Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What the?



A child said, What is the grass?

Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the 
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and
children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.


The above, which is part of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, is one of my favorite pieces of poetry. I thought of it in connection with this prompt because June 14 is Flag Day in the U.S.  I’ve always loved the line about the grass being "the flag of my disposition out of hopeful green stuff woven." 

However, this prompt is not about flags. It’s about whats!  As in,''[A] child said what is the grass" that opens Whitman’s pom.  Yes, it is very much about grass, but it also winds from and through grass to handkerchiefs to hints to the tongues of mothers and the mouths of graves. 

I invite you to pick something--anything--and to write its “what”.  As in, “what is the---?”  

"What is the non-grass?"

Your chosen "what" really can be anything. Ideally, it should speak to you, drop hints, loosens your tongue; serve  as jumping off or diving down point--where you can peer into depths or soar towards peaks. 

You do not have to begin your poem, with “what is the?”  or  “A child said what is the--” though you should feel free to use either of those phrases if one of them helps you get going.  

Also note that your poem does not have to be nearsly so long as Whitman’s and can take any form, even- dare I say it? -a haiku!  It also down’t need to be heavy or profound, comic is fine.

See you on the flip side.

ps, the pics are all mine, Karin Gustafson (ManicDdaily), and all rights are reserved.  Feel free to use one, but please give proper credit. Thanks



12 comments:

brudberg said...

This is a wonderful idea for a prompt... I just have to muse a bit about this one.

Outlawyer said...

Thanks, Bjorn. Sorry to have been so absent. And I lost my first poem I wrote for the prompt on a program for something! (It wasn't such a good poem.) Anyway, very glad to be here now.

brudberg said...

I hope I met the bar for this wonderful prompt... I love the way of writing and mixed in a few other elements into this.

Sanaa Rizvi said...

Loved the prompt, Karin!💜 Happy Thursday everyone!☕

Kerry O'Connor said...

Mr Linky has disappeared again.. oh my.

This is a glorious prompt, Karin. Thank you for sharing this wonderful treasure with us today.. so many poetic thoughts have been stirred. But, alas, i will be away from the garden until Monday, but I hope to revisit the prompt and link up something on Tuesday.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Kerry O'Connor said...

PS. I normalized the font size.. I was battling to read the fine print.

Vivian Zems said...

A great idea for a prompt. The images are lovely too.

Jim said...

This is a nice prompt for the curious.
Aren't we all? Thank you Karin, I tried.
..

Toni Spencer said...

An excellent prompt. I hope I followed it.

Sherry Marr said...

Will ponder this. Our peninsula has been without power all day - someone felled a tree and it knocked out the hydro wires and closed the highway in both directions. LOL. Trees getting even when they can. I may not catch up till tomorrow.

Outlawyer said...

No worries, Sherry! Sorry about power loss!

Margaret said...

I love learning from beloved poets - thank you. I am playing late and posting late - will visit and comment Saturday morning as I sip my coffee. It's been a long day and I'm off to bed. Good night, Toads.