Poets Online Archive


The Sound of

March 2016

I listen every day to the few minutes of podcasted radio from Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac,  which features a poem and several literary calendar items.  He has featured four poems by Faith Shearin already this year. I enjoyed them and it set me off to buy two of her books. (An excellent byproduct of his podcast.)

I can see why he likes her poems. They "accessible and meaningful, without gimmick and possessing a music and imagination."  All necessary qualities for a poem that you will hear read aloud (although you can read the poem more closely online too).

The poem I'm using as our March prompt is one he read last year. “The Sound of a Train” is from Faith Shearin's collection, Telling the Bees (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2015).

As soon as I heard her poem, I thought of Paul Simon's song, "Train In The Distance." (I included a YouTube of the song and lyrics below.)  The poem and song have different stories, but both of them spring from that distant train sound that seems to conjure up certain feelings for people. I'm not sure that I can pin the feeling down to one word. Is it longing?

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks its true
What is the point of this story?
What information pertains?
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains
Like a train in the distance

There is a form known as "sound poetry" which bridges literary and musical composition and is usually intended more for performance than the page. That is not what this month's prompt involves. And , although using sound devices isn't forbidden here, those resources used by poets to convey and reinforce meaning  through the use of sound, is also not this month's prompt.

Though you may want to use assonance, consonance, dissonance or even cacophony in your poem, the prompt is quite simply to write a poem about the sound of something or someone. What is a sound that immediately evokes some feeling or memory in you? Is it a natural sound, like that of a barred owl hooting "Who cooks for you?"  Is it the sound of waves as you fall asleep near the ocean?  Is the sound of children at play or of your mother's voice?

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.

I stop in the path
by the lake, early
fog fusing earth
& sky and only
the sound of a
off in the woods.

For a moment
not a sound.


Robert Miller


I hear the sounds of brazen dreaming, the gods have sent harpies to wake and break our eardrums! Angry Birds caw, creeping cats screech, doleful dogs wail, ugly oaf ogres trumpet, and there’s nary a strumpet to kiss and soothe our aching cochleas, yikes almighty, there’s bugs in the sugar, police on the corner, mortgage on the car! And those damnable prose-like earwigs burrowing past the sense and solitude in our minds! When what we need is poetry! I hear America singing but in 2016 it’s not Walt’s song, it’s the stinging dissonance of Realpolitik drowning out the whispers of wisdom, and if we don’t wake up soon from this brazen dream we’re in for a somnambulism of cackles and squawks and blood oozing and snot dripping and vomit dribbling in a disgraceful mockery of this, the greatest society the world has seen!

R. Bremner


In Jamaica’s St. Ann’s Parish,
There’s a suite of limestone caves
That serves as a tourist attraction.
Half way in, our guide points out a black niche and tells us,
That during sugar plantation days,
Runaway slaves would lie face down in the dark,
Listening to the screech of bats,
Waiting for the searchers and their snarling dogs.

Centuries later, an entrepreneur
Turned these same caves into a disco,
Where young tourists could drink and dance the night away,
Chipping off pieces of stalagmites
As keepsakes of the quick sex they had
In the same shadowy recess
Where the slaves once hid.

Near the exit, he points to a low rock ledge
That when struck with the palm of a hand,
Sends a sound like a beating heart,
Reverberating through the caves and tunnels,
With all the possible sadness that entails.

Ron Yazinski


The waves crash near the coconut clump
where the ocean comes up to kiss the sands
of the beach secluded from touristy feet
and talk to the matted brown kid about
long boats, fishing, laughter, boisterous dad.
the young kid gets lulled by these sounds and
dreams of a shack, a coughing mother and siblings
eaten by a hungry typhoon one horrible day.
They often remind of things that will not be
otherwise remembered!
Waves---crashing, hissing, singing
Their own symphony that resurrects the dead
For the sad orphan and others orphaned of many
sweet possessions.
both sweet
And bitter
For a mind on a rewind mode.

Sunil Sharma


A bluesy, rock musician
plays his guitar under the
blazing august sun.

Between the chords.
I hear the beads of
sweat forming on his brow.

The sigh in his frown
echoes off the blue purple
backdrop of mountains.

