cycles."

Many thanks to Sandy Longhorn, who in this post offered a nugget that led to this morning's poem: "Maybe Scrooge was actually a teacher?" And so, this morning, I thought about that idea, Scrooge as adjunct faculty in today's university. He doesn't last long.

These kind of prompts have often worked well for me. I love imagining characters in different situations. For example, here you'll see my poem that imagines the characters of To Kill a Mockingbird at midlife and beyond; in some ways I think it's one of the saddest poems I've ever written.

My Jesus in modern life poems, however, have a joyfulness that I love. At first, I hesitated to show them to anyone, much less publish them. They felt almost sacrilegious to me. But in some ways, they've proven to be the most popular of my poems. You can hear Garrison Keillor read about Jesus at the bowling alley here; it's the poem that started me down this thematic path.

So, if you're needing a poetry prompt, feel free to play with the idea of Scrooge in modern life. Are there other literary characters that we associate with this holiday time of year? Why not play with them?

Or perhaps you want to take a holiday food and see what kind of symbolism you can work into the poem. Here's one I wrote that revolves around eggnog, published here for the first time:

Homemade Eggnog

Back before we knew the fat grams of every food,
back before we worried about salmonella and other exotic
sounding creatures lurking in food, waiting to poison
us, back when eggs were the perfect food, not
cholesterol time bombs. Back in those innocent
days, we make homemade eggnog.

We do not cook the eggs. We separate
yolk from white, just as we are apart
from our families. We beat sugar into yolks
the color of sunshine, some sweetness
into the darkness of solstice days.

We whip air into the whites, we beat
them into a frenzy, the way that exams have stirred
us up, the way that school plots of our own devising
pump us full of the air of our own self-importance.

I pour cream into the mixture, cream clotted
with the richness of butterfat. In later years, I will create
cooked eggnog with skim milk, a pitiful
affair, thin and runny, not worth remembering.

We blend the fluffed whites into the sugary concoction.
Carefully, we fold until the separate ingredients
cannot be teased apart again. We dip out cups
for everyone and toast our eternal friendship.
I feel nourishment seep into every cell
as I fix the faces of my friends into my brain.

I cannot imagine a time when I will forsake
eggnog as too fatty, when I will be too busy
to create from scratch. I cannot dream
that I will lose touch with these friends, cannot fathom
the many ways in which we will betray each other.


Kathleen said...

Avoiding other work to write poetry sounds like a wonderful thing to do! And your eggnog poem made me yearn for eggnog, right up until it punched me in the heart. Wow!! That IS a powerful symbol!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for the link!

I'm still avoiding poetry by taking care of loose ends at school. Flip-flop.

LOVE the Mockingbird poem...really quite melancholy.

Kristin said...

Thank you both, for reading my melancholy poems.