Sunday, 25 February 2024

American Life in Poetry: Tender

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

There is, in English poetry, a long tradition of gardening poems.

Such poems find rich associations between the deliberate act of design, the organizing of nature, and the art of poetry.

While Jeremy Rock’s, “Tender” does not slavishly echo the poetry of gardening of the seventeenth century, (the hay-day of this tradition), one senses in his contemporary take, a recognition of the impulse of humans to see in gardening, something of the quest and delight in beauty that we find in poetry.

At the end of the poem, Rock’s description of caring for tender plants that he renders as dreamers allows him to celebrate the deeply humanizing power of the imagination, the power, in other words, of poetry.

Tender
By Jeremy Rock
“Soft dirt makes for light work.”
–Gisa Cecani


Not yet Spring, sunlight barely reaches
past the slider, so I array houseplants
like regents parading before the rabble

and lead with the blades. Just a few snips
before they' re done, cleaned of the veins and petals
that looked ready to come off. It must always

be pruning season, looking at these hands. Sometimes
I sit in the sun with them and drink dayglow slow
with ice water. In red clay I keep the cuttings, sisters

and daughters mudded for new roots, and these
wan stems finally learn to breathe. If not
for the starving of idyllic hamlets, where

would the flowers grow? At night I bring them in
so they can imagine what they're missing.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Jeremy Rock, “Tender” from Poet Lore Summer/ Fall 2021. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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