This week we’ve had Pancake Day, Chinese New Year and/or Shambhala Day/Tibetan New Year bringing us the Year of the Water Snake, and Valentine’s Day. My friend Indira Ganesan published her book As Sweet As Honey. A pope resigned. Lots of special occasions (and despite more cold, cold weather, this morning was bright and sunny and felt very springy – I even, finally, spied two yellow buds bursting through the green shoots in pots where I’ve planted crocuses).
So: let’s celebrate one of these special occasions (or maybe something else) with an ode, which is a lyric poem or song devoted to the celebration of something specific. This can be something grand (Allen Tate’s ‘Ode to the Confederate Dead’), or something more ordinary (such as Pablo Neruda’s ‘Ode to My Socks’).
The ode is an ancient form that can have specific patterns in its stanzas, but as Ron Padgett says in his Handbook of Poetic Forms: ‘Ultimately what has survived of the ode in its 2,500 years is its spontaneity, its expansiveness, and its openness to a wide range of emotions. Perhaps rather than its formal attibutes, these are the qualities that make an ode an ode.’
So: choose a special subject (one of this week’s holidays, your true love, the publication of your book, the retirement of a pope; a city, a tree, water snakes, your bed), and then ground the writing in details that are concrete and specific (‘two socks as soft as rabbits’, ‘Bats are scribbling verse on twilight’, ‘the men with green eyelids’). To help structure your work, you might like to pace your voice and perceptions into simple stanzas or lines, but most of all focus on creating a spontaneous, expansive and open voice that celebrates your chosen subject in ways that evoke emotion.
You might also like to read up and/or sample a few more odes devoted to subjects both elevated and everyday:
Pablo Neruda’s ‘Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market’ (the notes of the translator, Robin Robertson, are interesting too)
Gillian Clarke’s ‘Ode to Joy’ (click on the link to see the original London Underground poster, for which this was a commission)