Lying in a Hammock for Tuesday’s Tryout

07 Feb

7:30 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello, all. We are going to approach place a little differently today.

Resist the temptation to read the poem. Uh huh, I saw the eyes drifting down.

We will read and talk our way through James Wright’s poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”. First, will you look at that title! Look again. Poets, if they use a title, usually go one of two ways: they choose titles that are neutral, reflective of what the poem speaks of; or, they add vital information that the poet does not want to use poem space for. In this case, Wright establishes that the speaker is in a hammock [lying down], on a farm, on an island, in Minnesota. So much information about place, without having to use poem space.

Now you may read the poem! Just read it without, if you can, letting your poet brain start working. I’ll meet you below.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm
in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
the cowbells follow one another
into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
in a field of sunlight between two pines,
the droppings of last year’s horses
blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Yes? Reread the poem and look for every single sensory image. Then, come back here.

Visual is almost entirely colour: ‘bronze,’ ‘black,’ ‘green,’ ‘golden’ and implied in ‘shadow,’ ‘sunlight,’ ‘blaze’ and ‘darkens’.
Tactile: ‘blowing’ = breeze
Sound: ‘cowbells’. You can argue that ’empty house’ implies silence.
Smell implied: last year’s ‘droppings,’ cows, horses.

Now list verbs and verbals: ‘see,’ ‘blowing,’ ‘follow,’ ‘blaze,’ ‘lean,’ ‘darkens,’ ‘comes,’ ‘floats,’ ‘looking,’ ‘wasted’. While we are here, note the phonetics of Wright’s choices. After Joseph’s phonetics exercise, I am more aware than I already was of sound and its effects and found the use, or lack of use, of certain sounds supports the content in this poem [as it should]. Almost every sound is open, as is the speaker to his epiphany.

While we are at it, notice the strength of Wright’s nouns: ‘butterfly,’ ‘trunk,’ ‘ravine,’ ‘house,’ cowbells,’ ‘field,’ ‘pines,’ ‘droppings,’ ‘ horses,’ ‘stones,’ ‘evening,’ and ‘chicken hawk’.

What is the mood of the place, for you? How does Wright achieve that with the words he has chosen?

Writer Maxine Kumin says, “In a poem one can use the sense of place as an anchor for larger concerns, as a link between narrow details and global realities. Location is where we start from”.

The hammock, in this poem, is the anchor; the global reality is the speaker’s realisation that there is more to life than whatever he had been doing before coming to William Duffy’s farm. Wright has established this with a minimum of words that give us a wealth of detail.

Let me pull myself back on track. Once you have absorbed the poem, jot down places where you have had an epiphany, remembering that, while epiphany is a word usually associated with positive outcomes, an epiphany can be about anything, and they can be tiny. While you are listing places, jot notes about whatever you remember about each place: what happened, sensory details, specifics, and mood.

Choose one place you want to write about. Freewrite everything you can remember about the what and the where. Consider the anchor for your event and the larger concern.

My challenge is that you structure your poem as Wright has. The poem breaks into four tercets, each tercet being a full sentence giving us a sensory image, except the last tercet, which has three sentences, growing increasingly shorter, leading to the epiphany. The four tercets are divided in half by a short directional phrase, “To my right” [and what is that about?].

Did I lose you among the tercets? Write a poem in any form that gives us a place and then establishes an epiphany that connects to that place.Β  Feel free to make up details if your memory is fuzzy. Make them up anyway. If you are not following Wright’s form, consider others you know, to decide what best suits the poem’s content.

As always, I look forward to reading what you write. You have forever to post [although readership may decline to me]. Take us through the process if you can. It’s a good habit and helps if you are going to revise the poem at any point.

See you Thursday for announcements [you can send them to me up until Wednesday night my time]; Friday for our romp through prompts; and next Tuesday for a break in place [no, that’s not another type of place prompt, but a prompt that is not focused on place].

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 07/02/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , ,

61 responses to “Lying in a Hammock for Tuesday’s Tryout

  1. The Happy Amateur

    07/02/2012 at 8:56 am

    Hi Margo,
    a wonderful poem, a great post, an interesting and challenging prompt, as always. And the best part is that we have forever to post πŸ™‚ Really, I love the pace and atmosphere of your blog. Thank you!

