Poetic Influences

Snow tracks

“How do poems come to be?”

I was invited to answer that question recently. After a decade of writing poems, I could honestly answer, “Any which-way.” Today’s “Trading Partners” is a good example. It derived from the crow tracks pictured above. Other influences can be tracked as well…

Challenge helps.  My poetry group president this week—obviously influenced by our latest cold snapchallenged members to write a poem inspired by Robert Service’s saga, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Kate sent us the text and a link to a video of Johnny Cash performing it. So that poem’s glorious silliness was running through my head for hours, along with its distinctive rhythm.

Experience helps. I ventured out in sub-freezing weather this afternoon for a bracing walk. We’d had a dusting of snow overnight and animal tracks were easily visible. The interweaving of crow and dog tracks suggested to my imagination a rendezvous and dance. When I returned to the warmth of my house and kitchen, these lines insisted on being written down:

the dogs take snuff–
they can’t get enough
nor the crows
enough of dancing
well, the snuff’s for show–
purely bluff, you know
all its value’s in the trading
now the crow’s a thief–
that’s the world’s belief
but, trust this,
dogs know better.
but just like pups
they get a thrill
from a risque reputation

Persistence helps, Because then the words petered out. In fact, they began doing that about halfway through as the logical part of my mind began to worry whether reason and rhyme. After supper, I worked things out to my satisfaction. Here is the result, along with a photo of the snow-dance prints:

Combined crow and dog snowprints


The dogs take snuff—
they can’t get enough,
nor the crows enough of dancing.
Well, the snuff’s for show
(purely bluff, you know;
valued just for refinancing).       

Now a crow’s a thief;
that’s the world’s belief,
but the dogs, of course, know better.
Opportunists, yes,
but you’d never guess:
they observe all laws to the letter.

So it’s honest trade
with the friends they’ve made—
and snuff they trade aplenty.
The going rate
to dogs, of late,
for a sniff of snuff is twenty.

Twenty howls or more
will even the score
or a promise to go dancing,
for the crows, you know,
in sun or snow
find dancing most entrancing.

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Enjoyment helps. Is the poem I wrote completely logical? Is its rhythm completely symmetrical? No. Was it a fun romp? Yes. (And it’s still a draft.) I’m not sure how tightly Robert Service managed these technicalities. I do know that, when I saw that word “moil” in his second line, my heart flipped. What a great, pithy word!

Timing helps. December was a rather sparse month for me, as far as pithy poems go. January will develop “any which-way.” Poem-writing has much in common with bio-rhythms, I think. All kinds of processes are involved; their trajectories rise, fall, wax, and wane. This creates evolving patterns of influence. Kate, Robert, and Johnny added their influences to today’s choreography, for example. And now you have joined the dance; you help too. ♥ ~Jo

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Photo credits: All by Jo Lightfoot

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