July 24, 2020

How Did This Setting Get Me Into This Situation?

Sara Robinson

As we have learned, virtually anything can be a subject for a poem.

The poet Pablo Neruda, said that there were only eleven subjects. Now that is interesting especially since we also know he didn’t really provide the list of eleven (that I can find anyway). However, in her book, The Discovery of Poetry, Frances Mayes gives us her list of potentials, including “beginnings, memory, art, time,” etc. I submit these as they relate the most to the settings/situation topic discussed here.

There are numerous options for settings. What if we are next to a quiet stream? Nothing much happens, but then we see a water strider tiptoe across the water. Suddenly a large-mouth bass grabs it. All at once we have a situation and we can write about it. We could describe a natural setting, no conflicts, just words about how we feel one with nature. Or we can take this setting and let the situation become a metaphor for something larger in life, predator vs prey; now we are witnesses.

As poetry has evolved, so have types of poems appeared that especially describe particular settings. Types include pastoral (usually a rural landscape, maybe some sheep); aubade (usually about dawn, maybe a lover who leaves); carpe diem (where the setting is time); and ars poetica (where the poet writes about writing poetry, some situation). There are more but you get the idea.

I think a poem could have master settings and this takes me back to Neruda’s eleven subjects. I tend to think there are three “master subjects” for poets: Love, Death, and Themselves. Poets historically take these three, put them into a variety of situations and settings and then reveal and possibly resolved.

In Cesare Pavese’s poem, “Grappa in September,” this line that starts a stanza:

“This early, you see only women./… Then he ends with these two lines:

“steeping them to their depths in the soft air. The streets/ are like the women. They ripen by standing still.” (see Mayes’s book). Masterful!

I began my
  creative writing career after retiring from industry. I would love to talk to readers about my writing and the memoir, as well as my short stories and poetry. My latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, is based on the photography of Hobby Robinson. I have 3 other published poetry books and a memoir. I live in central Virginia and enjoy all the wonders that abound in the local area. Much of my writing focuses on these experiences as well as reflecting on how I am evolving as a poet and writer. In Fall 2014, one of my poems about my Jewish heritage appeared in Poetica Magazine. Looking for places to buy my books? 
Check out:, Barnes & Noble, Solace 

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