This week I read and studied a poem by Eric Pankey called “Lunar Calendar.” Go ahead and read it on the Poetry Daily website because I don’t have permission to post it here.
I wanted to look at this poem because I think it’s a good example of how poetry sort of works when it is working well, if that makes sense. This is one of my favorite kinds because it’s accessible on first read but gets better when you do two things: 1) Read it out loud, and 2) Study it a little closer.
Read it Out Loud
I wasn’t overly impressed with this poem when I first read it, but something about it seemed interesting. So during the time in our class when we are asked to bring up a poem from the week’s assignments for discussion, I decided to bring this one up. Sometimes I select a poem for this discussion time that I loved but other times, like this one, I choose a poem that I’m not even sure I like but that I want to know more about.
We begin the discussion by reading the poem out loud. As I did this in class – up until now I had only read it in my head – I realized the poem “sounded” beautiful. The interesting words, the way the consonants and vowels played together like dancers, the rythym established by the repetition. By the time I finished, we all sort of sighed after that closing line: “The moon, fluent in every tongue, remains mum.”
Even the end sound reverberated like a hum-m–m.
Reading a poem out loud changes the way you interact with it. Try it.
Study A Little
When first expressing my hesitation to choose “Lunar Calendar” for discussion, my professor pointed out that the poem uses the anaphora technique that is very common in poetry. Yet, I hadn’t heard the term or really noticed the form until this poem. Anaphora means a word, line, or phrase is repeated at the beginning of each line. It’s a way of establishing a repeating rhythm as well as a way of looking at a common thing in a new way.
In this case, the moon.
Pankey varies the line a bit, sometimes writing “The moon is” and other times using a stronger verb. The variation keeps the poem interesting. The repetition keeps it familiar. The anaphora provides a way to look at the familiar in new and unexpected ways. The first line, “The moon is a midwife who delivers a bundle of salt”, is gorgeous.
Besides the interesting diction/language, the poem also uses a set number of lines: twelve. This is where the title, “Lunar Calendar”, makes more sense. Twelve months in a calendar year. The poem seems to look at the moon in it’s different phases and gives images and metaphors that describe them.
So there’s your little poetry seminar for the week. What do you think? Did you appreciate “Lunar Calendar” more after looking it over a little more closely?
I certainly did. Later in the week, I used this poem as a model for a poem of my own. I chose a similarly familiar subject – the sky – and tried to follow Pankey’s pattern very closely. For example, when he used a metaphor for the moon, “June bug larva”, I used one of my own for the night sky, “pickled century egg” (the black egg in Chinese cuisine pictured above). When he used a scientific term, I used one that related to my subject. I wanted to imitate his moves so I could see precisely how he made the poem work so beautifully. I wasn’t as happy with mine as I was with his, but I did come up with some new and interesting lines.
This kind of writing, called modeling or imitating, is a common poet’s practice and one I’ve learned a lot from. If you are interested, take a poem you love and try the same thing.
*image credit: Rebecca Sows “The Century Egg” on Behance