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Poem: Uncollected

From our poet of the month, Rose McLarney

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Embroidery of bicycles, chamomile flowers, and humming birds in a seamless pattern.

Getty/Matriyoshka

“Don’t I want hummingbirds to have flown safely away from nooses / of silk string collectors once hung from the necks of lilies?”

Uncollected

What becomes of the facts I learn and can’t apply? (Liming
is spreading a paste on branches to capture birds.) Of words 

about to be said before the bus starts or light turns
to red, flashing caution across the night?

Of the floral perfume confined in the buds of spring,
after a late frost’s heavy covering? Of the wishes the married

woman will now never say? Of the feeling she possessed some
small beauty, gone with the inch of hair, cut far too sensibly? 

And the line cut for the sake of the larger poem?

But what if she’d spent the hours caring for hair, first impressions
yet to be made, or telling her stories over to a new person again, 

drinking awkward drinks, then recovering? If either of the two 
who make a house’s singular scent took his old books or her cooking 

elsewhere? If the road hadn’t been abandoned before it reached
the building site, to be grown over, return to forest, as it should stay? 

Don’t I want hummingbirds to have flown safely away from nooses 
of silk string collectors once hung from the necks of lilies? 

Best that some things are left in disuse, lustrously dangling. 

Rose McLarney shared her insight with Spirituality & Health:

Composing poetry is frequently spoken of as a process of cutting material away. And “Uncollected” is about resisting excesses. So, at one point, it seemed right to publish this in a journal as a piece that was just half as long as it is here and in my book, Forage

But the impetus for writing “Uncollected” is exactly what the first line suggests (no poetic mystery): I wanted to use information about liming I had come across, and had had no good excuse so far. I wanted to include something, not to exclude. So, when it came time to put together my book manuscript, I decided to go against the notion that poems always ought to be compressed (and the opinion of an editor of a journal I very much respect that the poem was finished) and revised to expand. Now “Uncollected” balances a first half that is permitted to entertain indulgent queries with a second half that is a reminder that saying “no” to some options allows for the keeping of others (like all the books on the shelves in a house you’ve long been sharing with your spouse).

Of course, to summarize a poem’s message as a tidy moral is a reduction too. My intention was not for the poem to be preachy, and that’s why it is centered around the conflict of the one-line stanza in the middle wondering what happens to the lines (potential other halves of the couplet) that are given up. 

I won’t advise anyone on the major griefs and absences felt in their lives. However, I can offer a little writing exercise that helps my students come to terms with deleting parts of their poems that they’d loved for the greater purpose and clarity of the piece: Copy the sacrificed lines on a slip of paper and pass them on to another writer. Ask that writer for a discarded darling of theirs for you to adopt in return. Both try to make new use of the material. 

Here’s to whatever your craft may beor just a wish that you will encounter ideas and sights, lustrous as they are.

Read Rose McLarney’s “A Participation of Waters.”

From Forage by Rose McLarney, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. © 2019 by Rose McLarney.


Rose McLarney

Rose McLarney is the author of two poetry collections: Its Day Being Gone, selected by Robert Wrigley winner of the 2014 National Poetry Series, and The Always Broken Plates of Mountains. A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, which she coedited, is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press. The recipient of the Chaffin Award for Achievement in Appalachian Writing. her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals. McLarney is associate professor of creative writing at Auburn University and coeditor in chief of the Southern Humanities Review.

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