Friday, April 3, 2020

poetry friday: #shelterinpoetry

Hello farflung poets, teachers and lovers of poetry...
all is at a standstill, and yet you have arrived. 

Linda Mitchell of A Word Edgewise has challenged the Sunday Swaggers to participate in the #ShelterInPoems project, which asks us to "share a poem that helps to find courage, solace and actionable energy, and a few words about how or why it does so." Then we were to write a companion poem.

Their suggestion is to use one of the many wonderful poems on the site, but as I rearranged my Library Lounge at home to become Zoom-worthy "PreK Online," I found a sheltery poem in a Billy Collins book I received as a birthday gift.

Have you, like me, noticed many people looking back fondly, in their confinement to better times?  Looking back to when all the grays were covered, when the children were small and adorable, when we could go places side-by-side, or go places at all?  People are sheltering in the past.

Nostalgia | Billy Collins
     from Questions About Angels (1991)

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.

You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
N for no, S for school
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.


Are those Facebook folks looking at old photos also thinking, like me, a little about the future, "that place/where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine"?  

Other people have sheltered in ignorance and selfishness, walking about with their heads and hearts  in the sand.  But, as my minister said a couple weeks ago:


And we should be brave about it!  I thought very briefly about the companion poem I might write, and then I found this poem by H.D.  I thought about what we are learning even as we shelter in place.  When all this is past, will we remember that to live "wadded in cloth...smothered in straw" might not be better than to "taste of frost—the exquisite frost," than to "find a new beauty/ in some terrible/wind-tortured place"?

Sheltered Garden | H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)

I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.

Every way ends, every road,
every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest—
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,

I have had enough—
border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
herbs, sweet-cress.

O for some sharp swish of a branch—
there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
aromatic, astringent—
only border on border of scented pinks.

Have you seen fruit under cover
that wanted light—
pears wadded in cloth,
protected from the frost,
melons, almost ripe,
smothered in straw?

Why not let the pears cling
to the empty branch?
All your coaxing will only make
a bitter fruit—
let them cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
with a russet coat.

Or the melon—
let it bleach yellow
in the winter light,
even tart to the taste—
it is better to taste of frost—
the exquisite frost—
than of wadding and of dead grass.

For this beauty,
beauty without strength,
chokes out life.
I want wind to break,
scatter these pink-stalks,
snap off their spiced heads,
painting by Gregoire Boonzaier
fling them about with dead leaves—
spread the paths with twigs,
limbs broken off,
trail great pine branches,
hurled from some far wood
right across the melon-patch,
break pear and quince—
leave half-trees, torn, twisted
but showing the fight was valiant.

O to blot out this garden
to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
wind-tortured place.


You can see other Swaggers' responses to the box challenge at their blogs:

-Catherine at Reading to the Core -Margaret at Reflections on the Teche -Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone
-Linda at A Word Edgewise

I hope you all find some #ShelterInPoems this month, or that you unwrap yourself (metaphorically) and step into some valiant fight.  For my part, now that I have my own personal YouTube channel, I'm going to celebrate National Poetry Month by posting a video reading of one of my own poems each day (starting tomorrow when I have recovered from a massive overload of distance-learning screen time).  Do you perhaps have a favorite to request?

AND NOW...the Round-Up.  Add your link, and be well, friends.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter


  1. Bring back the brocade and sonnet marathons!!

    Thanks for sharing both of these, Heidi - and for hosting! Your garden sounds like a wonderful place to shelter within.

  2. Heidi, I love the Collins poem! All those little details that made those times what they were. And, the dance in the future. And, I love that exquisite IS better. But, the sadness is there too. Wanting to get past this...being done. I need to read this poem a few times to let it work its magic on me. Thank you for hosting!

  3. Oh, I LOVE these choices, Heidi - I needed the laughs/insights from Billy Collins, the wildness of H.D. And, can it be that we are doing the EXACT same thing for Poetry Month? I'm doing a poem of mine every weekday in April on my YouTube Channel that I just re-found & dusted off but had never used before. (I'm doing poems for kids on M,W,F and haiku that's suitable for kids on T, Th.) I will look for your channel, esp. now that I have a new one too! :0) Thanks for rounding us up, and Happy Poetry Month!

  4. Hi, Heidi. Oh, H.D. and those melons, and pears, and flowers. I can't wait for summer. Thank you for this rich, juicy poem today.

  5. I love that Collins poem, and I've heard him read it aloud twice--fabulous! Thanks for hosting, and hope your YouTube Channel goes wonderfully!

  6. Heidi, you know how dearly I love Billy Collins, and I love this one. :) Love the H.D., too. Thanks for hosting this week.

  7. Thanks for sheltering us in this lovely post of poems– I love the Billy Collins poem reflecting back, and your image at the top. Looking forward to dropping by your YouTube Channel… I've been prepping for 3 online classes coming up–boy it's a lot of work and a lot of screen time–I feel for you here. Well wishes to you and your family Heidi, xo.

  8. I am reading a book about the night through history, 'At Day's End'. Billy Collins certainly knows history. Thanks for hosting us in your shelter, Heidi. I'm glad to have such a haven.

  9. I can hear "Nostalgia" in Billy Collins' voice (I'm wondering if maybe he read it on Prairie Home Companion once and that's why I can hear it?) Thanks for sharing these two and for hosting, Heidi. Wishing you as smooth a transition as possible to your zoomy Pre-K online.

  10. Thanks for hosting Heidi and for such well chosen poems. Like others, I especially connected with "the future, that place
    where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine".

