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  • Writer's pictureKaecey McCormick

Creating Autumnal Myths: A Poetry Exercise

Here in Silicon Valley, the incredible heat wave of last week has passed and the cooler breezes of autumn are here. I'm enchanted. As I write this, there's a cool wind blowing through the open window, and I'm ready for sweaters, mugs of warm tea, and books by the fire.

Chang'e moon goodess for autumnal myth poetry exercise

As I watched the leaves dancing down the street this morning, I couldn't help but think about the different myths related to the turn of the seasons. Myths have long been our way of explaining and celebrating mysterious changes.

For example, the Greeks told tales of Demeter and Persephone to explain this cycle. In Chinese folklore, the moon goddess Chang'e represents the arrival of the harvest moon and mid-Autumn. Native American tribes have many stories about the spirits and forces governing the natural world. The list goes on.

To honor this very human tradition, I thought it might be fun this week to craft a poem steeped in mythical imagination that explains or celebrates autumn. For this autumnal myth poetry exercise, I challenge you to engage with ancient stories, myths, lore, and tales, and contribute your voice to the timeless tradition of storytelling through poetry.

Crafting a mythological fall poem

Here's a step-by-step guide to this poetry exercise based in myths and lore:

Step one: Mythological research

The foundation of your poem lies in understanding and selecting a mythical entity that embodies autumn's essence. This step aims to offer a muse or source of inspiration you can use to spark your creativity as you begin to craft your narrative.

Statue of Persephone and Demeter from 100 BCE for autumnal myth poetry exercise

Here's what to do:

Research various mythologies, focusing on figures or creatures associated with harvest, change, or transition. Spend some time on this, jotting down key features or symbols related to the figure. Then choose one or two on which to focus.

The figures you've selected can act as central characters in your poem, guiding or heralding autumn’s arrival. For example, consider Persephone from Greek mythology, whose return to the underworld marks the onset of fall.

Step two: Create an autumnal myth

With your chosen mythical figure, you'll craft a narrative that captures the shift from into the autumn season. This step is about creation and imagination, where you either breathe new life into existing myths or forge entirely new ones.

Here's what to do:

We're not writing a poem yet, so don't worry about the "poetic side" of your myth yet. Instead, freewrite to craft a story either reimagining an existing myth or inventing a new one. Go all out. Use your imagination. For inspiration, you might read “Persephone, Falling” by Rita Dove, a modern retelling of the classic myth.

Step three: Add seasonal imagery

This step is about weaving the tapestry of your myth with vivid threads of autumnal imagery, providing a backdrop that’s as rich and evocative as the season itself.

Picture of falling leaves for autumnal myth poetry exercise

Here's what to do:

Integrate elements of autumn into your narrative. Focus on sensory imagery. Visual images, yes, but don't shy away from the scents associated with autumn, the tastes, the textures.

For inspiration, consider how Robert Frost in “October” delicately incorporates the autumn landscape to convey the season's tranquility and depth. Or his use of surprising language (e.g., “leaves...burnt with frost”) to create vivid, visceral descriptions.

Step four: Draft a poem

Now, with your chosen mythological figure, narrative, and autumnal imagery at hand, it’s time to bring it all together into a draft of a poem. This step is about experimentation and initial expression, where the focus should be on getting your ideas down without worrying about crafting the perfect poem on the first attempt.

Here's what to do:

Start by deciding on the structure of your poem, considering whether you want to use free verse or a specific poetic form. Think about how you can use line breaks or enjambment to enhance the flow and rhythm of your piece.

To rhyme or not to rhyme is another decision you'll make at this stage, depending on the mood and style you aim to convey with your poem. Don’t pressure yourself; this is just a draft. Allow yourself the freedom to explore and experiment with different poetic techniques, and remember, you can always refine and polish your poem during the revision process.

For inspiration on crafting narrative poems with a mythological theme, you might explore works by contemporary poets like Louise Glück, whose collection Meadowlands weaves together the story of her failing marriage with references to the Odyssey.

Most of all, remember to have fun!

If you try this exercise, let me know how it goes! I'd love to read your myth-based poems or hear about the process!

Happy crafting!

Signature after autumnal myth poetry exercise


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