Interlacing description and emotion


     One workshop I’ve enrolled in this summer at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival is ‘description and emotion for all genres.’ Interlacing these without going overboard either way is tricky. It will be interesting to look back at some of my poems, such as this one, and see what improvements I can make.

     I’ve taken the first steps at setting up a Twitter account. Tweet me @dickharrispoet, with your thought on how well I’ve interlaced description and emotion in the this poem.


Boreal Matriarch

She startled me as I sped

towards the forty-ninth parallel,

a matriarch motionless

on a ribbon of grass

between the shadowy lee of boreal curtains

emerging spring and melting winter,

and a ditch choked with cattails in murky water.

Clothed in motley camouflage—

tawny, gun-smoke and brown,

tints of black on snout and tail—

she stood paramount

to the multi-wheeled menaces

speeding this wind tunnel.

A solitary life, haggard

from subzero survival, calving and suckling,

deceptively feigning slow footedness and tranquility

until angered by predators

stalking her offspring bedded in the understory,

or startled by naïve walkers crossing her path.

Return to Iowa Summer Writing Festival

Some say I’m foolish, others question whether or not I will ever “pass.” Then, there are those who say, “Whatever!” In spite of

  • waiting for as many as 14 hrs. in hot or sultry airports for aircraft and crew to complete my flight,
  • watching out the window as our plane’s wing tip mows the grass at the edge of the runway,
  • taking a 30 minute flight and dodging thunderstorms from Duluth to St. Louis to Rapid City and up the Ohio River Valley for six hours and two tanks of gas waiting for a chance to land in Chicago,
  • enduring triple-digit heat,
  • surviving seven successive nights of dusk-to-dawn thunder and lightning,
  • evacuation from campus midweek and from two hotels when a one-hundred-year flood overflowed sandbagged dikes and chased us to higher ground to wait for what seemed like days for the water to recede from the back roads to the airport so I could fly home as a distressed passenger,
  • circling Minneapolis at night while a backup radio tower was activated,
  • spending 20-30 minutes under an oak tree canopy halfway to my room while a storm cloud drenches my path home and floods the streets,
  • and more,

I’ve enrolled in the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival for the 11th time.

The workshops I’ve chosen, “Generating & Editing Poems for Publication” and “Description & Emotion,” are areas that I feel incompetent, and are led by facilitators who vitas and work experience are unbelievably enviable.

Why Iowa in the summertime? You tell me.

“The World Will Be”

    It was a thrill yesterday, to open the new issue of Whatcom Writers & Publishers and read “The World Will Be,” a poem I’ve been researching and drafting for a year-and-a-half. Of course, the first time I skimmed it I picked up changes I wanted to make. Oh well, that’s the life of a poet—never willing to let go!

    Here’s the latest version of the poem and its story:

    I began thinking about this poem as I read Fanny Howe’s comments in October 2010 Poetry after she had translated Ilona Karmel’s work and sorted through her personal effects. Ilona (1925-2000) told Howe that when they were interned in Buchenwald, their mother advised her and her sister, both teenagers, “to behave well because ‘the world will be the world again.’”

    Ilona and Henía were born in a Kraków ghetto. When the Germans occupied Poland at the beginning of WWII, the girls were uprooted from their comfortable middleclass childhood and interned with their mother in three successive labor camps. The last was Buchenwald. Their father was sent to a separate labor camp and not heard from again.
     After the war, Ilona and her sister migrated to this country, where Ilona received a degree from Radcliffe, married physicist Francis Zucker, and became an award winning novelist. Between 1979 and 1995, she was a senior lecturer in creative writing at MIT.

     Ilona and Henía wrote poetry on worksheets they stole from their Buchenwald work stations. The poems were published as A Wall of Two after the war. (The book is available from the University of California Press. An English translation of Ilona’s novel An Estate of Memory is available on

    Fannie Howe was principal translator of Karmel’s work.

The World Will Be

for Mita (Rosenbaum) Karmel and

daughters Ilona and Henia.

Think of a mother and her blossoming

daughters, their father, a number

dying in an unknown labor camp.

Think of them as floors echo

with reverberating boots,

each step a cloud of dirt and mites

swirling into cobwebs draping

concrete walls of their infested barracks.

Think of them each midnight hour

as they huddle in their bunks,

fearing that they will

be dragged to a rail siding,

thrown into a cattle car,

and disappear,

not knowing

whether they are going

right to work and starve,

or left for gas and freedom.

Think of a mother telling

her daughters to behave well,

“the world will be the world again.”

Check out WW&P’s website,