Monday, September 5, 2011

Answering Back: Listening to Poets Talk

In Carol Ann Duffy's (2009) recent work Answering Back, she invited contemporary poets to select a poem by a past poet and to respond to the poem via an original poem. Below, find "One Art", a villanelle* written by Elizabeth Bishop that Paula Meehan selected and then responded to writing in the form of a villanelle, too.  I love the idea of answering back and wonder if this type of thing isn't done in classes. I would love to showcase examples of this.

Instead of responding with words, I decided to post an image that answers back to Bishop and Meehan, trading on the idea of loss that each poem evokes in me.  Answering back continues the 'conversation'. 

Dear reader, feel comfortable, invited to answer back as well:)

 One Art
     - Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
 so many things seem filled with the intent
 to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

 Lose something every day.  Accept the fluster
 of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
 The art of losing isn't hard to master.

 Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
 places, and names, and where it was you meant
 to travel.  None of these will bring disaster.

 I lost my mother's watch.  And look! my last, or
 next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
 The art of losing isn't hard to master.

 I lost two cities, lovely ones.  And, vaster,
 some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
 I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

 ---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
 I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
 the art of losing's not too hard to master
 though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Quitting the Bars

 - Paula Meehan

Quitting's hard but staying sober's harder.
The day by day; the drudge and boredom bit;
not sure if the self is cell or warder.

You quit the bars; you quit the sordid ardour;
you quit the tulpas sucking on your tit.
Quitting's hard but staying sober's harder.

You sometimes think you got away with murder.
The shady souls regard you as you sit -
you wonder if they are wards or warders

in this sad cafe. The mind's last border
dissolves. Guilt has done a midnight flit.
Quitting's hard but staying sober's harder.

So sip cool water; the light's a wonder
streaming out in wave-particles. You've lit
up bright your prison cell. Body - warder

of your dreams - will be the dream's recorder,
though wrapped now in a skin that doesn't fit.
Quitting's hard but staying sober's harder;
stranger for you being both ward and warder.

*The form of a villanelle requires that the first and third lines of the first stanza be used alternately as third-line refrains for the succeeding stanzas until the last stanza, which contains four lines, the last two of which repeat the refrain lines.

Aftermath (Image by Mary Ann Reilly, 9.2011)


  1. Thanks for sharing this wonderful activity. I may offer it as an option to students during our upcoming "Self-Portrait Poetry Anthology" unit--led by the work of Georgia Heard, students choose poems that "speak to them" then reflect on those poems. I know that some students will want to choose to "write a poem back" or answer with an image, song, dance or other artistic venue. As always, thanks for broadening my thinking and teaching.

  2. or as ee cummings put it:

    (and down went
    my Uncle

    and started a worm farm)

    and, yes, i'll use this
    this year...
    more than twice.

  3. @Maureen I look forward to reading and viewing some of your students' works when posted. Like the idea of a self-portrait anthology.

  4. @rob it's always about possibility isn;t it? Even dead Uncle Sol could be resitutaed as a new enterprise:)