Saturday, October 31, 2015

English Teachers, English Words

At a long-ago event in the Redwood Forest, 
where banana slugs were vigorously munching on dichondra sod 
that had been laid especially for a wedding, 
these three English teachers and friends of ours posed for my good camera.
They know who they are, I will not name them now. . . .

Silent Poem

backroad   leafmold   stonewall   chipmunk
underbrush   grapevine   woodchuck   shadblow

woodsmoke   cowbarn   honeysuckle   woodpile
sawhorse   bucksaw   outhouse   wellsweep

backdoor   flagstone   bulkhead   buttermilk
candlestick   ragrug   firedog   brownbread

hill top   outcrop   cowbell   buttercup
whetstone   thunderstorm   pitchfork   steeplebush

gristmill   millstone  cornmeal   waterwheel
watercress   buckwheat   firefly   jewelweed

gravestone   groundpine   windbreak   bedrock
weathercock   snowfall   starlight   cockcrow

Robert Francis     (1901-1987)

Robert Francis; Collected Poems 1936-1976,
University of Massachusetts Press, 1976, page 240.

I often mention that I love compound words. Imagine then my joy when I found this poem---in a used book that had been thrown away by the Chicago Public Library. Perhaps Robert Francis is most famous now for never having even been as famous as he probably deserved to be. He was mentioned approvingly in something (I have forgotten where or what) I read recently, so I got this book of his life's work. His other book is prose, apparently, about not having been famous, or even all that much noticed. Two books, I love this poem, the mostly rural sweep of it! Two of these words, shadblow and jewelweed, have enough meaning for me that I could write a blog post on each one. And probably will! Most of the compound words in this poem have two syllables, a few have three and only one is four syllables in length. And I think we should make more of them when writing poetry,
I want also to recommend again a small book of Mark Strands, Chicken, Shadow, Moon and More, which I discuss in this blog post. Strand uses the each small word over and over to create wonderful poems.


  1. I love the bouncy rhythm, a kind of wholesome rap. I found myself thinking about rearranging them to create some kind of order, such as starting with cockcrow and ending with gravestone, or about the play of vowel sounds.

  2. Yes! What a great comment! I always want to make new compound words. Notice how rural this stuff is, no Internet,