Coccinella Punctata

Biologists say the creator Had a fondness for beetles, Queenly colors of a wingcase More angelic than seraphim

Aflutter at the seat of all-Being. Whoever made you Kept re-making you until You were divine as the seven

Dots on your back, ,

Red and yellow like apples Out of Eden. Kill beetles, And the hop fields burn:

Lady bug, lady bug, Fly away home, Your house is on fire, Your children do roam. ...

Another judgment is upon us, Our Lady. Blessed Coccinella, Intercede as your namesake Seldom does on our behalf.

I would not have composed the above lyric (a poem focused intensely on a subject to awaken emotions within the reader) if I hadn't spent time at the library doing basic research. Reading up on a topic can enhance an idea so that you can base a poem on it. You also can come across new ideas for poems by reading:

• The encyclopedia. Page through the books, scanning entries about people or subjects that stimulate your imagination or passion. Make a list of entries that might evolve into poems.

• Quotation references. Page through a compilation like Bart-lett's Familiar Quotations and make a list of quotes that excite or anger you. You can use them as epigraphs (brief citations placed immediately above or below the title of your poem). Then you can write poems expressing your views or imagining other scenarios.

• Biographies. Collect anecdotes about famous or important persons. Make a list of incidents upon which you can base poems, reconstructing the scene to express certain truths.

• Published collections of letters. Study them to get a first-hand glimpse of how famous and important people related to others. Make another list containing passages that you can use as epigraphs or upon which you can base poems.

• Published diaries, journals and autobiographies. Study them to get a glimpse of how famous and important people related to themselves or how ordinary people, living in extraordinary times, saw history as it happened. Base ideas on passages or quote them as epigraphs and reconstruct the events . . . from your point of view, of course.

Sander Zulauf, who edits Journal of New Jersey Poets, occasionally uses research to generate ideas. His poem below was inspired by the published notebooks of the great nineteenth-century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne:


In 1842, Henry David Thoreau sold

The boat he made with his own hands

To Nathaniel Hawthorne for seven dollars.

He had paddled the Musketaquid with his brother, John,

For two weeks on New England rivers.

In telling this fact to my literature students

I try putting it in terms of current dollars

Assuming this would mean more.

This would mean less.

Thoreau needed the money.

He had taken a trip in the boat with his brother.

The trip became immortalized

In his only other published book,

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.

Hawthorne, being the genius that he was,

Bought something immortal for seven dollars.

Thoreau might have needed more than the money.

He might have needed to forget

His brother died.

Zulauf says that while paging through the notebooks he read Hawthorne's entry for September 1, 1842. The entry described Hawthorne's dinner and after-dinner boat ride on the Concord River with a "Mr. Thorow" (and Hawthorne's subsequent purchase of the Musket-aquid for seven dollars). "Mr. Thorow," of course, was none other than the great poet and naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

"This especially rich passage documenting the meeting of two American literary giants gave me the idea for my poem," Zulauf says. After reading the entry, he combined the date of the Thoreau-Hawthorne meeting with the title of the opening chapter in Thoreau's Walden: "Economy."

"Now I had my title and my theme," he says. Zulauf researched the topic further and learned that Thoreau's brother, John, had died early in 1842. So it occurred to him, as it has to other scholars, that the real motive for selling the Musketaquid (named after the Indian word for the Concord River) might have been Thoreau's desire to erase the painful specter of his brother's death. But Zulauf, up until this point, resisted writing the poem. Then the muse struck. "One afternoon my wife and I were sailing our little dinghy on a nearby reservoir," Zulauf says. "Huge storm clouds gathered in the West, and we brought the boat in just in time. The storm let loose and it was coming down too hard to drive home, so we sat there waiting. All the ideas came together and I began writing on a brown paper bag. I knew I had the poem."

Like Sander Zulauf, widely published poet Laurel Speer of Tucson, Arizona, uses research to generate work. One of her poems pays homage to E.B. White and William Strunk, Jr., who wrote the classic editing text The Elements of Style. In this case, her research entails using an epigraph —a short passage from that book placed above her poem's title. After the epigraph, Speer expounds playfully upon her (and White's) respect for Strunk's editing skills:

From every line there peers out at me the puckish face of my professor, his short hair parted neatly in the middle and combed down over his forehead, his eyes blinking incessantly behind steel-rimmed spectacles as though he had just emerged into strong light, his lips nibbling each other like nervous horses, his smile shuttling to and fro under a carefully edged mustache.

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