As I mentally gird up for NaPoWriMo, I’ve been resisting poem prompts: gathering them, the idea of using them. But if I’m being realistic, I’m going to run out of ideas awfully fast in the course of writing a poem a day — I’ll need some help.

I don’t know why I’m reluctant to use prompts. My very first poem was an in-class assignment in 10th grade. And my teacher called me the Emily Dickinson of the class. The poem was rubbish, of course, but I like to think that he was complimenting me on my seriousness of intent.

That was the catalyst, what launched me from a reader to a writer. Without Mr. Miele, I would never have attempted it, thought it presumptuous of me to even dream of it. Little does he know what he unleashed!

I began submitting poems when I was 19. It seems shocking now. Need I even bother telling you that my very first rejection was from the New Yorker? Callow youth, yes, but I also wanted my very first to be a memorable one.

Then, my first acceptance came 5 years later. Looking back now, that poem is rubbish, too, but better than the earlier rubbish, rubbish for different reasons. I see growth. And I still have great affection for that poem, not only because it was my first published poem, but because of the nature of the poem itself — a passionate response to a passionate work of art.

So, in a departure from the norm here, and in the spirit of preparation for a month of shitty rough drafts (thank you, Anne Lamott), I’m going to share with you that first published poem of mine. I don’t plan to ever reprint it anywhere, ever, or even revise it. It stands as is, a small flawed monument to my young ambition, killed by its sincerity and immaturity, among other things. I’m okay with that…more or less.  You have to start somewhere.

To Emily

How moors I have never seen
call to me now, purple heather cruelly
lashed by bitter moaning winds
and the explosions of a darkened sky.
The storm, its force and passion,
is welcome.
The lightning, the tumult, the thundering air,
all are Heathcliff
all are Cathy.
Wet drops cool my skin, feverish
with the devouring wildness I have pulsed

within for days, seconds, centuries
intertwined, welded together
by impossible fire in a heartbeat.

Are we all, in our deepest being,
capable of such apocalyptic, beautiful love,
absolute oneness?
As we wrench from our mothers,
bloody ourselves in the effort to be,
are we delivered of the potential
to dwell in flame?
We would perish in the attempt.
But when I feel the howling
wind quicken in my veins,
I can’t help but long to exist
in all I’ve never known outside
the living pages of a book.

When I sleep, the land surrounds me,
the endless moors you wanted to escape,
and I fly up and over the cascading hills,
wildflowers undulating like whitecaps in the sea,
and only stop once reaching a chained garden gate,
and climbing over it, rush towards the shuttered
house beyond, the shuttered house that seems
to recoil from my gaze.
My arms flail at a window closed to me,
despair screaming, “Let me in!
I’ve come home!”
Black eyes stare through the glass,
and I see, as I must,
he does not know me.

But even though my entrance is
forever barred, not just forbidden,
but an impossible fire,
I would rather stand staring
into the blackness on the other side,
evidence of my futile will,
wildflowers grazing at my legs,
vengeful air pummeling my intrusion,
than ever leave.
Let its force suffocate me,
burn me to equal blackness–
I know I have no right–
but I would never leave.

(published in The Iconoclast, issue 42 — Thank you!)

6 responses to “Beginnings.”

  1. You’re wonderfully brave to post this poem — a beautiful response to a beautiful work of art, indeed! I’ve buried my first published poems far far away where no one can ever find it. You’re also wonderfully brave to attempt NaPoWriMo — I think I might’ve decided to sit it out this year. Of course, we won’t know until April 1rst what my ultimate decision is, but it might just be Too Much for now …

  2. I’ll take sincerity and a little immaturity over the ubiquitous post-modern smirk any and all day long.

  3. Don’t we have to be so bold as to submit our rubbish to the New Yorker? 😉 I am looking forward to taking on the NaPoWriMo challenge this year – last year I managed weekdays but couldn’t pull off the weekends – too many poem-builders to chase around (mine are almost three and one and a half…).

  4. Emma, I defy you to ever not be doing Too Much for now at any given moment! Thank you, my dear, you are kindness itself.

    Ahem, “Ernest”. I do depend on the forbearance of strangers, thank you. 🙂

    That means you managed about 20 days last year — pretty damn good, Sarah!

  5. Oh, good for you Marie! I love questions in poems. And yours are terrific. here is one of my favorite stanza of questions:

    Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
    Where should we be today?
    Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
    in this strangest of theatres?
    What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
    in our bodies, we are determined to rush
    to see the sun the other way around?
    The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
    To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
    inexplicable and impenetrable,
    at any view,
    instantly seen and always, always delightful?
    Oh, must we dream our dreams
    and have them, too?
    And have we room
    for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

    As for prompts, I can see why you’d want to resist. But maybe the prompt will move you into territory you’d like to explore, and then you can go back and get rid of the “prompted” part and just keep the fresh stuff.

    Why am I giving you advice? I have no idea. All I know is that I’m looking forward to your poems. xo

  6. Thank you, Lily, and thank you for reminding of this great poem — I may very well need to draw on some Bishop for inspiration, and this is perfect!

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