Southampton: Nantucket exercise

I’m at the Stony Brook Southampton Writers Conference, session II, taking a poetry workshop with Billy Collins, one of my favorite poets. The first two workshops, we discussed several poems by famous poets and workshopped poems by eight participants. Collins has also given lots of good advice triggered by our poetry submissions. Our first writing exercise was to imitate William Carlos Williams’s poem “Nantucket.”


Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

changed by white curtains—
Smell of cleanliness—

Sunshine of late afternoon—
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying—And the
immaculate white bed

And my imitation:


Patio through the archway
bricks and ties

edging the rock garden—
Waves of heat

Shadows of spiny bushes—
Under the pomegranate

a broken fruit, the skin
ruptured, within which

beads glisten—And the
declamatory black birds

Tip of the day (apropos fidelity to history or experience used in creative work): Writing a poem is not the same as taking a deposition.

2 responses to “Southampton: Nantucket exercise

  1. Your description of the class reminds me of the one we both took at RPI. If there are group critiques, stand firm in defending your poems. Hopefully, Billy Collins does a better job of moderating.
    Mesilla stands by itself. And I like it for as it is now. But, as an exercise it pales to one aspect of nantucket (and I don’t actually like nantucket as itself that much.)
    nantucket – outside/inside. mesilla – outside.
    nantucket has the added layer of the the outside exposing the inside, pushing at the curtains, etc.
    In mesilla it could be argued there are two outsides intersecting. But as written now it has weaker intersects. The Pomegranite tree vs the understory bushes or the birds vs the vegatation. To do a reverse mirror of nantucket and have inside push at the outside would be a major, but satisfying, challenge to get beyound something like the shadow of the arch. Or, if the arch is an arch shaped window the opening of the shutters pushing at the pomegranite tree on the windless day and the ripple effect of branches disturbed, birds pushed into flight, etc.

  2. I understand what you’re saying, and it isn’t parallel to nantucket. At the same time, I think my zoom is steady and interesting: from the street, into the garden; from the garden, under a bush; into a fruit. And then the black birds, which enliven the ending. Not parallel, but something I like on its own.

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