Writing 201: Drawer

What’s in your drawer? Let’s praise it (to its face) with odes and apostrophes. Hello, Day 8!

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Your prompt: drawer

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Simple: write about something in your drawer. Which drawer? Any. What kind of object? From a forgotten treasure to a trusty piece of clothing, what’s important is not the object itself, but your emotional connection to it, whether positive, negative, or ambivalent.

Today’s form: ode

Odes at a glance:

  • An ode is a laudatory poem celebrating a person, an object, a place, etc. It can come in any form these days, having shed its ancient (and much stricter) formal requirements.

A bit like the elegy, which we explored a few days ago, the ode started out as a fairly fixed form: a three-part stanza written in certain meters. Also like the elegy, over the centuries odes became a more general term — in this case, for any poem celebrating the good qualities of people, objects, places, and personal traits.

At their best, odes are both a compelling portrait of something and an investigation (tacit or explicit) of the poet’s own relation to that thing. Here’s John Keats, who wrote some of the most canonic examples of the form, like this one, Ode on Melancholy:

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
       Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
               Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
       Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
               And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

Melancholy might sound like a strange concept to celebrate, yet Keats’ ode makes it plausible — especially once he introduces a character — “him whose strenuous tongue can burst Joy’s grape” — which could very well be a poet (any poet, or a specific one — like, say, the author of this ode).

One way to go about composing your ode would be, first, to make a list of the qualities and details you’d like to highlight, and then try to work them into a poem, crossing off those you’ve covered. Another: write as if you’re shooting a movie, following the subject of your ode from top to bottom, from left to right, etc.

For your poem today, focus on details — the things that make your chosen object unique — but also on the effect it produces on others (you or someone else):

I’ve got a Dungeon Master’s Guide
I’ve got a twelve-sided die
I’ve got Kitty Pryde
And Nightcrawler too
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do
If someone could write a convincing, heartwarming ode to his garage (thanks, Weezer), I’m sure you’ll do well, too.

Today’s device: apostrophe

Most poems are addressed to an amorphous reader, if to anyone at all. Which is why an apostrophe (a-POS-truh-fee) can produce such a striking effect in a poem: it occurs when the speaker in the poem addresses another person or an object (usually personified) directly.

Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee!

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Talking about a dagger? Easy there, Macbeth! Talking to a dagger? Now that’s truly dangerous.

You can write a poem that is made up entirely of one extended apostrophe, or switch back and forth between addressing your reader and addressing someone (or something) else.

An apostrophe can cover a wide range of emotions, from the warm pride of “O Canada! Our home and native land!” to the chill of John Dryden’s “Let me, let me freeze again to death!” (in his King Arthur libretto).

What tone and flavor will you choose for your apostrophe? Will it be plaintive, nostalgic, angry, admiring? The way you shape your address will greatly influence the feel of your poem.

Photo by Travis Wise (CC BY 2.0)

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