Online Poetry Professor with Dr. Christopher Bursk
Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Week 9 Week 10        

2015 Workshop:
"You are only a troubled guest on this dark earth" -- Goethe

Week 1 - February 4
The Winged Life: Poetry's for the Birds
"I become a transparent eyeball"

We begin those old rascals H.D. Thoreau and Bobby Bly and with Pam Perkins-Frederick

I. Read Saunier's "Zeus Makes His Pitch…" (33) and in a cheating haiku poem say what in nature you'd make love, making sure you have a resonant particular in the poem.

I'd make love to a slug
so I could be touched by something glistening
and glisten myself.

II. The Winged Life --ed. by Robert Bly

1. Emerson's eyeball (4), Bly and "soul truth" (5) - Thoreau's "fierce and meticulous observation" (111)

2. Bly: Thoreau…"noted the exact day on which wildflowers - dozens of varieties -
opened in the forest ." compare Moore -poetry in the precision/precision in the poetry

3. Thoreau: "… a commonplace book of facts and another of poetry. I find it difficult always to preserve the vague distinction - for the most interesting and beautiful facts are so much the more poetry." (79) examples:

a. cow (88): " Her hide was mingled white and fawn color and on her muzzle's tip there was a white spot bigger than a daisy, and on her side.. the map of Asia plain to see"
b. hawk (89): "mounted again and again with is strange chuckle it repeated it free and beautiful fall"
c. fox: "… ran as though were not a bone in his body." (96)

4. Bly" "to see through, not with the eye."

III. Bright Wings and the Shadows They Cast " --Before anything had a soul" (Lawrence 113)
(poems from Bright Wings ed. by Billy Collins (that S.O.B.)

Still keen, unwavering and alert,
Within my aching empty mind
the bright bird hovers - and the dirt
Of bottomless black ways and blind,
And all the hundred things that hurt
Past healing, seem to drop behind
Wilfred Wilson Gibson, World War I poet (85)

Watching the swallows
That flew about restlessly
And flung their shadows
Upon the sunbright walls of the old building;
The shadows glanced and twinkled,
Interchanged and crossed each other,
Expanded and shrunk up,
Appeared and disappeared, every instant;
And I observed to William and Coleridge,
Seeming more like living things
Than the birds themselves.
Dorothy Wordsworth (157)

1. "When interviewed the birdwatchers…" (BC 247-248)
each person reads a line
2. The shadows wings cast

a. "Note the difference between the bird and me" (Yezzi 19)
(compare to Rivers: "Not me!. in "Why I Plant Lettuce")

b. "Here, in the mind, brother/Blue Turquoise…" (Snyder 135)'
(compare Rivers: "Sister Zinnia")

c. Two views of spring birds

i."To need their spring arrival" (Jarman 108)
ii. "I dreaded that first robin…" (Dickinson, 182-183)

d. Hollander" "Swan and Shadow"(37) "ripples of recognition"

e. how light or heavy handed we hold the birds in our poems

i. Hardy: "Darkling Thrush" (177-178) & Wilbur: "Still, Citizen Sparrow" (45)
ii. Wagoner: "To a Farmer Who Hung Five Hawks on His Barbed Wire" (47-48)

IV. Field Guide

1. Gray: "Here's the point where I should turn the birds/ to metaphors."(227)
for the bird in the poem assigned your group:

a. draw a picture that captures the essence of the bird as presented by the poet
(it can be abstract as well as representational)
b. identify 1 case of personification or metaphor
c. explore how similar, how different to a Field Guide rendering of the bird
is this poem
d. identify lines that capture the "ripples of recognition" -
transcendental glimpse, intoxication…

"I do not know the custom of herons…" vs. "I think I know how they must feel" (139)

a. Green - frigate pelican (35)
b. Moore - frigate (26-27)
c. Tate - blue booby (29)
d. Hirshfield - blue heron (32)
e. Plath - pheasant (63-64)
f. Mehigan - sandhill crane (67)
g. Bishop - sandpiper (79)
h. Steele - phoebe (127)
i. Perillo - crows (139)
j. Aaron - cedar waxwing (193)
k. Woloch - goldfinch (244-245)
l. Wrigley - raven (143-1440

V. Beak and talon
Plath: "You said you'd kill it in the morning./Do not kill it" (63-64)
vs. Wrigley: "That they may know the delicacy of my eyes" (143-144)

VI. Assignment: Pastan: "After Reading Petersen's Guide" (87)

1. think of the resonant particular you most love in nature and bring a picture of it - and a poem as invocation
It will be your muse for the semester.

2. Field Guide ---
Over the course of this Spring Workshop: create a FIELD GUIDE it can be a field guide to slugs or wildflowers or things with wings or terrors or small blessings or punk rock songs or poets… but have at least 5 of the poems in your chapbook be modeled after a Field Guide ---scientific description, coloration, means of identifying, habitat, kind of "speech or song," location, habits, feeding

3. Remember to bring 4 copies of a poem of yours to work on our small workshops

VII. Birdsong
Each person chooses a bird that most symbolizes his or her poetry and makes up birdsong for it - and then sings it

VIII. Thoreau gets the last word
Thoreau: winged life" inside wood

IX No Pam gets the last word

Tree Knowledge

How does a tree learn what it learns?
Do the feet of a blue jay teach a sycamore branch
by example to rebound?

Does the grip of the mockingbird instruct it
how to mutter its own dim branch song
changing as the sun changes.

The apple tree might know from the cardinal
how to light its apples in scarlet,
the plum learn its iridescence and purple sheen

from the mud dauber. But we?
We sink. As if too deep in ourselves to be found
by the birds, their feet, flares of color, woven song.

We're like branches without rebound
under the weight of our sorrows and knowings.
We need not sink. Better to learn from the trees.

"you will want to know there will be blood" vs
"we'll/ survive on hardtack and grit/as we always do" vs. "Not me I change…"
vs "I wonder if he resides elsewhere/outside my mind"



Online Poetry Professor is presented by The Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program (MCPL)