"Irrevocable River of Things"

Last week, Susan Blackaby and I co-taught a workshop on poetry for writers aged 10 to 18. Things really came alive when we read a few lines from Pablo Neruda's Odes to Common Things (his love letters to the "irrevocable river of things") and started talking about the resonance that objects carry. Susan pulled a bunch of gloves from her bag and tossed them on the table. Those gloves in a story--maybe they still hold the anger of the man who just stomped out the door. Or no one has moved them since their owner died, hollow reminders of loving hands. They're not just gloves: they're emotions, moments, memories, dreams. As Neruda says, "...all bear the trace of someone's fingers...the trace of a distant hand lost in the depths of forgetfulness."

Then the participants chose objects and wrote their own odes. I was blown away. Such fresh ways of seeing, such powerful moments of insight, springing from a building block, a spoon, a bit of old carpeting. Through their words I saw entire stories, people's lives, in these small objects.

We all depend on words to connect with others. These words from Neruda's "Ode to the Dictionary" spoke right to me. I'd love to share them with you as my first post of 2011.

Dictionary, guide just one
of your thousand hands, just one

of your thousand emeralds
to my mouth,

to the point of my pen,

to my inkwell
at the right
give me but a


of your virgin springs,

a single grain



generous granaries.

When most I need it,

grant me

a single trill

from your dense, musical

jungle depths, or a bee's

a fallen fragment
of your ancient wood perfumed

by endless seasons of jasmine,

a single


shudder or note,

a single seed:

I am made of earth and my song is made of words.

(Translation by Ken Krabbenhoft, from Odes to Common Things, selected and illustrated by Ferris Cook.)


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