Friday, November 1, 2019

national author's day challenge

The Sunday Poetry Swaggers group challenge is on again, set this month by Linda Mitchell.  Our challenge this month is to celebrate National Author's Day (as it is styled in most places online; I prefer Authors' Day) by "finding prose text or poetry you love from a published author and use it as a mentor text to write your poem. The poem doesn't have to be about an author or authorship...but it could."

I am lucky to be friends with an Irish resident of DC, Andrew Clarke, whose beautiful cottage on the family farm in County Roscommon we visited two summers ago.  We met his mum, who still lives in the farm house that has been in the Clarke family for generations, his brother Charles, who still raises cattle there, and on two other occasions now I have met Andrew's sister Jane, who is a an acclaimed poet!

Most recently I attended a reading here in DC on Monday evening; one of her 2019 books is WHEN THE TREE FALLS (Bloodaxe Books).  It includes many poems sited at the same family farm that we visited and mainly addresses the long decline of Andrew and Jane's father, but a poem that really struck me at the reading is the one titled "Polling Station [May 25th, 2018]."  Some of you may know that on that date, the Irish people voted--rather breathtakingly:

That’s it then: as those two shock exit polls predicted last night, by a margin of 66.4% for yes to 33.6% for no and on a record turnout of 64.51%, Ireland has voted to repeal the eighth amendment of its constitution, which since 1983 has effectively prohibited abortion in all bar exceptional circumstances.
Here’s is Guardian Ireland correspondent Henry McDonald’s full story on the events of a historic day, what led up to them, and what they might mean.
Here is Harriet Sherwood’s explanation of what will happen to Ireland’s abortion legislation now, and how the government’s planned new regime compares with the rest of the world.

Here's the poem:

Polling Station | Jane Clarke
May 25th 2018

In the queue up to the door of the schoolhouse
neighbours welcome sunshine after the wettest
of wet winters; spirits lift at the sight of fields

drying out, grass thickening, calves thriving,
unstoppable growth.  There's talk of young ones
speeding home to vote, swallows back to the barn.

No one asks anyone where they'll place their X--
every family has stories, left like ploughs
and harrows among thistles behind the sheds.


Wow--do I admire this poem.  Rooted in the shared natural rhythms and routines of farm life, Jane deftly, deeply conveys the powerful emotion of this referendum for Ireland's women (and the men who also voted), and the way that public policy can be  quietly, momentously changed by very private stories.

I love the extended metaphor, of the wet winter giving way to grass thickening, unstoppable growth, swallows back to the barn, of great and ordinary change.  But the soaring moment here is the lowdown gut punch of the last two lines:

"every family has stories, left like ploughs
and harrows among thistles behind the sheds."

What a simple simile in the first line, which then turns, with the addition of harrows left among the gorgeous, thorny pink-purple thistles, out of sight behind the outbuildings, to hulkingly painful, prickly secrets, shames, sadnesses.  What can I take from this mentor text?


Lyft Driver
October 11, 2019

He's bearded, black, a little older than I,
gracious. Reminds me of Barack, somehow.
He's wearing earbuds--doesn't need, like 
some of them do, to chat.  And at the end
of a long week, I don't think I need to chat either.  
Except--"I'm going to an extraordinary event," I say.

William takes out his earbuds, finds me in
the rear view mirror. "What kind?" he says.

"It's a celebration of the investiture of a friend,
after years of waiting, as an immigration judge.
And it's extra special because my friend is a 
cigar-smoking Cuban immigrant butch lesbian
little person. Her approval as a judge feels like 
a move forward at a time when most things feel 
like they're moving backwards."

My driver turns off the main road towards downtown,
heads into a neighborhood I've never driven through.  
Will this detour make me late, or does he know 
where he's going?

He says, "Well, I've been black my whole life, 
and to me this moment doesn't feel so terribly
backwards.  It only feels that way to people 
who thought everything was going fine before."

I roll down my window for more fresh air.
I have no idea where we are, but William's 
navigation app--full of redlined traffic jams
we can't really avoid--shows what time 
we'll arrive: just a little later than we hoped.

flashdraft ©Heidi Mordhorst 2019


You can tell it's a flashdraft because it's way longer than Jane's poem, which means it needs way more work.  I'm a little sad it's not a big nature metaphor because, you know, NATURE. But occasional Friday evening Lyft rides to downtown (so we can take the Metro home together) are part of the rhythm and routine of my real city life.  Thanks to Jane for the inspiration, and thanks to Linda for the challenge.  You can find the rest of the Sunday Poetry Swaggers' work here:

Catherine Flynn @ Reading to the Core
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

And our host today is Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference, who reminds us that indeed, spending a lot of time with people who challenge and inspire you will change your life!  (Or even a little time, in a Lyft.)


  1. Oh, Heidi. I don't care that it's still in draft form. This captures a moment for me that is special. What a wonderful description of how you came to your mentor text and how it impacted you and how it meant something to you as you captured anticipation of an extraordinary event from two different perspectives in a flash. Bravo! And, I would love to meet your friend someday.

  2. Your flash draft takes us to a real moment where two people share their hopes and dreams, and in a Lyft, go figure! You capture the moment with all its poignancy.

  3. I love your post from top to bottom! Jane's poem just gets richer with re-reading. Maybe you could make yours shorter, but I'm not sure you can make it as short as hers. If you do, it would be interesting/instructive to show us again.

  4. I so enjoyed your intro, Heidi, learning the back story of this poet, Jane, then reading her lovely poem of reflection and really joy. Then you smacked me with truth in your poem. Two stories, far apart, but then also teaching, right? I've had more than one conversation with Uber drivers, stories they were willing to share so I could know them a little more, perhaps.

  5. What a rich post, Heidi. As others have commented, learning how you chose your mentor added another level of enjoyment to your post. Jane's poem is a deeply rewarding read, and I can see why you chose it, even without the personal connection. Your poem, albeit longer than you'd like, really capture that moment between you and the driver. I think your last two stanzas pack their own "gut punch."

  6. This is a superb post, Heidi. Both poems leave me feeling unsettled in a way only the best poetry can. I agree with Tabatha about the length of your poem. Don't cut too much; the details you've included really drive that last phrase home!

  7. Holy smokes! I'm still gobsmacked by this stanza,
    He says, "Well, I've been black my whole life,
    and to me this moment doesn't feel so terribly
    backwards. It only feels that way to people
    who thought everything was going fine before."


  8. Wow. Those last two lines of your poem leave me gobsmacked. It packs as much of a punch as the last lines of Jane's poem.

  9. I love seeing the mentor text poems and your response to them - this is not the first one I have seen while visiting Poetry Friday posts - absolutely well done! :)

  10. Such interesting commentary comes out of this poem–which you may have never heard had you not opened up with that first line–you/he gives us so much to think about. Hope to see this again if you revise it, thanks Heidi.

  11. Speaking of late, I'm REALLY late to this post, but so glad to make the detour. That poem of Jane Clarke's is just stunning. And your poem - as they always do - makes me ponder and reflect and appreciate the connections you conjure up, seemingly effortlessly (but as a writer, I know better). Thanks for all!


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!