Occasion: Independence Day

Free-wheeling behavior.  What I want, when I want, how I want.  Places to see, people to do, things to go**. [Yes, I know ;)]  Is this independence?

Not quite.

Let’s try “Self Reliance”, an early idea on what the USofA should be.  A pride in viewing everyone the same because we are the same.  A willingness to stand up and be counted when it matters.  Is this independence?


Independence Day

On the 4th of July America celebrates its beginnings and all the best that this country comes together to be.  Yes, we have problems;  who doesn’t?  We’re working on them.  (Are you working on yours?  Good.  Haven’t got any? Self-analysis is wisdom.)

For Independence Day, I’ve gathered four poems that meet the requirements of the occasion:  a wide-range of poetry, and the last one not even considered a poem by the majority.  In looking at these four poems, we can see directions for our own attempts to celebrate this occasion.

All four use tight construction through repetition, the time-honored rhetorical device when constructing any writing for performance.

Walt Whitman:  Equality, Fraternity, Liberty

First we look at the earliest Voice of America.  Whitman is one of the two great American poets who can be identified by the appearance of their poetic lines alone.  Emily Dickinson is the other.  Like the USofA, Whitman sprawls across the continent, celebrating all of us; Dickinson writes compact poems with introspective individuality.

Perhaps the most well-known of Whitman’s poems is his “I Hear America Singing”.  Free verse with his signature catalog of details, it rejoices in the plain people who began turning America into the powerhouse of industry that it became in the 20th Century.

Walt Whitman

The everyday person, working hard to enjoy the harvest of his own hands: 4th of July speeches should praise this person.  Picnicking, jumping whole-heartedly into games, glorying in the fireworks:  this is the poem to celebrate Independence Day.

Waldo Emerson: The Pillars of Independence Rest on the Colossus of the People

Next, the essayist who wrote the seminal “Self-Reliance” also tried his hand at poetry.

I am not a fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  “Concord Hymn”, the usual read for Independence Day with its famous “shot heard round the world”, leaves me cold.  Yet his “A Nation’s Strength” stirs the feelings of pride in our country.

While others applaud the nation or its elected leaders or its industry leaders, Emerson reminds us that nations are nothing without their people standing strong.

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

Wilfred Owen: Defend the Best in order to Live the Best

Third example is Owen, who happens to be British.

What?  I thought we were looking at poems by Americans for Americans.

Owens, who died in World War I, writes of the best of living and therefore reminds us of the reason we need to maintain our independence.  The rule of others who would impose beliefs contrary to the ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” would destroy the USofA’s long history of self-reliance and self-industry, equality and freedom for all who wish to join in the great experiment of our self-government.

Here is one of my favorite poems, reveling in nature and life and love.  It’s title is “From My Diary, July 1914”:  fitting for our 4th of July celebrations.

Wilfred Owen, “From My Diary July 1914”

Abraham Lincoln: Sacrifices Necessary to Retain Freedom for All

Our 16th President.  Writer of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Assassinated before the bleeding sides in the War of Brother against Brother.

And he’s a poet working in the form of speeches.

The Gettysburg Address is his best work.  Here it is, taken out of its prose form and constructed as if Whitman had stuck out a finger and shifted the line lengths.

Fourscore and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,
conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition
that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war,
testing whether that nation or any nation
so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place
for those who here gave their lives
that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense,
we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.
The brave men, living and dead who struggled here
have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living rather the great task remaining before us—
that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause
for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—
that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,
that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom,
and that government of the people,
by the people,
for the people
shall not perish from the earth.

Writing for Independence Day

  1. Find the reason/purpose for writing.
  2. Identify the audience.  Not old guys, but veterans.  Not family, but my brother who served in Afghanistan.  And not people at my church, but people who pray for those who defend us.
  3. Select the images to use. Seven?
  4. Subtract anything too maudlin.  Are we at three?
  5. Determine the focus idea to convey.
  6. Use repetition and alliteration. Audiences listen for key words.  Their minds chain the keys together to build sense.
  7. Figurative language works in performance only when it controls the entire text. Extended metaphors will carry more power than simple similes.
  8. Subtract anything too maudlin. Yes, again.
  9. Manipulate the line structure.
  10. Practice before performance.

Coming Up

In July, the long-promised “Hotel California”, performed by the Eagles, followed by a short poem with an ironic little twist.

We’re on the 5ths!  Join us.

Occasional Poems: Father’s Day

The day we honor fathers rapidly approaches.  And poems for fathers seem easy until we sit down to write.

Unlike for Father’s Day, poems for Mother’s Day flood the world.  We write line after line of overblown sentiments better suited for greeting cards.  We design them to tug at the heart or evoke loud guffaws.

Avoiding those two pitfalls are the reason that Mother’s Day poems are difficult to write.  We want them to be real, to be personal, and to be touching.

We have the same trouble with Father’s Day poems.

Father and Son, from Wikimedia Commons

And we stumble against another barrier:  We don’t think “sentiment” when we consider writing for fathers.  We should.

Yet tossing in emotion after emotion doesn’t work for either.  Both genders deserve  truth instead of watery pathos.