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 9:11 am

      Hi Sasha,
      Thank you and thank you πŸ™‚ And, I’ll see you when you come back!

  2. Janet

    07/02/2012 at 8:59 am

    only because of a place I stood this morning, I have one offering up. I want to examine this prompt much more intensely later:)

    Thank-you as always…this is my Tues. a.m. highlight.

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 9:17 am

      Now, that is fast, Janet. I am heading over to read and love that I might see a second poem!

  3. wordsandthoughtspjs

    07/02/2012 at 9:10 am

    You did pull out all stops on this post, Margo. Much to think about here. I will come up with something in a few days. Thanks for the prompt.

    Have a great day!

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 9:13 am

      Hi Pamela. I did wonder if I should have an asterisked point where I said, scroll to here for a prompt only! As, I particularly like any poem of yours rooted in place, I look forward to seeing what you come back with.

      Have a great day, yourself,

  4. tmhHoover

    07/02/2012 at 9:56 am

    Margo- I have been thinking my high school writing back ground was not enough lately. Thank you for walking us through this poem/prompt in a way that I have a place to settle in… a place to begin. Like a horse with blinders you have created a path I can follow with out getting spooked. Now if I can just find time to write it .Thanks Margo..–

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 11:11 am

      Teri — somewhere I lost a comment of yours. I remember seeing your name go by, yesterday. Hmmm. I shall have to look.

      You are always welcome. I am so glad when I know you have been by. And, Teri, if I ever write, or have written, a prompt you like but it makes your head spin, ask me to write it as a step by step. Really.

      Here’s to time to write.


  5. Joseph Harker

    07/02/2012 at 10:27 am

    Shameless promotion: this piece would have been front and center in Curio. Just sayin’. πŸ˜‰

    Between your prompts and Donna’s, I am having a thrilling year so far in terms of writing. And I have some free time at work today (knock wood it stays that way), so I think I’m going to jump on this right now… know exactly what I want to write about it! *scribble scribble*

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 11:23 am

      It’s a good thing you’re cute. No, self-promote any time you wish, Joseph. Oh yeh…I’m keeping count πŸ™‚

      It’s funny. I’m not a write to prompt person, but I can write to an exercise because that’s how I learned to write poetry. Your prompts are almost the only ones I can write to, and it’s okay that what I have is a draft, or a practice. My poet brain is growing by leaps. The wordles are fun and I look at them as warm-ups. Sometimes WWP will have a suggestion that will hit me right, but not often.

      Ah, I do love to write.

      • Joseph Harker

        07/02/2012 at 11:48 am

        Prompts are good because they cut out the time it takes to have to think about topics. I have many things that I’d like to write about, but often the ideas are more solidified when someone else is giving me a frame to pour them into, and sometimes they bring out ideas you weren’t even aware of. (The East Village one, for example, has been taking up room in my head since September.) I don’t go looking for Wordles, but I’ll give them a go when they happen by. There are two kinds of prompts I do: the ground to run on (for me: Poetic Asides, WWP) and the hurdles to jump (RWP and Big Tent – RIP – and yours and Donna’s), the necessary and the challenging.

        • margo roby

          07/02/2012 at 11:54 am

          Joseph, I love your classifications. Mine come down to earth every now and then, but I have been learning on the job to write these prompts and I enjoy it. What you say about how you use prompts are my thoughts articulated. Exactly.

          Hong Kong has taken up my mind since… well, forever, but for a poem, for twenty-one years. Maybe, this structure will do it for me.

          • Joseph Harker

            07/02/2012 at 3:16 pm

            I’m going to veer into stuffy academic mode for a second, but you should check out “Discourses in Place” by Ron and Suzy Scollon. It’s a key text in geo-linguistics, and a good portion of their theories on communication/language in relation to place were built on their experiences living in HK.

            • margo roby

              07/02/2012 at 3:47 pm

              Oh thank God! You cannot know how much I am missing this mode. Truly. I miss talking language and linguistics with my colleagues.