  11. Thank you for offering such a welcoming poetry shelter right here, Heidi! Love the poems you shared (especially the Billy Collins) and I'm looking forward to listening you read your own work this month.

  12. Heidi, it seems to me that the opening lines of H.D. poem is filled with what we now see: "I have had enough.
    I gasp for breath" as we Shelter In Place. Thank you for both poems and your pastor's thoughts. I started writing poetry during the last few weeks that #ShelterInPlace has been in effect in NYS. What the future holds, I do not know but the scare is real. My son came home from work last week with pink eye in one eye. He got medicine but we watched, waited , and prayed that it was no more than this. So far our prayers were answered and while he recovered his days at work are not happening until the virus scare is over. I will come back and post tomorrow. Thanks for hosting.

  13. Oh, how we all need the comfort of poetry, not to mention "courage, solace and actionable energy!" I enjoyed both poems and look forward to your videos. Thank you for hosting!

  14. The discipline and the joy of poetry was my buffer from the overwhelming events of recent weeks, Heidi. I'm thinking of all my American friends every time I hear news updates. Take care, each and every one of you.

  15. Thanks for hosting, Heidi! And thank you for Billy's poem, especially. I love the lines:
    "I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
    where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
    a dance whose name we can only guess."
    I'm sheltering in place choreographing my future dance. :)

  16. I was recently involved in a podcast where we were discussing the capacity of poetry to deliver in so many different ways to enhance the human spirit. Your focus on poetry as providing shelter is a further example of poetry's immense power. So, thank you Heidi for extending my personal perspectives. Always appreciate Billy Collins, so I am doubly thankful. In these challenging days, shelter in every sense of the word is critical, so these words are extremely apt. Days of solitude, rather than isolation are what we need. Be well.Be safe.

  17. I love the idea of "shelter in poetry." That is beautiful. Thanks for hosting this week!

  18. OH yes, I am finding shelter in poetry, and both of these offer strength and courage. On walks with my daughter, we try to imagine the future we would like to see grow from this current crisis. That Doolittle poem, especially, I will take with me. Best wishes as you transition to online classes with your PreK group. Our governor here in IN just moved all K12 schools in our state to online for the rest of the year. I know my former colleagues and other teachers like you are moving heaven and earth to make it the best it can be for your students. Thank you.

  19. Yes to sheltering in poetry! Had not seen that Billy Collins poem before (wow!). And H.D. is totally new to me (again, wow!). Thanks for the much needed balm to the current state of affairs. The power and hope of words will sustain us. And thanks for all you're doing for your students and for hosting this week!

  20. Dear Heidi - thank you. I do believe that's one definition of poetry: that place where the beautiful and terrible meet. xo

  21. Sending love from Haiti, friend. Thank you for hosting! Thank you for teaching Pre-K! Thank you for just existing!

  22. Molly Hogan says:
    Heidi, I'm a big fan of Billy Collins but this piece is new-to-me. I enjoyed the journey through the centuries. These lines "I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
    where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
    a dance whose name we can only guess." carry so much weight now.

    And HD's magnificent poem packed with powerful emotion...each reading yields more riches. These lines especially spoke to me:
    "to find a new beauty
    in some terrible
    wind-tortured place."
    I, too, am gasping for breath, hoping there will be beauty after the storm.

  23. Hi Heidi! I love the Billy Collins poem and I appreciate the talking to from your minister: "THIS IS WHERE WE ARE,
    Thanks for hosting!

  24. Thank you, Heidi, for sharing your minister's wisdom and these two poems I so needed. I am bookmarking so many poems on Twitter these days day I will sit in quiet and copy them all by hand. Lots of love and health to you and yours. xxxx

  25. Thanks for hosting this week! Our nostalgia moment is remembering saying goodbye to our families after breakfast, shoving an apple or PB&J in our pocket, and heading out into the neighborhood with friends for the day. All our parents asked was that we were back in time for dinner. Oh the good old days. Be well, friend. -- Christie @

  26. Thank you for hosting today, Heidi, and helping us "find a new beauty" in this new place we find ourselves. I love "Nostalgia" and Billy Collins's certainty that no matter what, in the future there will be dancing. Can't wait to tune into your YouTube channel!

    1. That reminds me of Brecht:
      Will there be singing
      In the dark times?
      Yes, there will be singing
      About the dark times.

  27. Thanks for sharing Billy Collins' poem. The first line makes me laugh--Remember the 1340s? Well, of course, who doesn't--or maybe that was March I'm thinking of. But I agree with your minister--this is where we are! And the HD poem--well, I need to think about that one, but the images are so lush!
    Thanks for hosting this week, too--and letting me know about Shelter in Poems.

  28. Thanks for hosting us. Poetry Friday has and will always be a #sheltering place for me. LOVE the Billy Collins, and gratitude to your minister for that pithy reminder to stay present in the moment. **breathe in...breathe out**

  29. Thank you these two lovely poems and for hosting this week. I am new to poetry Friday and am enjoying it. More than ever, we need to be reminded of the beauty in our world.

  30. "to find a new beauty
    in some terrible
    wind-tortured place."
    That is my quest. And you know what? I'm finding it with my Poetry Friday friends. Thanks for hosting, Heidi. I'm planning to work my way through everyone's post. I'll "start at the very beginning," even if it takes all week to get to get to everyone.

  31. Thanks, for sharing these two poems, Heidi, and for hosting. I do find myself looking at the past these days through old photographs of ancestors. I am working on a project imagining their lives through poems. It's a project that I've been meaning to find the time for, and now is the time since time is now our gift.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!