We have three chief reasons to practice our poetic craft with occasional poems for all**:

1] keep to audience requirements.  Who are we writing for?  Ourselves?  Nyah.  It’s the fathers we wish to honor.

2] keep to the 4 Requirements of Song:  Powerful Lines.  Strong Imagery.  Heart-felt Message.  Clear Communication. 

3] keep a focus on structure to stand out from the multitude of other poems.

(**Occasional Poems for All.  That’s a book, isn’t it?  Filled with all the trite, complacent pathos we could want.  Let’s not fall back on this or on greeting cards.)

3 + 1

For the occasion of Father’s Day, I want to celebrate 3 + 1 poems that present the father in his role as protector.

(And that’s the poetic starting point:  What role of the father will we celebrate?  What does that role require?  What are specific images that represent that role?  Is there a dominant image that we can turn into an active metaphor?)

Robert Hayden: Fathers as Protectors

Hayden gives us the sadness of missed opportunities to express to his father appreciation for his sacrifices, sacrifices that were unknown and unrecognized by arrogant and selfish youth.

Robert Hayden, 1966
Jan Beatty: Fathers Give our Futures

Beatty is all harsh reality, the father’s typical answer to a question when he’s answered it before and is now out of patience.  We laugh—and then we nod, realizing the truth the father gives us.

My Father Teaches Me to Dream

You want to know what work is?
I’ll tell you what work is:
Work is work.
You get up. You get on the bus.
You don’t look from side to side.
You keep your eyes straight ahead.
That way nobody bothers you—see?
You get off the bus. You work all day.
You get back on the bus at night. Same thing.
You go to sleep. You get up.
You do the same thing again.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
There’s no handouts in this life.
All this other stuff you’re looking for—
it ain’t there.
Work is work.

Look again at Beatty’s title.  In giving the title, unspoken is the father’s wish and the child’s realization of how to escape such toil and pursue the career that will create happiness in the slavery of work for $$$.  The gift of the future dream is the greatest gift our fathers give to us.

Cecil Day Lewis: Fathers Let go of the past

Father’s Day poems usually provides the child’s perspective.  C. Day Lewis’ “Walking Away” provides us the father’s perspective.

Walking Away

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Plus 1:   The Lessons of Fathers Stay With Us

Here is the extra poem, Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift”.  In helping his beloved wife, Lee is reminded of his beloved father and a practical lesson.  Here he writes an eternal Father’s Day poem without making that his obvious purpose.

The greatest gifts for his son are not tangible presents but the intangibles that we carry into the future.

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.

Next Up ::  Our Last Occasional Poetry Blog :: Independence Day

Old Geeky Greeks and Creative Writing

Old Geeky Greeks:  Write Stories Using Ancient Techniques

Here’s A List For Aspiring Writers
public domain image, original located at the National Gallery of Art in D.C.
John Singer Sargent’s sketch for his 1902 sculpture of Perseus holding Medusa’s head

Blood tragedies.


I, Robot.

Harry Potter.



The 13th Warrior.

The scariest woman in all literature.

The Hobbit.

Dudley Dooright.

5 Stages of the Hero . . . and the Monster.

Jurassic Park, in all its iterations.

What Do The Items In This Oddly-Matched List Have In Common?

These stories all have origins with the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Sitting around fires after a day of hunting and gathering, the first writers developed techniques to influence their audiences.

Those techniques have thousands of years of use and still hold true for capturing audiences.

The ancient Greeks (and Romans) of classical antiquity viewed the stories and dramas that were enduring.  And just like writers today, they searched and defined and classified the best techniques to create writings that pleased their audiences.

These old geeky Greeks laid the foundations.  Many of their techniques are still in use. Ideas original to them are re-packaged as glittery infographics and Wham-Pow webinars and three-point seminars with exclusive insights to Buy Now!

Clear And Quick Information

Old Geeky Greeks: Write Stories with Ancient Techniques presents such ideas as the Blood Tragedy and dulce et utile in a clear, organized method for writers who want to write rather than invest hours getting three snippets of information.

Chapters in OGG cover understanding characters to the five stages that established the modern protagonist from the ancient hero.  Aristotle’s requirements for plot precede a survey of the oldest plot formula, the Blood (or Revenge) Tragedy.  Concepts such as in medias res and dulce et utile can help writers solve sticky problems and develop new ideas.

Old Geeky Greeks (and Romans) looked at successful plays and other story-telling methods to determine what influenced the audience.

  • Which characters were still talked about weeks and months after a performance?
  • Which play structures failed—and which were consistently winners?
  • And which ideas helped writers develop their celebrated writings?
Writers Today Are Still Searching For The Answers To These Questions.

The bright minds of Classical Antiquity first explored these questions.  Their answers are applicable even in the age of the internet, open-source software, special effects, and infographics.

Aristotle, Seneca, Plato, Horace, and many other ancient geeks have their ideas matched to Harry Potter, AvatarLast of the Mohicans, and Shakespeare.

Whether we’re writing novels or plays, blogs or non-fiction, poems and songs, Old Geeky Greeks (written by M.A. Lee and Emily R. Dunn) is a seminar in 28,000 words, just published on Amazon Kindle.

Buy it here!

John Singer Sargent’s sketch for his 1902 sculpture of Perseus with Medusa’s head, provides the cover art for OGG.