              I stopped to go over and order the book, as soon as I read Hong Kong. Thank you. I did have a small heart attack when I landed on the hardback page, but eventually found the paperback. And, while I was shopping, picked up Poem, Revised, which has 54 poets taking readers through their revision process of a poem. Sounds interesting.

            • viv blake

              08/02/2012 at 1:39 am

              Thanks for that, recommendation, Joseph – I’m off to the Amazon.

  6. Connie

    07/02/2012 at 11:19 am

    A wonderful poem- and a great challenge.

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 11:38 am

      Thank you, Connie. Feel free to lessen or increase the challenge πŸ™‚

  7. MiskMask

    07/02/2012 at 12:20 pm

    It doesn’t have all the colour stuff but it is what it is. πŸ™‚ Hope you enjoy it.

    Waiting for the Door of Gate 15A to Open a New Chapter in My Life

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 1:06 pm

      Oh, Misky — the colour stuff!

      I’ll head over to read πŸ™‚

      • MiskMask

        07/02/2012 at 3:07 pm

        I really enjoyed this one, and think I’ll probably have another go tomorrow. Thanks for a great prompt, Margo. πŸ˜€

  8. The Happy Amateur

    07/02/2012 at 12:24 pm

    This does not qualify as a response to the prompt, but I’ll still post a link to it, because I think it’s kind of in the spirit of the prompt. There’s a place, nature, mere contemplating, and a sudden realization triggered by visual images.

    I’ll think about your prompt, Margo, and will try to come up with something.

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 1:05 pm

      I love that you are giving me something to read, Sasha, while you try the prompt! I shall head over now,

      • The Happy Amateur

        07/02/2012 at 1:18 pm

        I hope you didn’t expect anything ‘deep’ was just a fun little poem.

        • margo roby

          07/02/2012 at 2:30 pm

          Sasha, one aspect of my personality, is that I never arrive at anything expecting something. This allows me to enjoy things for what they are. And epiphanies are allowed to be not deep.

  9. whimsygizmo

    07/02/2012 at 2:40 pm

    I want to use this exercise to ponder something closer to (geographical) home, but this one flowed smooth, easy:

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 2:48 pm

      Good, whimsy g! That means we’ll get to read a second poem πŸ™‚ Meanwhile I shall head over now for this one.

    • margo roby

      07/02/2012 at 9:19 pm

      Good heavens! Already. Okay, I’m coming over.

      • whimsygizmo

        07/02/2012 at 9:45 pm

        Ha. Yes, sorry. This prompt had my wheels spinning all day. Thanks for that (in both a good way, and a slightly sarcastic, how-come-nothing-else-got-done-today? kind of way). πŸ˜‰
        And thanks for your generous comments on the poems.

        • margo roby

          08/02/2012 at 7:42 am

          Whimsy g, between my own writing and my blog, my husband is lucky to get supper!

  10. The Happy Amateur

    07/02/2012 at 10:03 pm

    Here’s my first try:

    ~Walking with my father along the Moskva river embankment a long time ago~

    Dandelion wine spilled by some giant hand,
    Sticky stalks, bitter-sweet,
    The yellow suns everywhere you look.

    The silent murmur of the close water,
    The flowing ribbon obscured by trees,
    Time runs steadily following our pathway.

    To my right
    The giant himself, walking in huge strides,
    A headful of hair scrapes the sky,
    Scattering the sheepish clouds.

    He projects strength and wisdom, but I smell danger.
    He’s scared, he wants an answer, so I tell him.
    β€œAll of this won’t just end.”

    • viv blake

      08/02/2012 at 1:37 am

      Without the title, I would have found this very mysterious, despite the vivid descriptive lines. My favourite is “scattering the sheepish clouds” because It reminded me of the Charles Trenet song La Mer, in which couds are referred to as “les blancs moutons” (the white sheep)

      • The Happy Amateur

        08/02/2012 at 6:42 am

        Thank you, Viv,
        I liked the idea of making the title really informative instead of using the space of the poem.

    • margo roby

      08/02/2012 at 7:43 am

      Intriguing, Sasha. I like that this form led you to this place.

