• Christine Delea

April 6 Poetry Prompt: Animals

There are so many poems about about animals that you may wonder if the world needs more. I think it does, particularly as it seems the least we can do for the creatures we share the planet with and often do not treat well.

Ghost Crab

Below are two poems that take very different approaches to writing about animals. For even more inspiration, head over to my Poems I Love page; you'll find links to a number of animal poems, including Yusef Komunyakaa's "Ode to the Maggot," Joy Harjo's "She Had Some Horses," James Dickey's "The Heaven of Animals," and more.

Today, you have a few choices as to your approach to the prompt. You can research an creature not often thought of as "poetic" (maggot, ghost crab, dung beetle, etc.) and write about it. You can use an animal as an extended metaphor throughout your poem, as Harjo does with horses. You can write about a place that is inhabited by animals, as the Dickey poem does and the Twichell poem below does. Or you can focus on sounds, which Hollander does in his poem below (your sounds do not need to be animal sounds, as in his poem, but slant rhyme, assonance, alliteration, etc.).

City Animals

by Chase Twichell

Just before the tunnel, the train

lurches through a landscape

snatched from a dream. Flame blurts

from high up on the skeletal refinery,

all pipes and tanks. Then a tail of smoke.

The winter twilight looks like fire, too,

smeared above the bleached grasses

of the marsh, and in the shards of water

where an egret the color of newspaper

holds perfectly still, like a small angel

come to study what's wrong with the world.

In the blond reeds, a cat picks her way

from tire to oil drum,

hunting in the petrochemical stink.

Row of nipples, row of sharp ribs.

No fish in the iridescence.

Maybe a sick pigeon, or a mouse.

Across the Hudson,

Manhattan's black geometry begins to spark

as the smut of evening rises in the streets.

Somewhere in it,

a woman with a plastic bag in her hand

follows a dachshund in a purple sweater,

letting him sniff a small square of dirt

studded with cigarette butts.

And in the park a scarred Doberman

drags on his choke chain toward another fight,

but his master yanks him back.

It's like the Buddhist vision of the beasts

in their temporary afterlife, each creature

locked in its own cell of misery,

the horse pulling always uphill

with its terrible load, the whip

flicking bits of skin from its back,

the cornered bear woofing with fear,

the fox's mouth red from the leg in the trap.

Animal islands, without comfort between them.

Which shall inherit the earth?

Not the interlocking kittens frozen in the trash.

Not the dog yapping itself to death

on the twentieth floor. And not the egret,

fishing in the feculent marsh

for the condom and the drowned gun.

No, the earth belongs to the spirits

that haunt the air above the sewer grates,

the dark plumes trailing the highway's

diesel moan, the multitudes

pouring from the smokestacks of the citadel

into the gaseous ocean overhead.

Where will the angel rest itself?

What map will guide it home?

Monk Vulture

Adam's Task

by John Hollander

"And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field. . . " - Gen. 2:20

Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed, Implex; thou, awagabu.

Every burrower, each flier Came for the name he had to give: Gay, first work, ever to be prior, Not yet sunk to primitive.

Thou, verdle; thou, McFleery's pomma; Thou; thou; thou -- three types of grawl; Thou, flisket, thou, kabasch; thou, comma- Eared mashawok; thou, all; thou, all.

Were, in a fire of becoming, Laboring to be burned away, Then work, half-measuring, half-humming, Would be as serious as play.

Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater Wherret, and thou, lesser one; Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater. Naming's over. Day is done.

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