Friday, April 7, 2017

Poetry Friday: Talking Back to Poetry

Several months ago, Laura Purdie Salas pitched an idea to our poetry writing group: why not pick a poem and "talk back" to it?  As we built our schedule for this year, she didn't claim that idea, so I picked it up; it was too good not to use. And it seemed the perfect idea for April, National Poetry Month.

Here is the poem I picked, and the rules:

You, darkness, of whom I am born---

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations---just as they are.

It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me

I believe in the night.

---Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

The Rules:

1)  Respond to the poem/poet however you agreeing or disputing or supplementing ....or simply chatting, as to a friend. Be deep or be sassy. Be funny or sad. Use a formal form or free verse. Respond to the whole poem---or pull out one line and talk only to it. (That last option is for the introverts, haha)

2) must be conversational. Talk back, right?

I must say that I enjoyed this challenge.  I love Rilke and I love good conversation.  If only he were alive to keep the volley going....

By God, Rilke, you have shed light
to the ends of the universe, 
even. You have left nothing

unloved. You have rendered unto me
what is not mine to have: an undying
understanding of grace. Shouldn’t 

poets—like Sujata Bhatt, perhaps—
enamor you of cow dung, until you crave
its pungent disregard of public opinion?

Shouldn’t poets—like Mary Oliver perhaps—
lure you to the wilds and then sharply switch 
you with rebukes to change your life? 

Shouldn’t they—like Kay Ryan, perhaps—
suffer you to suck brine, slapping the waves
for the raft you were building, right THERE, a second ago?

Shouldn’t they withhold embraces and comfort,
looking at you as blankly as an olive,
which by its ancient and pungent salty succor says:

oh, did you think you could outdo me?
Oh, Rilke, I want to love what is 
beyond the circle, illuminated. 

But you—you have forgiven me.
Where I am to go, then, to find 
your beloved night?

—-Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

For more conversation, please go see how my poetry sisters responded to Rilke. Or join in. There's always room for one more at the poetry table.


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene at Live Your Poem.


  1. Unlike some of the other poems this time around, I am not entirely sure where you fall on the darkness issue. Wanting to love a thing is not the same as actually loving it! And yet, it's clear that myriad poets employ the dark as a device... and Rilke does indeed illuminate the subject to great degree. Where to next?

    This was a great project; thank you!

    1. I think my waffling is the influence of Rilke, who advised "loving the questions." :) Also, I believe I should edit my poem to read "I want to love what is beyond MY circle." Perhaps that is more pointed and true. I will say, though, that as I read Rilke's poem, I equated the all-encompassing darkness of our origin with a state of grace. And an offer to return to it. positive. But somehow, scary, too. There...cleared it right up, didn't I?

  2. I, too, enjoyed this project quite a bit. Thanks for picking the poem (which was new to me), and for the intro to Sujata Bhatt as well!

    1. I have to continually try to expand my knowledge of great poets. There are SO many I don't know.

  3. I love your back and forth here...and the ending still strikes me several different ways. Sometimes it sounds like a challenge to Rilke. Other times it feels a little mournful. And it's always still Rilke's night...not yours. Complex poem--so many wonderful specific images:>)

    1. Thanks, Laura. I think I was both rebuking Rilke for leaving me nothing left to write about, since he'd stretched love to the ends of the darkest universe...and also wishing that I could see that far, too.

  4. <3 <3 <3
    Worth repeated readings!

    1. Thank you. That's a real compliment. :)

  5. I don't know how I missed it upon first reading, but I love this part:
    You have rendered unto me
    what is not mine to have: an undying
    understanding of grace.

    Thank you for the introduction to this poem.

    1. You know, that line when I wrote it, really surprised me. I really think we can't quite realize how large grace IS. Except that Rilke seems to know, which kind of makes me...discontent (ha!)

  6. You have left nothing unloved. This speaks to me, esp. after having recently finished the book YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR LIFE, about Rilke's relationship with Rodin. Thank you, Sara (and yes, it has been TOO LONG!)!

    1. I love so much of Rilke's poetry, and his letters, and what I know of his life....and the web of relationships he built through the written word. Not quite like our Poetry Friday...but we do okay, right?? I will look for that book. Thank you.

  7. By God, Holmes, you have
    stopped me in my tracks
    to think about how I can
    do what you do.
    I must read like love
    recognizing what
    I do not know
    and finding
    in the dark.

    1. Ha! Bonus points for putting your comment in verse! This was an interesting challenge, and one I would do again. Maybe with a poet who is harder to talk to. With Rilke, I cannot help myself--- he alternately blows my mind and sort of...provokes me.

  8. I've enjoyed eavesdropping on these conversations about darkness. Even though I don't always like darkness (though sometimes I do), it does have much to teach me.


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