  11. viv blake

    08/02/2012 at 1:31 am

    When I look back over my 4 years of writing poetry, I realise that a great deal of my stuff is about place, one way or another. I could just have linked to an oldie. But no. Your lessons require close attention and effort, so that’s what I gave to this one and came up with something new:

    • margo roby

      08/02/2012 at 7:47 am

      I’m glad you wrote a new one and appreciate the time taken, as you are one of the busiest people I know. Besides, you know I would have happily appreciated the oldie and then said, Yes? And your new one?

      I’m writing this backwards, having seen the poem first. I’m thinking that I like how the long titles read, as well as what they can impart.

  12. Irene

    08/02/2012 at 8:06 pm

    I hope I caught the spirit of place. Thanks for bringing me there, Margo. Yea, writing exercises are different and good.

    candy girl hears an inner voice

    • margo roby

      09/02/2012 at 7:44 am

      Hi Irene. Thank you. That is one of the things I am enjoying about the place exercises: so many of us are visiting places we haven’t in a while.

  13. Mary

    08/02/2012 at 8:23 pm

    Hi Margo! I always appreciate the depthful prompts you give. One can really learn something from them. I tried to fulfill most of the things you asked. The prompt was interesting; and I am fairly satisfied with my own ‘rough draft’ here. I would not have written it if it were not for you. Thank you!

    • margo roby

      09/02/2012 at 7:45 am

      You are welcome, Mary. This prompt, the place prompts in general, seem to have taken people to places they have not been in a while.

      • Mary

        09/02/2012 at 7:57 am

        I will be around to visit people’s poetry when I have a bit of time. I’m looking forward to seeing what others have done. I was the one who suggested your prompt to Peggy (below), and I am glad that she took on the challenge as well!!

        • margo roby

          09/02/2012 at 8:19 am

          Thank you, for that, Mary. I have seen Peggy’s name around to the point that I keep thinking: Do I know her? The name is familiar…

  14. wordsandthoughtspjs

    08/02/2012 at 9:07 pm

    Margo, hi, I wrote this one about my neighbourhood, now while I didn’t adhere to the “four tercets”. I simply went where the words wanted me to go. Thanks again for everything you do for us.


    “In Calm Embrace”

    • margo roby

      09/02/2012 at 7:46 am

      You rebel, Pamela πŸ™‚ I look forward to reading whatever you have and if it’s about your neighbourhood, I am especially interested to see how you deal with it.


      • wordsandthoughtspjs

        09/02/2012 at 2:14 pm

        Margo, I don’t know about being a “rebel”, or it’s simply that I don’t follow directions very well. πŸ˜‰

  15. Peggy Goetz

    08/02/2012 at 10:54 pm

    Hi Margo. I hear so many good things about you and your site from Mary, decided to come by an try your very challenging prompt! I tried to model it after the poem you had us look at but did not quite make it–but it is a start and it gets the basic idea I think.

    I guess I post the link here


    • margo roby

      09/02/2012 at 7:49 am

      Hello Peggy and welcome! I have seen your name around the circuit. Don’t worry, ever, if the poem you arrive at does not match the prompt. After all, it’s the poem that’s the thing.

      And, yes, post the link in comments. No due date. Poems may be posted whenever people have poems. I look forward to visiting and reading yours.


  16. b_y

    09/02/2012 at 9:45 am

    I got all fouled up in the epiphany part and trying to shoehorn too much in. Wound up not getting much of a sense of anything. I’ll come back to this one, though.

    • margo roby

      09/02/2012 at 10:26 am

      More sense than you realise, Barb.

  17. markwindham

    09/02/2012 at 1:20 pm

    Lets see if I am even close….

    • margo roby

      09/02/2012 at 1:27 pm

      So much self-doubt πŸ™‚ Coming over now to read.

  18. Mr. Walker

    10/02/2012 at 9:31 am

    Margo, a great prompt. Thanks. I’ve penned something: A Poetry Field Trip, from De Anza College. I have to get ready for work now, but I will be back to read others’ poems later.


    • margo roby

      10/02/2012 at 10:21 am

      You are very welcome, Richard. I’ll head over now to read your poem.


  19. Annette

    12/02/2012 at 12:46 pm

    Mine is up! …another good, fun prompt. Thanks Margo!

    • margo roby

      12/02/2012 at 12:53 pm

      Yay! And, you are welcome, Annette. I’m on my way.


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