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Constance Alexander: Despite our inability to be together, you can go home again, if you write a poem

One of the best of all four-letter words, HOME is where most of us have taken shelter for a couple of weeks, trying to stay healthy in seclusion from the COVID-19 Virus. For some, it feels like detention, a Ground Hog Day version of “The Breakfast Club.” Others have seized the opportunity for spring cleaning, bringing seasonal order to confined chaos.

Parents have been busy, struggling to homeschool the kids, with teachers pitching in from the other side of the screen. College students’ instruction has moved online, and those who can telecommute do their jobs electronically and work at home.

In the era of COVID-19 we work, we eat, we nap, we worry. And where do we do that? At HOME.

If you are feeling fed up, claustrophobic, and at loose ends, there is light at the end of this tunnel and it is not an oncoming train.  April is National Poetry Month and it’s on the way. The fun begins on the first.

George Ella Lyon (KyForward file photo by Ann W. Olson)

WKMS-FM, the NPR affiliate in Murray, invites listeners to write and record original short poems for broadcast every weekday in April for its annual edition of “Poetry Minutes.” This year’s theme is HOME, “…the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” according to beloved American poet Robert Frost.

The concept was inspired by the work of former Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon. Her classic poem, “Where I’m From,” explores her own connections to the people and places she associates with home. Her words and images have inspired writers, world-wide, to explore their roots using her poem as a model.

Another poetry collection of hers, “Many-Storied House,” tells the sixty-eight-year-long story of the house she grew up in, beginning with its construction by her grandfather and culminating with her memories of bidding farewell to the old homeplace after her mother’s death.

The book opens to a photograph of the house in Harlan, Kentucky, followed by a sketch of the floor plan. After that, each poem takes readers on a tour that includes such mundane details as the bathroom window, memorable because it was where “they put a kid through/ when they lock their keys/ in the house. It was/ my brother till he got/ too big…”

Another evocative stop is the “Junk Drawer,” a cluttered cubicle in every home, much of its contents unknown, useless, and precious at all once. The Lyon Family version contained the front page from V-E Day, leftover net from the poet’s kindergarten graduation dress, and a dried-up shoeshine kit.

Each item held value; some more evident than others. In George Ella’s view, “…Junk is the Secret/ Service protecting what is/ precious. It slows down/ traffic between this world/ and the next.”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

In workshops, George Ella Lyon challenges participants to write poems based on memories rooted in a place they have called home. Such poems, as explained in the University Press of Kentucky catalog, “evoke more than just stock and stone, rooms and spaces; they explore the essence of memory and the mysteries of relationships as well as the innermost architecture of love, family, and community.”

To write your own HOME poem, the first step is to sketch a floor plan of a place where you have lived or are living. After that, write one word, a memory word, for each room. You might choose a piece of furniture, wallpaper, a color, a picture on the wall, a feeling, a knickknack, whatever.

Then look at the floor plan and the words and pick one memory, the one with the most energy or emotion associated with it. Next, a series of questions evokes answers that can lead to a poem, a story, an essay. With so many ideas focused on one room, the possibilities for a poem are endless, even for rookies.

Since WKMS Poetry Minutes feature short poems, limit yourself to about sixty words. Take a look at some short poetic forms, like the haiku. Or try an ode, like Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks.” A photo can also get you started, so you might write an ekphrastic poem that transforms the visual into the verbal. Make use of poetic techniques like metaphors, alliteration, or personification.
There are ample online resources. A glossary of poetry terms is available at www.poetryfoundation.org/learn. Neruda’s fabulous ode is in poets.org/poem. The Academy of American Poets, poets.org and poetryfoundation.org are rich with information and inspiration. Interested in an “I am From” poem? Log on to iamfromproject.com.

Go to wkms.org for more information about WKMS-FM and Poetry Minutes 2020. Now get started. You can go home again, if you write your poem.

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