Tag Archives: Sense of place

Lying in a Hammock for Tuesday’s Tryout

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.  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


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Into Place: Tuesday Tryouts

8:04 a.m.

Hello, everyone. Is it only Tuesday? Let’s see what we can do to entertain ourselves. I decided, based on the way you all fall with delighted cries on any image I post, that I will post images the last Tuesday of each month. Based on the exercise I set with the images [if I set one], you may hunt out your own image and post it on your site with the resulting poem. While it’s fun to see what everyone does with the same prompt, if an image doesn’t work for you, then it’s not much good.

We are continuing with place, and that is one reason you may wish to choose your own, if what I have does not have a strong sense of place for you. Remember that the sense of place can be positive, or negative. or both.

Choose an image and ask yourself a series of questions. Is the sense of place physical? Emotional? A balance, or imbalance of both? What establishes the mood of the place? What draws you? Be specific.

Ivan Shishkin

Go over your chosen image, starting with the bottom left corner and moving over it, jotting notes, as you go. Note everything you see. You never know, until you reread what you have seen, what might prove useful, or might provide your focus. No detail is too small. You might look at an image as it is and jot notes, then zoom in once, jot more notes, and, if you can, zoom in a final time and jot more notes. Or, jot everything you think you have noticed. Go away for a bit and come back and go over it again.

Place is that important. Writer Peter Huggins says:

“In painting, chiaroscuro, the use of light and dark, provides definition, contrast, the heightening or lessening of emotion; in addition, I would argue, it allows viewers a way into the painting. In poetry, place serves a similar function: readers can enter the particular world of the poem; however, if readers languish in the general world of no place, then nothing will happen for them, neither the excitement and explosion of language nor the complex connection of realized experience.


“…I would suggest that these poems arise from these places and are rooted in these places just as day lilies or tulip poplars are rooted in the places from which they spring. I would even go so far as to suggest that these poems would not exist (or would exist in a radically different and probably diminished way) apart from their respective places. Place provides form, shape, and being to these poems…”

Write a poem that conveys a sense of the place in the image you have chosen; or about the connection with the speaker describing it; or about the place in the abstract, so that it stands for something else; or using the sense of place to provide an anchor for story.

I see people rubbing their hands with glee. Go to it. I shall see you Thursday, possibly for an interview with poet, James Brush; if not, then announcements, and we will have James next Thursday. Friday sees another roundup of prompts, and next Tuesday, well, place, of course.

Happy writing.


Posted by on 31/01/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


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A Sense of Place: Tuesday Tryouts

7:28 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello, all. How are you this new new year? For those dragons among us, we already rule, but this is our year. If you wanted to write a poem and instil a sense of dragon, how would you go about it? Think about it for a few minutes…

Notice how I segue into our topic for today: How do we go about instilling a sense of place in our poetry?  Place is huge. Several of the prompt sites, that many of us frequent, have touched on place. I will try not to duplicate exercises, but this is an area we will play in for a while.

Think about what you mean when you talk, or think, about place in poetry… feel free to jot notes to yourself as we go along. Notes warm the brain up. What is place?

Does a place have an identity before we identify it, or give it a name? Once we identify the running water keeping us from the other side, as river, we begin to give it a more specific identity. Large river. Large muddy river. The Mississippi. The mighty Mississippi. Ah, now we are getting somewhere. The places that we identify, name, and give meaning to, have a strong sense of place. Our goal is to figure out how to establish that sense of place in our writing.

We need to know what we each mean by sense of place. Is it merely physical? Does an emotion need to be attached to the place to establish the sense? Paris. An oasis. The Yangtze River. Stonehenge. The desert. What images and feelings popped up as you read through the list? Mull for a few minutes [you continue to jot notes] about how you might establish a sense of place if you were to write about one of these places.

But let’s start with your own baseline landscape: The special bond which develops between children and their childhood environments has been called a ‘primal landscape’ by human geographers. This childhood landscape forms part of people’s identity and constitutes a key point of comparison for considering subsequent places later in life. As people move around as adults, they tend to consider new places in relation to this baseline landscape experienced during childhood. Wikipedia — article worth reading, should you have the time. It is short.

Identify your baseline landscape. You may choose a larger whole, such as a city, or an aspect, such as surrounding mountains. Whichever you choose, it should possess that which cannot be replicated in any other place. Consider that your audience has never been there [even if you know they live in that place]. How are you going to convey the sense of place so that your readers have an idea of the truth of your place? More notes.

The structure is up to you. Much depends on whether free verse, or a more formal form, is more suited to establishing your place. Remember that form and content go hand in hand. You will need to consider concrete details and sensory imagery in your quest to establish the sense of place of your baseline landscape. This week we have been playing with symbols with one of Joseph’s ‘Reveries‘. Consider symbol as a way in.

You may decide that your piece works better as prose, and that’s fine too. Don’t keep yourself from posting because you think you must have a poem. The objective is establishing a sense of place in your writing.

I can’t wait to read and feel your landscapes. Remember that you can and may post anytime.

I shall see you Thursday for announcements — anymore to go in? Friday will be our roundup of the week’s prompts. And, next Tuesday, since you seem to enjoy them so much, a painting from which to write.

Happy writing, everyone.

P.S. Should a sense of dragon poem arise, post. We dragons have our own sense of place.


Posted by on 24/01/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


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