Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Where the poem comes from: Susan Donnelly

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Where the poem comes from: Susan Donnelly

Monday, May 4, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I started a series on how a poem comes to be written, just because it’s something I always enjoy knowing about. I started with a poem by Afaa M. Weaver. Here’s one by Susan Donnelly.

Susan is a respected and widely-published poet and teacher who I am fortunate to have as a friend and neighbor. Her poem here, “Time,” is from her most recent collection, "Transit." Here is how she describes writing “Time.”

“This poem was one of the fortuitous ones which jumped out whole, surprising its author and taking its own expression as it went along.  I had been musing on how often, after large and horrific events or crimes, one heard of the need for closure, the necessity to move on.  This call seemed to come particularly from leaders or governments responsible for the crimes.  I decided they'd been doing this for a long time, perhaps as far back as Cain's murder of Abel.  As soon as he spoke, Cain "kicked aside a turnip" (produce was the issue, after all) and I saw that things were taking an Irish turn, as evidenced in his parents' diction.  Later, I continued this unexpected cast in choosing as one of my villains Cromwell, so murderous to the indigenous Irish people.

“I was happy to see by its end that the quirky poem had expressed just what I had wanted to say about tyrants' hypocritical verbiage: "healing", reconcile", as well as our tendency to look away, move past or gloss over crimes that must be remembered, confronted and judged.”

"It's time to move forward," said Cain,
kicking aside a turnip.
"time to put the past
behind us."  He frowned at his parents.
Where else would it be then? they wondered,  
who'd had only scraps of it
and a desolate future,
"Yes, time," said Cain again

and walked away.  Attila, too, cried "now
let there be healing!" on a hill
above a smoking village.
He and his soldiers could still
smell roasted flesh,
pick out here and there
a lump twitching.  "Time,"
-- he swung one blood-smeared arm wide

over the quick and dead --
"to come together as one people. . ."
"In short, reconcile!" snapped Cromwell,
who measured ambition
by the tree-dwelling, feckless Celts.
Himmler fanned his face:
"Ja, it is here too scorching.  Let us move on."

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