Yesterday, I met with a group of colleagues who write poems. We had a prompt of 3 words (milk, crowded, eye) and we gathered with our poems. We had Santa Lucia bread and coffee. I'm lucky to work in an environment where it's OK to gather around bread and coffee to read poems. Very lucky.
I wrote haiku-like things (haiku in the sense of syllabics, but very little else). I envisioned them as separate units. As we talked about them, we realized that they also work together as a single poem.
Here's what I wrote:
A film of milky
tears forms in my sinus ducts
crowded my eye weeps.
My eye weeps tears of
milk. Allergic reaction
to crowded pine boughs.
The world, too crowded;
my eye revolts with mucous
tears, a film of milk.
One woman brought a poem she had written earlier as she worked on a painting. Was it also in response to T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" or did it just reference it? I can't remember.
We talked about Eliot and his mad wife, Viv. We talked about Zelda Fitzgerald and F. Scott. We speculated about the role of the poet and the mentally unstable partner.
And then, one women printed a copy of "The Hollow Men," and we read it out loud. We took turns. It was so amazing!
One of the reasons I've always said that I love teaching is that it's one of few professions that allows me to read poetry out loud. But I'm always the one reading it. I had almost forgotten how wonderful it is to hear others read it. I don't have students read because I understand that so few of them like to read out loud--they're just not skilled that way, and I can't bear to have the poems butchered.
We talked about what the poem means. Having just written my essay about female poets and the world of work, I was inclined to see the hollow men as corporate suits, hollow inside. One of my colleagues saw the hollow men as scarecrows. We also talked about the hollow men as guides on the way to the spirit world.
We now have our new writing prompt. We will write a poem in response to "The Hollow Men." Maybe I'll write several, or maybe, like Eliot, I'll write some shorter pieces that link together. I noticed that at the end Eliot uses this line: "For Thine is the Kingdom." I started making notes about what I'd like to include: a bit of John the Baptist ("I am not the Messiah"), a bit of Isaiah (so much to choose from) and perhaps a bit from the child's book Madeline, since at my workplace, we spent a great deal of time talking about the importance of 2 straight lines for graduation (I created a line that references a different Eliot poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": "I am not Miss Clavell nor was meant to be").
We talked about whether or not we're all Prufrock now. I've been feeling a bit of despair, only alleviated a bit by watching It's a Wonderful Life. We talked about that movie and its theme that every life is important.
Oh, how I yearn to believe that it is. Sometimes, though, it's so hard "in this hollow valley / in this broken jaw of our lost kingdoms." I translate that piece of "The Hollow Men" as being about the death of our dreams, but perhaps it's more literal.
You might think that Eliot doesn't fit with the holiday season, but coming from a liturgical angle, I'd say he's perfect for Advent. Eliot will never be my favorite, but yesterday, to hear that poem and talk about his work--it was grand!
Everyday Poetry at Radio Free Nashville
3 weeks ago