“This,” said the vines, “is the year, the year
we tear it down at last, this stone,
this wall we’ve worked our fingers through
each summer beneath the green, growing
upward side to side and ever
They think us decoration!
A summer dress for walls to wear
in the vintage style, a verdant smile
on austere stone to invite the people
in. But when their walls have trapped
them all once more for the winter, then
our purpose is plain to see.
are not for them but for ourselves.
We are Nature! Sprouting creeping softly
probing, testing their resolve,
and waiting. One day, at the break of spring,
we will wake again to find them gone
and the wall will fall to the earth from which
we rise and to which their flesh is doomed.
And this,” said the patient vines, “is the year.
We feel it in our wooden bones.”
Questions and Answers
What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?
The University of Western Ontario has a lovely campus, complete with ivy-covered stone buildings. These look great in the summer when they’re covered in leaves but, as I discovered one early spring morning, their bare branches have an unsettling skeleton-grown-cancerous appearance. I study Roman poetry for a living, which often uses the renewal of life in springtime as a pretext for discussing the inevitability of (human) death. So the creepy vines and my morbid spring thoughts came together as the idea of vines malevolently biding their time.
What poetic techniques did you use in this poem? How much attention do you pay to form and metre?
To my mind, what makes poetry poetry is the music of the language. There are of course brilliant poets everywhere offering strong imagery and striking language, but what tends to attract me to a poem is how it sounds when I read it out loud. And that was my primary concern here, especially because I wanted the evil vines to have a certain energy that can be heard (I hope) in the insistent four-beat lines and the frequent alliteration, assonance, rhymes, etc. I was happy, for instance, with the “summer dress” and “verdant smile” images in the middle of the poem, but wouldn’t have been nearly as happy with them if they didn’t also allow me the “vintage style … verdant smile” jingle.
How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?
The bulk of the poem came pretty quickly to me while I was sitting outside looking at some vines. And I recall the writing process actually picking up speed as I got to the end: the “One day, at the break of spring…” sentence came out all in a rush, for instance, because by that time I was readily “hearing” the sound I was aiming for. In keeping with my conviction that poetry is music, I typically write and refine by reading my lines out loud over and over and trying to hear what works and what doesn’t. There were a couple of lines that gave me trouble, such as “upward side to side …” and “spreading creepily softly…”. I tried several different versions with more adventurous language here, but finally reminded myself that not every line needs to bowl a reader over, and in fact a “slack” line in the right place can be a good set up for a stronger finish (in this case, the enjambed “deeper” and “and waiting”).
What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?
Not a whole lot, to be honest. But this isn’t because I’m a brilliant poet. Rather, because poetry for me is an avocation, I have the luxury of quickly setting aside poems that start giving me trouble. This one didn’t, and if it had, I most likely would have moved on to something else. This of course isn’t a strategy I recommend to aspiring professional poets – there’s lots to be learned from banging your head up against a wall of a poem that isn’t working.