Poets Online Archive
A Natural Landscape
July 2008

When I read the poem "The Changing Light" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti ( from How to Paint Sunlight, New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2001), it made me think of that short and much-anthologized poem by Carl Sandburg called "Fog."

The fog comes
on little cat feet

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I think I probably read the Sandburg poem before I even entered high school in a school anthology. Then in high school, I'm sure some English teacher used it for a lesson in imagism. That was the name given to a movement in poetry, originating in 1912 and represented by Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and others, aiming at clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images.

"Fog" is a good example of imagism. Ferlinghetti's poem is a better example of imagism used to serve a larger purpose.

I thought this month you might try your hand at a poem that is very much anchored in an outdoor place. Your poem does not need to be purely an exercise in imagism, but it should bring into it the light, the weather and the natural atmosphere of the place. A kind of natural landscape should be present in the poem. Beyond that informal form, if you choose to have something else going on in the poem, all the better.

I was reading a book about Robert Frost this week and in one section Frost said that a poem should have several doors in it - but the poem shouldn't open them. I'd say that's good advice for this prompt too.

There is more about this prompt and on earlier prompts and poetry on the Poets Online Blog.


Green still mountains made her backdrop
Falls into mist
Her eye is wide and opens to curiosity
Tranquil perception no thunder

In her rains. She is named of the Gaelic
Horse figured ancient,
Imagination fills her shape the winding back
Of a sea horse galloping.

Yet she is still and the rain hardly felt-each dark green
Mountain snaps into place
And her colour is precise as the film of my eye
Kodachrome, saturated. precise

John MacPherson


Like salt water in your mouth
After a long absence from the sea
Every first kiss stings

The flat-bottomed clouds
Hover over the water
Have tops that surge

Wild without ceremony
You’ve seen these clouds
And never seen these clouds

You might swim this time
Where the water is shallow
Not over your head

Once you get used to it
Your mouth no longer stings
Only your eyes if you keep them open

Michael Z Murphy


In the gloaming,
Black cut-out silhouettes of trees
Stand stark
Against the fading cerulean sky.

In the gloaming,
Fireflies rise in the cool night air
To hover there,
Winking in the gathering darkness.

In the gloaming,
We stand with our feet against the final line,
Our eyes seek out the flight of dying light
To reach the fleeting edge of our eternity.

Christopher Bogart


The drift of fog, so dense
bridge towers strangely disappear
into a dense, pervading gray

breath is liquid, lungs bubble
as light becomes cotton candy
almost sweet to taste.

Distant horns announce themselves
their sound muffled in mittens
held tight to chilly ears

and pillowed voices, like whispers
float past in bubble bath, the words
slow, opaque orbs float silently away.

A tide of air washes ashore
claiming land in its gentle surge
all it touches surrenders to cloud

darkness glows: an odd halogen yellow
ink fades to diffusion, a rolling wet
morning's gloaming still so far away.

Windshields weep droplets of sky
as wipers chatter, eyes suddenly blink
and the hard chair aches again

a clock on the wall, the second hand
dripping in syrupy banks of time
as minutes slowly fog in surrender.

James M. Thompson


The air so cold it took my breath away with my first step
Waves frozen in space and time yet still an ocean
Arctic world so strange so foreign to my eyes
And you there, like fiery coal lit just for me.

So quickly I forgot the ice and let the frozen parts of me thaw
With this new heat
The madness of it lighting up the constant sun
Until my laughter filled that cold and empty space.

As man is nature so nature is man
The ice inside such hearts cannot be truly warmed
But only melted till the slope gives way
Sliding deeper into the frozen core of earth.

So once again I step into the frozen space that is this Arctic
Much colder now that I have felt the heat
Each tear I spill wasted into tiny bits of ice
Tracing their path to a heart still able to be broken.

Christy Paxton


Dusk settles and seeps into
the yard, leaches light from straw
grass drying in runes, bleached conch
bones lining the casements, spills
like muddy water over
a levee. Fireflies chatter,
hawk moths rain dust into the
elliptical corners. Copse
pines hide nothing venomous
but a bottle glints, something
lost or shed. My husband says
you are the best tree to the
obsidian maple. From
behind the white shutters bats
shudder and fall, black stars tossed
onto dusk’s impossible
gray. I want it all to be
over, but I can’t take my
eyes off what’s coming to fill them.

Mary Florio


I've left the city plaza
with its blue-ribbon roses
and the bandstand where girls
practice harmony on long
summer evenings, each quartet
sweeter than the last, each one
hoping for the trophy-cup.
I’ve left the grand old
Victorians and shabby bungalows,
the quick-stops and factories

and come to this nameless place
between train-track and arroyo,
sand flats that have no use
but to let winter storm-waters
rage on through. Concrete
culvert, embankment with its
riprap armor. But just listen
to the cactus wren! On this
very morning, a native poppy
opens its golden cup, pours
wildness on the desert air.

Taylor Graham


The river is a lazy beast
wending her way wetly westward
in large, lovely loops
my father and grandfather ride her sun-striped back
boy-ghosts, dipping their toes and then plunging
through her glimmering heart
She saunters through the valley
with such docile tenacity
we are always surprised
those rain-drenched Februarys
when she rises
lurching from her bed
awake, all brown and rumbly
To devour a few sheep,
Casually crush fences,
carry away pieces of our earth
And then slip back to her dreamy journey
having reminded us
who is boss

Jennifer Rouse

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born March 24, 1919) is an American poet and painter, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. He is the author of poetry, translations, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration. His best known book is probably A Coney Island of the Mind (New Directions, 1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages, with sales of over 1,000,000 copies.

He is also known for publishing in his Pocket Poets Series Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. The book was seized in 1956 by San Francisco police. Ferlinghetti and Shig Murao, the bookstore manager who had sold the book to police, were arrested on obscenity charges. After charges against Murao were dropped, Ferlinghetti, stood trial, and the publicity generated by the trial drew national attention to San Francisco Beat writers. After a long trial in 1957, Howl was declared not obscene and Ferlinghetti was acquitted. This landmark First Amendment case established a key legal precedent for the publication of other controversial literary work with redeeming social importance.

In 1994, he was named San Francisco's Poet Laureate. His plans in that capacity included campaigning to paint the Golden Gate Bridge gold and also to tilt Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill so that it would be like the leaning tower of Pisa.

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