A Summer Day
A prompt for whenever we get lying-around-in-the-grass weather
Let’s talk about summer for a second. I do believe in summer, in lying around in the grass weather, swimming weather, bright suspended timeless days. I have yet to encounter this season this year, which may be an much-needed balance from PNW Heat Dome 2021.
Last year June was the third month of the year I wore shorts in. Today is June 13th, and I’m wearing a wool dress with a wool sweater over it. I’m enjoying the warm rain and how long the flowers are lasting. But I am also dreaming of summery summer.
So here’s a summer project. I like to pull this out on one of the last, restless classes of spring.
Go outside somewhere green, preferably on a peaceful, breezy, sunny day. Read as much Mary Oliver aloud as your writers can handle. For instance:
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
This is one of Mary Oliver’s most famous poems, with it’s kicker of a last line spawning countless tattoos, art, and dorky poetry jokes (what will I do with my one wild and precious banana? would be how it would go in my class).
Then write a poem where you look closely at what is right around you, maybe even at something very small. What sounds are you hearing? What insects are near you? Birds? People? What are they doing? Be precise. Notice things like how the grasshopper’s jaws move back and forth instead of up and down. Put what you notice in your poem.
At the same time, let your poem ask really big questions. Where did the world come from? What will you do with your life? These questions can be questions you think of because of things you see, or questions hovering in your mind that you put in juxtaposition with the things you see.
I thought this was a risky, probable flop of a prompt, but I wanted to sit outside and write with my students (and wanted my online students to get outside and write), and I figured that after a school year of writing prompts, they could handle it if the prompt wasn’t a zinger. But the poems that came out of this prompt were wonderful. Observant, detailed, vast, and wondering. I’ll be foisting this one on the kids again next year. Especially if we get any summery days.