How Lyn Writes Poetry:”September, Illinois, 21st Century”

It’s time to change wardrobe again.
Put the shorts, the tank tops, the sun-dresses in a box
put the box in the closet
Put the long pants, the sweaters, the dresses that hang
in the drawers and on the hangers
Tell yourself it’s still worth it to hold on to the cloth
you dutifully packed away in April
even though it didn’t fit then
even though it doesn’t fit now
it will fit someday.
You are a woman of the Midwest.
You carry these clothes like a donkey carries its master:
spitefully.

It’s time to change trees again.
Put the green leaves and the late blossoms in a box
put the box in your memories
Put the red leaves, the orange leaves, the yellow leaves
on the branches that hate their brown fate
Tell yourself it’s still worth it to hold on to the bodies
that wither, that fade, that will always die
as long as matter cycles
as long as energy flows
you will die, too, someday.
You are a woman of the Midwest.
You love these trees like a mother loves her children:
bittersweetly.

It’s time to change time again.
Put the sun that beats like your heart in a box
put the box in a universe
Put the understanding, the rhythm, the sense
into your little handful of the great ocean
Tell yourself it’s still worth it to look for meaning
when you know it’s beyond arbitrary
when no meter is metric
when your brain is the only standard for WHEN
when sanity is as fragile as stained glass, filtering the light.
You are a woman of the Midwest.
You know these truths like a philosopher knew them, long before you breathed:
skeptically.

Commentary

I decided earlier today that I wanted to write a poem about September. I wanted to try to capture the spirit of this particular time of year, which is probably known best in most of the US for being the first full month of school. It’s also known for being autumn. But as soon as I thought about that, there rose the concomitant thought that what I know as autumn might be a completely different experience in a different climate. I have spent virtually my entire life in the broadleaf forest and prairie regions of the Midwest. My time in other climates has been limited to the spans of vacations. And the more I thought about how my experience of autumn has been influenced by the climate I know from personal experience, the more I started thinking about how my experience of autumn has been drastically influenced by living in the Information Age of Western civilization, in the most prosperous nation of the world. Sure, if I want to be poetic, I can think of September as the start of harvest season – but I’ve never actually participated in a harvest bigger than my mother’s vegetable patch when I was growing up (and even that she mostly did herself).

My thoughts turned from the question of What can I write about September? to What does September mean TO ME? I instantly retitled the poem in my head, which had initially been called something as generic as “Summer’s End”. I decided to challenge myself to capture the essence of September as I personally had known it. To do what I could to avoid abstract generalities.

In trying to face this challenge, I remembered very quickly that I think in generalities much of the time. I think it’s a consequence of being an “N” personality type in the Myers-Briggs system. My default preference is to take a top-down approach and explore how what I consider to be basic principles or fundamental truths apply to a situation (as opposed to a bottom-up or deductive approach where the observer starts with the details and tries to figure out the principles from there). So I modified my challenge to myself, and rather than attempting to avoid generalities, I tried to give my personal slant on them. Instead of trying to express a truth for all of humanity, I tried to express a truth as I saw it.

I knew as I was writing that I was going to use a three-stanza structure and that the first two stanzas were going to be about how September impacts me personally: I have to change out my summer clothes with my winter clothes, and the trees that I see as I drive down the road are different colors than they were in summertime. I didn’t realize until I started writing the second stanza that I would want to repeat the structure of the first one so strictly. That happened mostly because I originally wanted to draw a parallel between a woman changing her wardrobe and the figure of “Mother Nature” changing what trees look like… but halfway through the stanza I decided it would be more fun to use the poetic conceit of the same person who starred in the first stanza having active control over the cycles of nature. And it was this conceit that allowed me to figure out what the third stanza should be about. In addition to the wardrobe (the personal) and the trees (the world), to me, September is most clearly identified as a time of change, period (the cosmos). It’s about the phenomenon of transition. I decided to telescope out as high as I could go – with the knowledge that I will always have a limit to my understanding, even if that limit is the sky.

Specific lines worth commenting on: surprisingly, there aren’t any lines that really stand out to me in this one. I don’t think any of them display significantly more advanced vocabulary or are used more skillfully than any other. I wanted to use common language and to find beauty in the mundane with this one. I guess maybe the fact that no line strikes me as particularly remarkable signifies that (in my mind at least) they work together well as a whole?

One thought on “How Lyn Writes Poetry:”September, Illinois, 21st Century”

  1. The meter isn’t the same, but the lyrics of the song and the text of the poem resonated with me, and so I had to share.

    I’m not the best at critiquing poetry outside a few formalized styles (Villainelle, Iambic Pentameter, Haiku, and limericks of both kinds) but I know what resonates with me, and this one clicked with Doomtree’s bittersweet style.

    Also, I like Doomtree.

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