{pf: poetry peeps in the style of Valerie Worth}

Welcome to another Poetry Friday Poetry Peeps adventure!

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge for the month of December! Here’s the scoop: We’re writing the eleven-syllable German cinquain, the Elfchen. Unfamiliar? There’s plenty online about this brief form, which has often been taught in German elementary schools, so intangible bonus points wenn dein Gedicht auf Deutsch ist (if your poem is in German). Are you game? Good! The Poetry Sisters are continuing to throw our 2023 theme of TRANSFORMATION into the mix as possible. Whatever your topic or theme, you have a month to craft your creation and share it on December 29th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.

Poetry Friends! I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving/Friendsharing/ChosenFamily/Family Day yesterday. I am putting this blog post together a week in advance, and might not ‘see’ some of your posts right away, but I will get there and add you to the Valerie Worth round-up! What with travel and meals and homes full of guests, those of us nearby may be a bit slower – so do pop back in for a full roundup later in the weekend. Meanwhile, it was delightful to meet with almost the whole gang at our Poetry Sisters prewrite last week. You must check out Mary Lee’s poem here. Sara’s poem is here. Laura is joining us here, while Liz’s poem is here, and Tricia’s poem is here. Laura’s poem flew in to land here. Michelle K.’s poem is here. Linda B.’s poem is here.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Ruth @There Is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town, long-distance from Uganda, so let’s take our time with Ruth and savor everything, along with a second helping of pie.

“Never forget that the subject is as important as your feeling: The mud puddle itself is as important as your pleasure in looking at it or splashing through it. Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry – because, in many ways, the mud puddle is the poetry.” (Valerie Worth, quoted in Another Jar of Tiny Stars, the second NCTE book of award-winning poetry, edited by Bernice E. Cullinan and Deborah Wooten

As I recall from our brainstorming session at the beginning of this year, we chose to write in the style of Valerie Worth first because many of us were less than familiar with much of her work, except her books for children, and secondly, because her poems are short(ish), small, plain-spoken (unrhymed), and specific. Note that when we say ‘small,’ we don’t mean an additional observation on length, but rather a topical observation on the dialed in, specific topics Valerie Worth judged worthy of poetry. Fence posts. Rags. Earthworms. Mushrooms. Valerie Worth was a poet who had, as Mary Oliver attributed to excellent writers, “an attitude of noticing.” I believe that observation lends itself to its own theme of transformation… In so many ways, when one is able to extrapolate the extraordinary from the mundane, it changes things seen, experienced, known, and understood. Inasmuch as Mary Oliver described that ‘noticing’ as a relentless and dynamic curiosity about the world, I believe that Valerie Worth’s unwillingness to exclude anything from observation is what enabled her to be a poet whose work is memorable and occasionally astonishing. To that end, in my own choosing, I purposefully looked for ‘small’ topics. I thought of my dead sunflowers, which I’ve left in place because the birds really love them, Himself’s giant clogs which I keep tripping over on the garage step, and the draft evader I fashioned from flat fiberfill stuffing and torn flannel rags. Sunflowers when they’re bright get plenty of ink – not so much when they’re dead. We might write poems to baby shoes, but not to rubber gardening clogs. Few find the wads of cloth we stuff under door and windowsills particularly poetic, and yet…

I started by hewing as closely as I could to one of Worth’s actual poems. Sparrow is one of my favorites about a dun-colored bird minding her own business, and not caring if you look at her. I transferred the sparrow’s ubiquity to the boxy rubber clogs that seem to grow on the back step – worn by anyone whose feet will fit, perfect for standing in the outdoor kitchen frying something, or chucking things into the compost bin in the rain…

Our garden is still quite lively, for all that it is considered functionally dead. The dry flower heads, yellow-browning speckles of mildewed stalks and fallen seeds are alive with an hundred thousand birds, chasing lizards, squabbling, pecking, rolling in dust, and scratching like hens. This is why we’re the WORST gardeners – we can’t bear to tear everything out and turn it under just yet because the birds are having way too much fun. May they all make themselves at home.

(This handsome specimen isn’t MY draft stopper, which is a scrappy, patch-worked thing in various shades of ‘dirt.’ Mine is in the wash just now and unready for its close-up, so we’ll just pretend I actually stitched something pretty.)

