Peregrine; An End to Hunting Poems; Memorial
By: Temple Cone
in its stoop radially
shearing light from the heights
how it falls
O start ye varmints
and surrender that ye love
the cinder lanes unspool beside fences
of the poor whitewashed
their knowledge of the past
offers no warning as it descends
but self songs
in a sunrise ever and ever
whispering in spurts of dark
to hidden bones
An End to Hunting Poems
When I shot the deer…
no, not again, not
another song about animals
dying at our hands.
Too many corded throats
slashed and unstrung,
skulls staved in,
limbs hacked from trunks,
and the eyes, the goddamn eyes.
Words can’t reknit
A witness to violence
is hardly its cure.
speckled trout, Kodiak,
may your last breaths
deny us in our hour of need.
Born to suffer,
may you tear free
from our splintered dreams.
Tucked into one corner
of the public park,
a granite-and-bronze fountain
erected a century ago,
its central sculpture a spray
of nude sea nymphs
washing over one another,
with a triton trumpeting a whelk.
Bird-lime leaves white tears
upon their rapturous faces.
Children and hopeful lovers
have left a small ransom
of pennies in the tiled basin,
where green water
is stirred by the spring breeze
into a meringue of ripples.
Alluding in design
to the splendid excess of Rome,
its play of stone and spume
yet is altogether ignored
by old men at chess,
mothers pushing their strollers,
and a student painting clouds en pleine air.
Temple Cone is Professor of English at the United States Naval Academy and the former Poet Laureate for the City of Annapolis. He is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Sky Bright Psalms, which received the Cathexis Northwest Book Prize.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
Temple Cone: Recently, my mother gave me a stack of childhood writings that she had kept. In them, I found a poem that I had written in the third grade for our class newsletter. It was a poem about autumn and death, and stood in marked contrast to my classmates’ poems about sunshine, dogs, and sports. I guess I was a Romantic poet from an early age.
I began writing poetry with a devotion to the craft in my early twenties. That meant a lot of imitative verse, a lot of bargain bin claptrap, before I could write a line that was forceful, clear, and worth the saying.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I cannot say which of these two came first, but early in my life, As a boy, I demanded that my parents recite Eugene Field’s “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” to me each night before bed, and I will never forget encountering Yeats’s “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” in my sophomore English anthology. But there were two poems that truly taught me how poetry can deliver us into lived transcendence: Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame” and James Wright’s “A Blessing.” I met them both in my teens, and they went straight to my heart.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I have many favorite poems, and many favorite poets. To narrow the list, I will name poets whose oeuvre I have read in its entirety (mostly), so that I could dip in and be pleased with whatever came up. In no particular order: Yeats, Whitman, Hopkins, Seamus Heaney, Homer, Dante, Rilke, A.R. Ammons, Jack Gilbert, Wislawa Szymborska, and Charles Wright.
Three of my favorite individual collections of poetry are Christopher Logue’s War Music, Les Murray’s Translations from the Natural World, and Forrest Gander’s Science & Steepleflower.
And as for favorite poems, I will name three that were given to me by former teachers. Ron Smith gave me James Wright’s “A Blessing.” Claudia Emerson gave me Robinson Jeffers’s “The Deer Lay Down Their Bones.” And Rita Dove gave me Jack Gilbert’s “Married.” These three have been touchstones along the way.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
TC: I write early in the morning. When possible, I start around 4:30. That early, there is no chance my internal critic will be awake to judge my choice of language, imagery, or subjects. I make an espresso, then write at my desk, using the same brand of journal I have used for thirty years—a hardbound notebook with yellow pages and green college ruled lines. The blankness of an empty white page is a bit terrifying: it is as if I am being called upon to create ex nihilo!
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I find that if I start with a form in mind, I either abandon it midway or perversely revise it into a different form. But if I just start writing, then formal possibilities start to emerge with the lines, and I can see how a sonnet might emerge here, a haiku there, or how the lines are twisting themselves into different, non-traditional forms, at which point I must simply be open and responsive to their movement.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Do not rush. Treat poetry as a craft with a long apprenticeship, not as self-expression. If it is the latter, then every failed poem becomes a psychological failure. If it is the former, then every poem becomes a trial piece, a bit of work that is meant for developing your technique, not for sharing with the public.
Accept that you must write bad poetry for years before you can write a true line. Think of all the shoddy verse to which we are exposed: popular song lyrics, greeting cards, advertisements, etc. Bad verse accretes within the poetic conscious, like sedimentary layers. You have to dig down through those layers, and that takes time. (This digging is perhaps the best reason to enter an MFA program. Two years focused entirely on your own writing can help you get a lot of garbage poetry out of your system.)
Imitate. Stop worrying about your voice. As a poet, you are part of a long tradition. Learn it. Figure out whose poetry you like, and try to write like them. Do not share those poems, and do not fool yourself into thinking that they are your own work. But by imitating the great poets, you learn new and different ways to write about your poetic concerns, and with enough practice, you can see how your own way of expressing things differs slightly from others’. Over time, you can build on and develop those differences, and they will give you a basis for your own work, at which point you can abandon your masters. But do not worry about being original. Your poems need to be written, because the things that matter bear repeating, but that is a matter of freshness, not originality. I have found that writers who claim to be original do not actually read much poetry. They cannot risk it: not because their poetry will be corrupted, but because they know that their poems have already been written, in far more beautiful and powerful ways, by poets who recognize and accept their poetic lineage. The desire to say a thing best (and to be acclaimed for it) cannot survive direct contact with the tradition; but the desire to say a thing well will flourish in that soil.
What is your editing process like?
I draft quickly. I try not to chastise myself for sloppy or sentimental lines, though sometimes I will rewrite a phrase over and over, just to get it to sound right. When I am happy with the draft, I will type it up to see how it looks naked on the page (one’s own handwriting can conceal all sorts of errors!), edit it for days at a time, then put it away for weeks or months till I feel like I have mostly forgotten it. Coming to a poem after being away from it for a while, I find I am fresh and open to radical changes that I could not see when I was first composing it.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
TC: When, like a parent, I trust it has the strength and understanding to fend for itself in the world, and I find myself immersed in nurturing the next poem.