Friday, March 6, 2020

sunday swaggers question themselves

It's the first Friday of the month and so the members of our critique group once again have a challenge before them:  to write a question poem.  That is all the guidance our friend Margaret Simon has given us!

Now I like a prescribed form as much as the next poet, for its opportunity to stretch my skills within defined boundaries, but as I note in this piece (which I wrote back in 2011 and have just rediscovered!) free verse is my jam.  So Margaret's challenge is a nice one for me, since I may pose my question/s in whatever form the poem itself seems to demand.  To me a poem is not a poem unless it can show off its shapeliness, unless it operates by some detectable pattern or principle that becomes constraining even if it then breaks free by the end.

I wonder if this poem, written for Laura Shovan's February Poetry Project on February 14th, meets that criterion.  I myself posted the photo and the prompt, which was "MELT IT."


Meanwhile, I have begun a poetry collaboration with a 5th grader, Nathan Zennia, whom I taught in 2nd grade.  Poetry just oozes out of him wherever he goes, so I suggested a shared Google Doc and we've been poeting back and forth.  Here's our current exchange...

Some Questions

HM What is it like to be an only child?

NZ Don’t know, I never was. I imagine freedom, 
more love than anything in the world. 

HM No, I never was. What is freedom?

NZ Freedom is the wind blowing on my face,
while my dad hugs me on the boardwalk
next to the great big ocean.

HM The loose wind of the world, the tight hold of a hug.
Is freedom made of push and pull?

NZ Something like that. Freedom can be
being set free, or it could be the opposite,
something holding you back.

How do you see the world?
A meaningless piece of rock,
a speck of dust in the ever growing universe?
Or something more?

HM Something more, something more.  
The rock makes meaning as it breaks from the soil,
as it is built and falls from the human wall,
as it crumbles into dust carried by the wind.

NZ That wind, what does it feel like
as it carries the dust into the great big galaxy?

And finally, I was wondering last night:

We poets, are we not the posers
of answers rather than questions?

You come to us for our philosophies
of blades of grass and breaking glass,
of blaring joy and ominous birds,
and surely our job is to answer, like
oracles dropping flowers on the water
from our coracles woven of words.

We poets are paddlers, leaving you,
leading you to the answers, not
leaking a trail of questions like
bread crumbs along the path only
to be eaten, to take up rain, to sink 
slowly toward the bottom, nibbled
by fishes along the way.  

Is it not so, that we poets are here to
tidily bundle up the salty grains of truth?

©Heidi Mordhorst 2020


Don't forget to visit the rest of the Swaggers to see what "question poem" means to each of them, and thanks to Rebecca for hosting at Sloth Reads this week!


  1. Wow! Heidi, this post is rich in word and thoughts. Collaborating with a 5th grade poet. How lucky you are. I love the questions back and forth between you. Such a connection you've made to this young person. You know I love 'she creates our core' and I'm delighted by question of whether we poets are posers or true questioners. A long time ago, a dear friend of mine said, you make me tired with all your questions. I never knew that not everyone had as many questions as I held in my brain. I didn't know I was a poet yet. Isn't that funny? I do leave questions as breadcrumbs. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I learn so much from you!

  2. I love your oracles and coracles, your questions and answers. Thank you!

  3. Heidi, what fun to see the "Some Questions" poem you're writing with a student. You'll have to share the results when he asks the questions. I like thinking of poets as paddlers too.

  4. I loved the earlier poem from Feb., Heidi & the picture, too, is precious. That you are writing together with a former student makes me smile, that back & forth a grand conversation. Then, your final beautful poem with breadcrumbs reminds me of a quote by William Carlos Williams: "“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

    1. That is a very wonderful *uote indeed, Linda. Making a note of it!

  5. Love the first poem (last stanza especially) -- fabulous pic! Your second poem is very thought provoking. I do think poets offer answers. Also some questions, too, posing possibilities we may not have considered. Like your collaboration with Nathan, too :)!

  6. How cool that Nathan is oozing poetry! I especially like "I imagine freedom,
    more love than anything in the world" and "That wind, what does it feel like
    as it carries the dust into the great big galaxy?"
    "Coracles" is a wonderful word, particularly here. Also I like "We poets are paddlers, leaving you,
    leading you to the answers"

    1. Forgot to mention that Redbone's Come and Get Your Love made me smile :-)

  7. I didn't know how to start my response to this post, Heidi. But as I read and reread, this appeared:

    A thread unwinds from a heroine's hands:
    daily heart work, doling out love,
    wrapping others in questions
    that feel like a hug,
    that make this world
    something more that a piece of rock.
    A thread unwinds,
    then tidily bundles up
    the salty grains of truth.

    1. Catherine! Look at you gathering all the threads and wrapping up the three strands of my post into a beautiful braid! Love "something more than a piece of rock" at the center. Thank you for your attentive reading, friend.

  8. Wow! This is an amazing post on so many levels, Heidi. Your poetic prowess is on full display--responding to a challenge, nourishing poetry, and whipping off a thought-provoking poem that digs deeper into it all. Through all of these your mastery of word play and subtle layering of meaning shimmers. Wow!

  9. This post is such tall glass overflowing with poetry goodness. You're nourishing us, Heidi. Thank you!

  10. This is an amazing array of poems and I love the Q & A with Nathan, Heidi. I think you exceeded the quest to pen a question poem and left me in awe of your keen ability to create.

  11. Lots of poems begetting more poems here Heidi. Love the exchange between you and your former philosophical poetic student–wow. And thanks for "tidily bundl(ing) up the salty grains of truth?"


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!