I wait, I watch, I listen. but
the music swallows him whole.
No words escape him and

all I can hear is the
soft rusting of a breeze
bending the willow.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


Almost a fantasy
really emotion from sitting bedside
at a friend's untimely death.
after the composer's death,
a critic compares it
the effect of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne.
Listening tonight,
one year since,
and a New Moon that is no moon at all,
the sound is dark.
Stillness in the black water.
For you, I hear what he must have heard.
Almost a fantasy

Pamela Milne


It’s a boy thing
this clickety-clack, clickety-clack
all sorts ’a boys
right down the line
and back again
from diapered toddler
to arthritic codger
from suited gent
to aproned cook
all feel the sound
in that special place that sparks a smile
and when there is a head of steam
and that whistle blows
they all just know
that this clickety-clack, clickety-clack
pulses and echoes
just for them.

Rory Galbraith


the sound of a train - yes
in song, in prose, in poetry -
who doesn't respond ? I do
but more than the whistle
or rumble of the iron beast
I am pawn of another
far off entreaty -
at once dumbstruck
yet set in motion when
I hear a siren. Police,
ambulance or fire truck.
I think it may come from
too much cop shop
and ER television
at a tender age.
But before you pass
a verdict of ghoulish
hint of a damaged brain
my heart also races
at the elevated chirp
of blackbird after rain

Ilona Grieland


That insistent baah-ing just at dawn –
the call of lost, of coyotes
that ceased their howling on rimrock
above the creek, and came
marauding down to steal a lamb;
or else an owl, silent
in flight, who lifted off the lamb
leaving not a trace, not even
a scent-trail for our dog to follow.
The suddenly lambless ewe
won’t cease her crying. Baah bash
baah repetitious as a clock
ticks. I’ll hear it
all morning and into afternoon,
and in my dreams at night; and then
again at dawn
until, in time, she’ll stop her bawling.
That insistent baah-ing
that turns the dawn to mourning,
its meaning is nothing
but loss, whose sound, in the end,
is silence.

Taylor Graham


the first drum roll
after the three or four
tentative taps on the tin roof
of the summer kitchen

the first thundering
after the thunder
when watery footsoldiers
in the invading armies
come heavy-booted to conquer

like anything repetitious -
children whining, speakers droning
tibetan bowls - the rain battles
set me to doze as puny forces
of resistance in the mind
gear down, withdraw
head for cover



those plopping stragglers -
quasi-apologetic -
grow increasingly
almost comically -
from one another
and overstated bombast moves
to deploy its troops

Timea Deinhardt


Somebody, maybe Maria Callas, maybe
Sutherland, kept crooning, “Mai piu, mai piu…”
on the Welbilt radio in my grandmother’s
living room. While somebody else, maybe
me, maybe my cousin Michael, had just
farted. Never again will I hear that aria
(which was at least a hundred years old)
without hearing me and my cousin Michael
(who were at most eight and ten years old,
respectively) laughing hysterically, dying
operatically over and over on the couch,
that mortified diva confessing mournfully,
that smell rising up as thick as history.

Paul Hostovsky


It flows through the air,
Gliding like a lost soul,
resting with whoever may hear it.
It fills me with pleasant thoughts,
taking me to a dream of rhythm.

But it begins to accelerate,
the trickle of sound raging into a river,
unrelenting and violent.
My hair is on edge,
my anger seeping from my mind.
Everything is a blur,
the fires in my head blazing.

But then it all stops.
A single piano plays quietly into the night.
My rage is gone,
blown away in a cold breeze.
The music is over.

I'm alone with my thoughts.
They scare me, as they whisper into the depths of my soul.
sweet and innocent,
raging and fierce,
cold and desolate.
Never leave me alone.
For when I can not hear you,
the wolves of my mind tear at my soul.

Fraser Pearson


In going to the old Stuyvesant High
There was a choice of trains
With being dropped off
At S Kleins, on the square
Union Square, a big old store,
The location a little like
London's Hyde Park corner
Where you could get into a world
Of political arguments
With well rehearsed old timers
Who pointed at you
With a folded copy
Of the Daily Worker.

Another route was the Manhattan Bridge
Where one stood next
To the motorman's cabin
Face pressed against the front glass
To see the morning sun gild
The windows of the skyscrapers
While a slow lumbering sound
Echoing from the bridges steel girders
Played out
As a train back to Brooklyn passed by.

At times I got a lift
So there I was on the Canarsie line
Populated with Hispanics
Hasidics and voluptuous Poles.
Now that train comes from hip places
Williamsburg and Bushwick.
As they whoosh through dark tunnels
On the haul below the East River,

Do I really remember the sounds
Or do I trust my eyes first and then
The other senses
With my feet feeling
Time and a train's passing.

Edward Halperin