Some questions. But do you know the answers?
Almost everyone has sprawled on a grassy hill or mountain meadow. Or simply sat on the ground in a backyard. Have you ever knelt, gently parted the grass with your hands, and looked to see what you might overwise have never seen? The sprouting seedling, with its neck curled to the sun, an earthworm keeping my yard green, a sugar ant scaling a blade of grass, a 1987 penny: yesterday in my front yard. In less than thirty seconds I looked upon a hidden world, right under my feet. Same thing, but use a magnifying glass! What all do you, might you, can you SEE?Without looking, do you know whether the last time whoever mowed the grass went back and forth, up and down or diagonal? Why not? Do the daffodils need cutting back, has the last tulip bloomed, and were your lilacs caught by the cold this spring? Do you know?
Without looking, do you know if it is sunny or cloudy outside? Is the sky a bowl of brilliant blue or pale whitish blue? Do clouds shuttle across, great sails of billowy white or are they multiple shades of threatening grey? Are there mare’s tails, or is it, perhaps a mackerel sky? Are there a million pricks of light or a blanket of thick clouds? What phase is the moon in? Is it a child’s fingernail clipping or a fish-bellies moon? Have you seen the space station skittering across the sky? Do you know? Have you?
Have you looked to appreciate the diamond glitters of dew catching the morning sun on the grass? Do you know if the birdfeeders are empty or full? Do you have one? What birds come to feed? Have the bluebirds returned? The hummingbirds? Do the goldfinches have their summer colors yet? Did you notice how the calls of the robins, cardinals, and blue jays have changed? Have you seen? Have you noticed?
Have you ever found a bench to sit on and relax in town and simply watched the throng pass by? Are they staring at their phones or looking where they are going? Do they ever look up to catch the colors of a morning sky or notice a checkerboard of contrails? Do they stride or stroll? Can they tell, without even looking, when the crowd pauses for the light as if part of a school of minnows? Do they notice the world around them or are they secure in their little bubble? Are they busy talking? Do they even hear the car horns, the clack and stomp and shuffle of feet on a sidewalk, or the sound of the vendor on the corner? How do they look? Happy, busy, sad, depressed, mad, or stressed? Are they smiling or frowning or are they blank-faced or excited? How do you move in the crowd? Ever thought about it?
If your desk is near a window, do you notice how and when the sun slants in and gets in your eyes? How it moves from one side of the window to the other as the year progresses? What is outside that window? No, not ‘just the backyard or the street. Across the backyard, we have a long, four-foot-tall woodpile. It is also the chipmunk condominium, the opossum’s den, and is half-buried in pine needles. The older wood is blackened from time, weather, heat, and cold. The newer wood is still pale browns, golds, and oranges depending upon whether it is cherry, pine, oak, or birch. Between here and there are goldfinch feeders, lawn chairs (which absolutely need new cushions) and a wide expanse of (diagonally-mowed) grass. Goldfinches, resting on the grass, look almost like dandilions.
Is your coffee cold in its cup or still steaming hot? Has the ice melted away to dilute your drink? Where are you reading this? At your desk? On your cell in the car? Waiting for the kids or on a subway? What are three distinct sounds you can hear right now? Listen …–Listen, don’t just keep reading! I can hear the furnace running and feel the heat on my bare feet. I can hear the annoying clicking my fingers make on the keyboard, (some keys click louder than others; most noticeably the space bar!) and I can hear the dog barking. It is her ‘Mom, the bunny’s in the front yard again and I want to go play with it! Can I, Mom? Huh, huh? Can I?’ whines and yips.
As writers, as poets, we need to be observant. It is most often the little things that can give poetry the nuances and levels to make a point. Poetry depends upon fresh descriptions and new ways to see things. Perspectives change and morph depending upon a vantage point. How we, as writers, describe things in the world around us requires us to become excellent observers. Otherwise, one sees (and writes) the same old cliched phrases.
Imagine, for a moment, you were a sugar ant. Blades of grass soar upwards. The root of a tree is a mountain. Then aiming up the truck, following a scent that means food, you travel upwards, for almost half an hour as you traverse bits of knobby bark, branches, knotholes. Thirty feet off the ground, something ‘big’ brushes you off the tree and you fall, covering in seconds what it took a very long time to achieve. Assuming a bird doesn’t snatch you mid-air, do you know what happens to that ant when it hits the ground? It bounces, shakes itself, and then starts a totally different journey. Assuming I could manage to climb thirty feet up into a tree, I seriously doubt I’d be able to pick myself up, dust myself on and just continue on my way collecting food!
Observation also comes into play when reading poetry. Ours or others, it is still the same. There is so much to be learned about writing poetry from reading a plethora of poems. Experienced writers tend to write in layers. The poem is so much more than x-numbers of words arranged in a pleasing fashion. Word plays, multiple meanings from the same words, a deeper meaning, a layered nuance. Poems are rarely what’s just on the surface! You need to take a deep breath, dive down and explore the multiple meanings that can be found, the deeper message. Then, get that magnifying glass back out and look again!
Then it more[hs into the MORE! Not just in our daily existence. You will find yourself seeing the stuff that was right out in the open that you’ve missed! The little things others do for you that they don’t mention. That cup of coffee brought to you just when you realized you wanted one. The haircut. The new shirt. That they mowed the yard or that there were fresh flowers on the table. Maybe someone else (for a change!) did the dishes or folded laundry. Maybe they didn’t touch their cell once while you both were talking or one of the kids did a good job on their room or chores without being prodded to do so! Little things. Tiny things. But they add up to so very much! Sometimes, you need to work for it –it isn’t just handed to you on a poetic platter! Don’t just read for the snack –read, write and –live (!) for the feast!
It may be hard in our day-to-day lives with significant others, kids, pets, work, dealing with covid on top of everything else, but once you get yourself in the habit of being a dedicated observer, it will become second nature. You will be amazed at all the things you’ve been missing out on.
Cut me: I bleed ink. There is a space, a fathomless well of unsprung thoughts that exists inside me. I write to pull forth the words; grasp and yank them screaming or dancing, from deep within and set them free upon the page. This, this is why I write, for if I didn’t, then I shouldn’t be alive at all.
My ‘Journey Collection’ is a contemporary fiction series about groups of people with a high-risk of suicide: things read when people are not mid-spiral may surface when they are – and let them break free. Nothing like a phone call from someone saying they walked away from the Golden Gate Bridge because something in ‘Journey to Jukai’ made them think again! Or receiving an email from someone wondering if I am trans or gay because I nailed ‘the who they are!’ (I am not. Intense, deep research is your friend!)
Robin Moyer is an author, poet, great-grandmother, veteran, creative writing teacher, wife, world-traveler, free spirit and book publisher. (wynwidynpress.com) She has eight books under her belt including a prize-winning series and three works in process.