Ruins & Wreckage

I just recently finished Major Jackson’s book, Hoops, and I have been thinking about one of the lines in his poem, ” Wyoming “.  In this particular work, the poet asks, a sort of rhetorical question, “Jersey, the industrial carcass, one/Of the great literary states we agreed/Which of course, begged the question/about landscape: Does a poet’s muse need/Her own wasteland to succeed?”

I guess my response to that question would be “Yes.”

This week, I am taking a class,  titled “Putting Sacred Spaces in a Poem,”    under poet  Todd Davis (who also happens to be the star of Poetry Daily today, take a look here).  I took this class for many reasons, but mostly because I have always been fascinated with the way poets deal with spiritual issues in the written work.  I don’t consider my work especially spiritual, although I have noticed that religious figures and allusions do pop up from time to time in my poems.

On the first day of class, Todd asked class members to talk a bit about what they thought was sacred, or how they would define “sacred places.”  For many people, youth was a sacred place.  Or family.  Several people mentioned natural landscapes.  Today, we talked about sound, and several people, when they read their drafts used soft sounds, like the “l”. 

The word “sacred” does invite a sort of reverence in poetry, yet I’m happy that this class has taken the term a bit further.  With one of the exercises, Todd asked us to list (brainstorm) a group of sounds we associate with our own sacred places.  However, last night when I did this, my list came out harsh — I heard grinding, chortling, huffing, scraping.  In fact, when I reviewed many of my poems, the verbs seem sort of, well, rough.  In fact, my natural landscapes that I hold sacred are rough — full of debris and wreckage and ruins.  Fans of The Scrapper Poet know that I was born in the Rust Belt, grew up in the Rust Belt, and currently live, teach and write in the Rust Belt, so the beauty of corrosion is part of my life.   I love barns that are decorated with faded letters: Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco, Treat Yourself to the Best.  I love railroad yards with old boxcars.  I love crumbling factories that are falling, slowly becoming part of the earth.

What have I learned thus far this week?  That there is something sacred about the harshness of the world, about violence, about death.  It’s how we weed through the rough edges to capture what is important, or what may be considered holy.  I have never really looked at my work, or works of poets who write about working-class life and issues, as sacred, but now, I will.


  1. i’m new to your blog and wanted to tell you that this particular post struck a chord (rusted and knotted in a few places) with me. yes, those rough edges are holy. what a treat to read your work.


    sherry o’keefe

  2. Karen Said:

    Thanks Sherry, for stopping by! I love your own pictures of debris posted on your blog.

  3. dryadart Said:

    Karen, haven’t stopped by in a while, I too am in a crazy end of summer whirl, but I just wanted to say that this is a thought that is sticking in my mind,and I really like where it is going, so thanks for sharing it with me

  4. mpcamb Said:

    grew up in the Rust Belt, and currently live, teach and write in the Rust Belt, so the beauty of corrosion is part of my life…
    Great line!

    Todd asked class members to talk a bit about what they thought was sacred, or how they would define “sacred places.”

    This made me think of this poem:

    The Sacred
    by Stephen Dunn

    from Between Angels

    © W.W. Norton & Company, 1989

    After the teacher asked if anyone had
    a sacred place
    and the students fidgeted and shrank

    in their chairs, the most serious of them all
    said it was his car,
    being in it alone, his tape deck playing

    things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
    had been spoken
    and began speaking about their rooms,

    their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
    the car in motion,
    music filling it, and sometimes one other person

    who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
    and how far away
    a car could take him from the need

    to speak, or to answer, the key
    in having a key
    and putting it in, and going.


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