Mary Oliver’s famously succinct ‘Instructions for Living a Life’ admonishes us fussily to “pay attention.” Maybe in a less didactic tone, as there is nothing truly obligatory here, we might encourage ourselves to give attention to our lives, to see within our every day ordinariness a sheen of the extraordinary. As German actress and coach Uta Hagen once famously said, “We must overcome the notion that we must be regular…” As we tunnel out from stolid regularity into glorious irregularity, exchange our viewpoint on life as ‘usual’ for the chance to revel in the unusual, may we discover that life is more than we knew. May we, by being open, inventive, expressive, and questioning, live our uncertainty and questions into answers that change everything.

All poems ©2023 Tanita S. Davis

12 Replies to “{pf: poetry peeps in the style of Valerie Worth}”

  1. Tanita, your thoughts are profound, your quote of Uta Hagan followed by the idea that we may discover that life is more than we knew. Yes, we must be inventive, expressive and questioning is how we come upon the treasure that is hidden around us. Great post and much to think about. And your poems, Valerie Worth inspired, find the unusual in these plain usual objects. Thank you.

  2. A number of years ago, we were in France at the end of sunflower season and I swear, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I just love all of these, Tanita, these perfect, exquisite, unsung things….

  3. I love all your taking notice of the ordinary, for I don’t think they are so ordinary but share their own uniqueness and beauty, especially those dried sunflower heads–but perhaps my sense of beauty seems warped to another–just took a pic of a gorgeous dried out sunflower head in my garden, and ah those sunflowers “bowed brown backs” seem like they are bowing in reverence… Here’s to taking in those mud puddles before what comes after, thanks for all Tanita!

  4. I love these, Tanita–especially the sunflower one. Your winter garden sounds like it’s exactly what it needs to be. And all those short /o/ sounds in the clogs poem. That made my ears dance. Thanks for what you said about giving attention rather than paying attention. Attention truly is a gift in this world.

  5. Tanita, what a lovely post. You are inspiring me to go back and take another look at Valerie Worth. You have captured some moments here in your three poems. You have noticed! I’m taken with your “Draft Dodger” title. So cute. And those shoes–I feel like I was there.

  6. Your words inspire me as much as Worth’s do, Tanita! How can we not pay attention to “may we discover that life is more than we knew.” And then take “quick convenience for cutting-edge chic” as I do with an old pair of crocs that sit by my door! However, I do love the “bag of rags. . .salvaged” into a chic draft dodger and leaving the “wixened near-black once-bright heads” of sunflowers for the birds! Thanks for the beautiful “Worth-while” post!

  7. Tanita, I so enjoy this post and all the Valerie Worth posts. What an intriguing idea…to concentrate on the small of life. I especially enjoy your sunflower poem. I have a file of sunflower bits to turn into a someday journal. I’ll keep a copy of this poem in it. You’re right…the sunflower in bloom is so celebrated but not after. I had an aunt who loved photographing flowers past their peak for the same reason as your poem. She found them beautiful. I am headed to Germany in December. So, I think I MUST take the elfchen challenge. Thanks!

  8. Cousin, you have all done such a marvelous job, but I appreciate as always the generous preamble to your skilled little poems. My favorite is Draft Dodger, with its lovely complex language, that contrasts so beautifully with its uncomplicated still life as hot dog!

  9. Three poems! I love them all, but the clogs one makes me laugh. “As good a pair as anyone needs” just nails it. I’m so glad we decided upon Valerie Worth. She brought so much to my writing this month, and brought me your beauties, too. Grateful for them, and your friendship, dear T.

  10. Tanita, I spent some time looking through your gratitude blog post and now this post makes me bow down in thanks for your beautifully-styled poems here. As a #PoetryPal, I am in awe what the Poetry Sisters provide for my edication. Your look a the ordinary stands out with amazing word choice. Happy TDay Weekend.

  11. All three of these just beg to be read aloud! Your scrupulous use of rhyme and of its cousin assonance, your amazing alliteration, your perfect word choice…I’ll echo Tricia’s Wow.

  12. Wow. Such wonderful observations you’ve shared. I adore the alliteration in the second poem, and “the unsealed sill” plays so beautifully on the tongue when you read this one aloud.
    I appreciate that you are the worst gardener. May the birds have a fabulous feast.

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