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write what you don’t know: big tent poetry

June 24, 2010

My prompt for Big Tent Poetry this week is to write about something you don’t think you know how to write about. The example I gave was, “I want to write about the oil spill in the Gulf but don’t know how,” and maybe assign to “the thing” an extended metaphor. I have decided to give my own example a try.

Here’s my draft for this week’s “Come One, Come All” gathering. The poem is about the oil spill, of course, and nothing more. Nope. Nope. Nothing more. (Go see what everyone’s learning they have in them!)


  1. June 24, 2010 11:19 pm


    i can see your relating oil spill and life but why??? 😦

    explain plz

    • June 24, 2010 11:23 pm

      playing with images & extended metaphor. and of course, the question isn’t why relate environmental disaster with personal life, but why not?

  2. June 25, 2010 4:31 am

    Well, you certainly found the right words, Carolee! I think this is great.

  3. June 25, 2010 8:12 am

    Oh, wow, carolee — this is fantastic and painful. Having only recently emerged from postpartum depression, I find that there’s much in this poem that resonates for me. Especially those first few sharp lines. Ow.

    • June 25, 2010 10:03 am

      thanks for reading, rachel. so sorry you had a difficult time (after my third, i think my depression lasted 3 years, just miserable) but it’s good that it’s lifting. that emergence can be powerful.

  4. June 25, 2010 9:29 am

    Wow. This is very powerful, Carolee. The intimate heart of a public disaster. The extended metaphor for romantic, nuptial love imparts that sense of the intimate, which brings it very close.

    Especially I like the drift of words that flow like the oil through the first half of the poem: leaks slicks bleeds settles ripples poisoning

    Then we are at the beach with the dead and dying washing up at our feet

    Amazing construction. A great poem. Thank you…

    • June 25, 2010 10:06 am

      thank you, brenda. it’s funny how i worked on this piece. instead of starting with the oil spill and linking it to sadness/discontent, i started with the sadness and tried to find words that would also make it about the oil spill.

      i think i might try it again with some other difficult world situations … ask, “what is that thing like in my life?” yes, egocentric. yes. πŸ™‚

      i got the idea for doing this after reading a friend’s poem about the oil spill. i told him he might want to branch off at a certain point and make it first person and about what the oil represents to him (instead of culture/society). but then i realized, that’s what *i* would do, that’s where *my* poem was. when i told jill how i was trying to get into the poem — write about what i don’t know how to write about — the prompt came together.

  5. systematicweasel permalink
    June 25, 2010 9:40 am

    A fantastic and powerfully written piece! Thanks for sharing!


  6. June 25, 2010 9:45 am

    Carolee the imagery in this is quite powerful!

    • June 25, 2010 10:07 am

      thanks, pamela! and how come we didn’t write about the same subject this week? what has happened to the connection between our brains? πŸ™‚

  7. June 25, 2010 10:59 am

    Marvelous; especially this:

    We follow our lust
    for love to as many bodies as will have us,
    swear this one, this one, is the one
    we won’t pollute.

    And we do swear it; but it’s almost never true. Sadly.

    • June 25, 2010 3:28 pm

      do you think it’s clear that “bodies” also means “bodies of water”? i didn’t want to have to repeat “water,” especially with “of” …

  8. June 25, 2010 11:04 am

    So much going on here, Carolee. I would like to say it was an enjoyable read, but it was more of a satisfying read, given the subject matter.

    You made a wonderful poem here.

  9. June 25, 2010 1:14 pm

    I like how you started with the baby birds! A very interesting perspective. Very well done.

    • June 25, 2010 3:30 pm

      thank you, diane. the babies are my sons and i give them feathers here to make this somewhat surreal/magical and to connect it with the carnage of the oil spill.

  10. June 25, 2010 1:24 pm

    This is a beautiful poem Carolee, there is so much tenderness and sadness. I like the way you use sadness, discontent as a metaphor. You build on this very subtly.

    • June 25, 2010 3:30 pm

      thank you, uma. you think it’s subtle? i love using extended metaphor, but sometimes (often) i go too far and belabor it.

  11. June 25, 2010 2:49 pm

    This is a wonderful piece of work, every word, line, feeling, and so much more. Incredibly creative and I am left with only envy.


    • June 25, 2010 3:33 pm

      elizabeth, thank you. thank you.

      within just the last few days jill and i (and actually everyone in my IRL feedback group) were talking about envying other poets. the consensus became that instead of envy, our response should be an admiration big enough to learn from them AND develop an awareness of what is unique and precious about our own work. πŸ™‚

  12. June 25, 2010 3:41 pm

    The merging of love, water and death is powerfully written here –

  13. June 25, 2010 6:09 pm

    Carolee, I love where the prompt took you, and thank you for explaining that the babies are your sons. Of all the images of the Gulf tragedy, I think mostly of the birds trapped in the oil slick, unable to escape. What has humankind done!

    • June 26, 2010 10:28 am

      they are unable to escape the slick. it’s so sad.

  14. June 25, 2010 8:33 pm

    Extending a metaphor can work – as you demonstrate.

  15. June 25, 2010 9:24 pm

    Powerful piece, Carolee. The tragedy in the Gulf will have consequences for years and years.

  16. Victoria permalink
    June 26, 2010 12:00 am

    This is strong Carollee. Yes, I did get that the bodies are also bodies of water. “The dead and the dying wash up at the feet of strangers” haunts me, and I did see human children first, mayge with hair like feathers but species shifted on me – bird, dolphin, and i liked the connectivity in the presence of disaster. The blue sheets were bedsheets for me first, then waters, and that worked too. Strong message from the imagery about how much we are all in this together, all species – and still you hit the human responsibility.

  17. June 26, 2010 9:58 am

    Almost as ‘good’ a read as the poem are your responses to questions and explanation of how you arrived at the poem. Thank you.

    • June 26, 2010 10:30 am

      glad you’re enjoying reading, viv! thanks for always stopping by!

  18. June 26, 2010 12:36 pm

    really fantastic response to the spill, and, um, whatever else this poem might be about. but seriously, the metaphor is great — i think because the spill and the other piece both illuminate each other. one gives a more personal narrative to what is a world-wide crisis and the other shows the depth and breadth of our own tragedies… am i making any sense?

  19. June 26, 2010 6:05 pm

    I was trembling by the time I got to the end of this. Thank you!

  20. Irene permalink
    June 26, 2010 11:10 pm

    What an interesting metaphor – the idea of marriage, hunger, lust linked to the oil spill. Love it!

  21. June 26, 2010 11:21 pm

    A great use of metaphor. Linking the oil spill to a more personal crisis works so well. And I like the combo of “lust for love” as the two are usually put in opposition to each other.

  22. June 27, 2010 9:34 am

    Wow, Carolee…this is amazing stuff. How you seamlessly wove in two stories in such a way to let the reader really FEEL was really something.

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