I discovered this interview guided by Padraig O Tuama with Henri Cole while listening to Poetry Unbound podcast driving to the American River last weekend. If you haven't listened yet to this podcast, give it a try asap.
Three hours of driving disappeared while I listened in awe.
Henri Cole describing the context for this next poem:
"So this poem is from, it’s set in Japan, in a town just north in the outskirts of Kyoto, where I lived when I was 45. I was born in Japan and this was the first time back. And in this apartment I lived in two tatami mat rooms, and it had a tiny backyard, but the backyard was just full of praying mantises, of all things. So that was really the context. My father had died and my mother was quite sick."
Pillowcase With Praying Mantis
found a praying mantis on my pillow.
‘What are you praying for?’ I asked. ‘Can you pray
for my father’s soul, grasping after Mother?’
Swaying back and forth, mimicking the color
of my sheets, raising her head like a dragon’s,
she seemed to view me with deep feeling, as if I were
St. Sebastian bound to a Corinthian column
instead of just Henri lying around reading.
I envied her crisp linearity, as she galloped
slow motion onto my chest, but then she started
mimicking me, lifting her arms in an attitude
of a scholar thinking or romantic suffering.
‘Stop!’ I sighed, and she did, flying in a wide arc,
like a tiny god-horse hunting for her throne room.
Writing Prompt: In this prompt we can mimic one or two techniques from Cole in this last poem.
One, he has chosen a small moment of an animal encounter to focus on and describe. He has chosen to write the encounter as a conversation.
Two, he projects his own problems into the life of the mantis, asking it to pray for his parents. The mantis allows him to share this problem and his own situation indirectly while the encounter and the conversation are the direct subject of his writing.
Choose an animal encounter of your own. Write about it, as a conversation if you’d like. Try to project somehow your own human situation into this encounter. Write without an agenda and without stopping or correcting for 20 minutes. This writing may become a poem, or a story, or part of a bigger writing project.