An example of the elegance of clear and simple speech in poetry

by DRM

When I write a poem I try to keep the words as simple and true as I can manage. The temptation to show-off with language is always there, and the temptation to force meaning will make me pause and doubt the words. I know that the music is in the plainsong of language and that meaning is in the precise and simple statement of what we experience and observe.

I was in school with Jeff Harrison. Here is one of his poems. I like his poetry because he is able to be skilled and direct. He uses language that you can hold on to. He can be very smart, but he doesn’t let being very smart get in his way.

Here’s how he explains it:

I tend to dislike deliberate obscurity, for instance, and I tend to gravitate toward poetry that is seriously engaged with both experience and language.

A poem:


by Jeffrey Harrison

Walking past the open window, she is surprised
by the song of the white-throated sparrow
and stops to listen. She has been thinking of
the dead ones she loves–her father who lived
over a century, and her oldest son, suddenly gone
at forty-seven–and she can’t help thinking
she has called them back, that they are calling her
in the voices of these birds passing through Ohio
on their spring migration. . . because, after years
of summers in upstate New York, the white-throat
has become something like the family bird.
Her father used to stop whatever he was doing
and point out its clear, whistling song. She hears it
again: “Poor Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody.”
She tries not to think, “Poor Andy,” but she
has already thought it, and now she is weeping.
But then she hears another, so clear, it’s as if
the bird were in the room with her, or in her head,
telling her that everything will be all right.
She cannot see them from her second-story window–
they are hidden in the new leaves of the old maple,
or behind the white blossoms of the dogwood–
but she stands and listens, knowing they will stay
for only a few days before moving on.


You can visit his web site here.