Guest Poem | Joe Bunting.

Today's poem was written by Write Practice blogger Joe Bunting, and we're bringing a little bit of the Write Practice process to Writes & Rights. This is Part I of a two-post dialogue about what makes a poem good. Tomorrow I'll share a new poem I've written over at Write Practice, but for today, we're looking for constructive criticism on Joe's piece. So share your thoughts- what parts of Joe's poem stick with you, resonate and tap into your innermost thoughts? Or does it? What parts of the poem are effective, and what parts need work? Do the imagery and message behind it speak clearly through Joe's language? Join the conversation about good poetry.


Learning, Still, to See

Where are you?
Do you see that white bird
in the red branches of the shrub?

Do you see this pile of dead leaves
pushed into a ditch from a parking lot
sprinkled with soda cans?

And do you see me, sitting atop this yellow
flower quilted hill—did you look close?
Did you notice each flower is the size of an ant?
Did you notice each is shaped like a stretched out bell?
Did you see the millions of ant-sized yellow bells?
If not, where are your eyes?

Where are your eyes and where are your feet?
Did you dance while God played the pipe in those red branches?
Did you weep when God played a sad song in that pile of leaves?

And did you see the old man dressed in a cornflower gown?
Or the old woman wheeled against the wall?
He stares dead ahead. Drool drips down her lip.

(They watch television and wait to die.)

Old man will you teach us to dance?
Old woman will you teach us to weep?
And will you teach us to see that white bird
Singing sad dance songs in the red
branches of a shrub I do not know the name of.

Maybe then you will learn to see.
(Maybe we'll learn to see too.)


Joe Bunting heads up The Write Practice, a blog of writing prompts for people who don't do writing prompts, where he considers himself the community editor. As a day job, Joe is a ghostwriter and canopy tour guide. (seriously. he hangs out in trees all day long.) Follow him on Twitter. Woohoo!


Gord Mayer said...

This poem has a challenge like a dagger to it. The detail that you brought to the "yellow flower quilted hill" took away my ability to be ambiguous about it. Of course I saw it, I may have even seen you Mr. White Bird, but the detail of "millions of ant-sized yellow bells" outs me as a mere passer-by and sets me up for the dagger.

The first wound is dealt with the phrase "and where are your feet?" Well said Joe that it is not enough merely to notice the beauty and sadness but that we must enter into and interact with it. The second was my (late?) realization that the white bird is sage and I, the advanced human have missed it. And the third and final wound is found in the neglect of the great treasure of our elders. I'm bleeding for sure.

At first I had a bit of trouble with the transition to the old woman and man. I had placed myself somewhere in nature reading and it took a minute to put the stark scene of the old woman and man together in my mind. Once I got there it was a very effective contrast to the flowered hill. The last aside tries to put some salve on the wounds of the reader but I think it is unnecessary. It's ok that the bird  remains the sage and prosecutor in our crime. The judgement and sentence is left to us. I think that's appropriate to leave us there.

Apologies for the 'dagger' imagery but I  was surely cut by your words. I shall now leave my computer and call my 89 year old grandmother we are blessed to still have with us.

Joe Bunting said...


Thank you so much for this honest criticism, and for interacting with my poem so thoroughly.

You're right, I was worried about that transition from nature to nursing home. I'm glad you got it, but I'm not sure everyone will take the time to figure it out. You think I should lengthen the transition to make it easier?

And you're right. We probably don't need that little salve on the end. Good call. Thank you.

CaJoh said...

This shows to me that perspective is never really known. So often we think we know everything when in fact we don't know anything. Seeing is much more than what is found with the eyes, it is what is perceived by the mind as well.

Ironically, I never get the symbolism that poets show. This only goes to show that I still need to learn to see when it comes to poetry.

Joe Bunting said...

Thanks CaJoh :)

That's a great reading of the poem.

I actually didn't intentionally use any symbolism. Which ones did you think were symbolic?

Gord Mayer said...

Grandma says hi :)

With regard to the transition I would fear that length might take away some of the sharpness of the contrast. Maybe the white bird simply tells us to look before asking if we see them? That way we know we are turning our head to another scene.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Joe Bunting said...

Mmm that's a great idea. Thanks for leading me through my own poem, Gord. I love your perspective.

kati said...

Hey Joe!  
Thanks for introducing us to a great new blog.  Fun to find you here :-)

My favorite line in the whole poem I think is "(They watch television and wait to die.)"  The images up to this point for me are suggestive, and beautiful inside of their sadness.  I'm flowing along, tentative...thoughtful.  But then I arrive here:  BLAMMO.  There's nothing but searing loss coursing through this one!  A complete contrast to the rest, a necessary jarring.  So as soon as the words slap me, i must go back and really study what you're leading us into.  I'm sitting up straight and needing to change!

My ideas are just wording details:
1) maybe could God sing rather than play the sad song?  This would create a distinctive image from his playing of the pipe.
2) the line "branches I do not know the name of" could possibly end at "I do not know".  would make it tighter, and more elemental somehow?
3) this one is totally what you're after as the author but earlier when you are talking about the "yellow flower quilted hill" you may not need the "did you look close?" phrase that follows.  Knowing the shapes of the tiny flowers would require this.  I guess it's a bit of poetry philosophy: can you afford for the readers to discover for themselves the KEY to the whole piece?  Or do you spell out the stuff that really matters, to increase the chance that your work will help them grow?

This poem makes me want to get out of my brain tunnel abstractions when i am out in my urban world.  to truly see the people, always...but also the nature snippets.  both give pictures of the wealth of God, and the ways we miss out.

Thanks as always for what you bring to your peop's...good stuff!    kati

Joe Bunting said...


Thank you for your thorough and creative reading of my poem. I love your suggestions. I will probably take at least two of them, but all of them helped me rethink the poem. I really appreciate your help, Kati.

You're great.

Dee Vaal said...

This reminds me of a person with ADD - your mind is constantly wondering at every speck that quickly draws your attention- hoping that somehow you will find the answers in your life

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