Thursday, April 6, 2017

Wringing Poetic Inspiration from the Depths of Winter

Roy Beckemeyer and Friend

Today, Guest Blogger Roy Beckemeyer has some interesting thoughts about perception and writing poetry. Thank you, Roy, for enlightening us as poets and also prose writers. 

Wringing Poetic Inspiration from the Depths of Winter

by Roy Beckemeyer

Winter sometimes seems to be devoid of poetic subjects; spring has tulips and daffodils, summer her roses and trees arching over village streets. Fall's leaves light themselves up right there on the branches. You feel as if the poetic muse may have retired to Arizona for the winter. But I can generally find things in winter's bleakness that inspire me if I work at it a bit: tree branches that look like skeletons, the shadows of those branches on the neighbor's roof, snow drifting up and ghosting the world into unrecognizable shapes.

This past winter it was birds that caught my fancy. I have always loved the way the winter sparrows can scratch food out from under the massing snow. In early mornings before anyone else is out and about you can see the virgin snow impressed by the tiny tracks left by foraging birds. And in the late evening in Wichita, KS huge flocks of crows return to the city from their feeding trips to the fields outside town, arching their way across the sky and into neighborhood treetops to roost for the night. I know that those images were an impelling reason for a poem I wrote last winter.

But I also know that somewhere in my mind, as I worked on turning those images into words, my subconscious was sifting through lines of other poets' work I had read. And winter, after all, is prime season for catching up on reading, wrapped up in a blanket, a cat on your lap, a dog on your feet. I went back and found lines from three poems I had read this winter that I believe had something to do with my word choice, the shape of the sounds I used, the images that appeared in my poem.

From a long time favorite poem I first read 40 years ago, Sydney Martin's "Letter to an Absent Friend" (Gazebo, 1977, Wichita State University Student Government Association), these lines are vivid in my memory:

"Some mornings
without my glasses
I think the black
leaves have come
but it is only
the fat cold birds
puffed up feathers"

From a new book, Marilyn Nelson's Mrs. Nelson's Class (2017, World Enough Writers, Tilamook, OR), from her poem "The Children's Moon," I found the these well-rounded lines particularly meaningful; the moon and all the "o" sounds brought to my mind a barred owl I had heard many mornings late this winter:

"Look, children, I said as they found their desks:
 The children's moon! A special good luck sign!"

And, from another new book, my friend Kelly Johnston's Kalaska (2017, Blue Cedar Press, Wichita, KS), from his poem, "Going Home to Stay,"

"In the fog of a warm December dawn,
a lone crow beckons from a cottonwood.
The rest of the murder remains quiet."

I think that, as you read my three-part poem, you will see how what I saw on my morning walks this winter, and how the words and phrases I retained in my memory from my winter's reading, influenced the shape and tenor of my own poetic vision:

Three Winter-Bird Poems

winter birds, fluffed-up puffs dark
against snow  hop,  stop,  hop,  peck
at seeds scattered, peppered, thrown hap-
hazardly, their beaks mustached
with fuzzy snowflakes with shattered
shells of sunflower husks their downy
coats filling with snow their footprints
y   y   y   yy  y  y's on the white ground

big owls, round
eyes on round bodies
drawn by first graders, under
a big round moon their
mouths, oh, so open
O's, hooting

crows bound down
the sky, caw to one
another and curve
in arcs and droops
and deviant drops
onto barren trees,
blobs on skeletal
limbs, with croaks,
creaks, rustles, they
pull night's darkness
into themselves

—Roy Beckemeyer, March, 2017

The message is, of course, that you can find inspiration without end in any season if you open your eyes to the world around you and open your mind to the words written by authors whose work you love. So go forth and write: fill poetry month with what you have seen and read and then written.

Thanks to Nancy for making the pages of her blog available to me once again. I am proud to have had her allow me to share her writing space. Happy Spring, Nancy!

Bio: Roy J. Beckemeyer is a retired engineer who conducts research on Paleozoic insect fossils and writes scientific papers and poetry. His first poetry book, "Music I Once Could Dance To," was published in 2014 by Coal City Revew and Press, Lawrence, Kansas (

1 comment:

  1. Roy, oh, how much I enjoyed and applaud your writing style! The Sanctuary of Creative Non-Fiction is where my own thoughts and Pen reside during all Seasons and phases of the Moon. Your applied visual imagery is what leaped upon the page, not simply a well-orchestrated litany of "words". Should someone of whom has read a piece of my writing happen to make a comment such as, "I was there, in your story! I could taste the tomato!", then, I realize that I was successful in sharing a portion of my body of "work". However, like you, I am imagining, Writing has, and, always will be a Pleasure to me. You are, indeed, an excellent Translator from messages sent from beyond Self.
    C. S. Desmond