Poetry prompt – David Baker on ‘Pastoral’


In this video, David Baker reads his poem ‘Pastoral’ which is featured in the anthology 100 Poems to Save the Earth. At the end of the video he suggests two prompts to inspire your own responses to the poem and the topics of the anthology. Share your responses with us on social media – @SerenBooks on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook – using the hashtag #100PoemsPrompts.

David Baker on ‘Pastoral‘

Poems happen for me–when they happen–not in the writing but in the rewriting. They emerge. This little poem, “Pastoral,” began as a sonnet, as a section of a long poem, “Scavenger Loop,” which I was writing about Midwestern landscapes and in memory of my mother.

Soon enough I pried this piece out of the big poem and began the work of rediscovery. It became an elegy, and I knew it should be outdoors–at first in a woodland, but then, as here, in a field, wind-swept, expansive, more empty than not.

The sonnet became half a sonnet. I drew open the blank verse line, with double caesuras–more space, more speechlessness, a wider field–and I abbreviated the final line by a few syllables. There’s more hush than sound, I think, more wind than substance. Someone said, it’s a love poem. Someone told me it was a pastoral elegy for the earth. Someone said, it’s all of those.

Prompt 1

Write a poem that floats among the forms, more ghost than substance. Let your ode grieve, say, where it might more conventionally extol; let your love poem think about a political conundrum. Let your reader discover those forms you have tucked away–like intimate messages, bits of song within a song–inside the apparent body of your poem.

Prompt 2

Go somewhere and stand still. Listen. Sniff the air. Feel your heartbeat. Let the whole universe of being revolve around that stillness for a moment, for two moments. Now write it down, and make it sing. That’s what I tried to do in “Pastoral.”

100 Poems to Save the Earth. Edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans

Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. 100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

These achingly beautiful poems… remind us how to refind ourselves amid the landscape we call home.”  – Sonya Huber

100 Poems to Save the Earth is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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