Do you get Poets & Writers magazine?
I’ve found some surprising and helpful insights in Poets & Writers, especially in the first-person essays on writing. One very memorable example is (Jan/Feb 2016) Tom Spanbauer’s “Dangerous Writing: Go to Your Battlefield”. – More on that another time! Plus: the P&W website has its own writing prompts on a webpage called The Time Is Now, with different prompts for nonfiction, fiction, or poetry. Check it out if you’re looking for something new to write!
This month I found an intriguing article on poet Gwendolyn Brooks‘s award in 1950, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Brooks was the first African-American poet to receive the Pulitzer, and the article provides an intriguing analysis of the circumstances and forces leading to her receiving the award (“Anatomy of a Pulitzer Prize Letter”).
After I read the P&W article, I wanted to read some of Gwendolyn Brooks’s poetry. What was the poetry in her book Annie Allen that caught the imagination of the poetry establishment? So, I checked out Gwendolyn Brooks’s first two books from the library, Annie Allen (1950) and A Street in Bronzeville (1945). In her first book I found the poem “a song in the front yard.” It called to me, as though inviting me to write my own poem after hers; here is an excerpt of Brooks’s poem:
a song in the front yard
I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose. . . .
If you have ever been tantalized by the idea of writing a poem like another poet’s work, you’ll know what I mean about being drawn in by the language, by the emotion, of the poem – so much that you want to try it yourself.
Here is my poem, after “a song in the front yard.”
a song in the back yard
(after Gwendolyn Brooks)
I’ve stayed in the back yard all my life.
I want a peek at the front
Where it’s bold and lively and the world rolls by.
A girl gets tired of the weeds.
I want to go in the front yard now
And maybe waltz down the sidewalk to the corner
To where the street buskers sing
I want a good time today.
They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My family sneers but I say it’s okay
How they sing a song that makes me say
My mother, she has a beautiful smile
My father, he keeps us safe a long while
That I am both and neither of them at the same time
On account of I am my own.
When I hear that song at the street corner
And see the world going by
I’d like to be there when the light catches fire
And wear the brave face of artist gone wild.
In my poem I take the opposite view to the one in Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem – she wanted to be in the back yard, in the rough and untended world – while I wanted to be in the front yard, where everything happens on the street. Isn’t it interesting that, in both of our poems, the narrator wants to go and see more of life?
Are you a back-yard person or a front-yard person? Do you long to be in the front yard, where things are orderly and formal, where everything you do is visible to passersby? Or do you prefer going into the back yard, sheltered from public eyes, where you can play to your imagination’s delight and no one passes judgment on you?