November 9, 2022

Poetry and Assumptions

Sara Robinson

Let’s start with the definition: Per Webster’s New World Dictionary (College Edition, 1964).

Before you go, “how old is that,” let me tell you that this particular dictionary is the best literary

friend I have ever had. Both of us are aging well together. So, the definition as it applies to

secular uses: anything taken for granted; supposition; presumption. One could add that

assumption implies taking into association something, or supposing something could be a fact.

Maybe even taking on a pretense can be an assumption.

What does this have to do with poetry? For starters assumptions are the backbones of most

writing. We let our minds folly off into weird or unusual thoughts and as they congeal into lines

and pictures, we now see a composition start to form. We may pull a line from a magazine or

online and now, we have a trigger. Think of yourself as an “assuming thief poet.” Take this line

from Shelley:

“… Memory gave me all of her / That even fancy dares to claim.— / Her presence had

made weak and tame…” //

What can you do with this line? I, for example, could start something like memory is a fool for

me. I always loved her more than she loved me. But my life dwelled in another place & time in

which she didn’t even know of me. Such are dreams converted to new memory. The lines don’t

have to be good to start; get them down and let your mind wander.

How about a few other assumptions to contemplate: The train is always on time. He always

orders tuna salad. She never thanks me. July is always hot. North is always north.

Underlying every poem ever written is a basic assumption. Sometimes it is a secret only the poet

knows. Sometimes the poet gives us hints as the revelation of some truth. Or supposition.

My favorite poem to illustrate this is Maxine Kumin’s “Woodchucks.” Look this poem up and

you will know why I love it. I’ll just say this about it: Never assume anything!

Look in the mirror and see your reflection. You assume it is you. Write about it.

Until next time…

Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).

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