As I’ve been sorting through my poems with an eye at submission and a possible collection/chapbook, I’ve noticed the frequency with which water appears in my work. Often as a creek or lake. Sometimes as a river or rain. Occasionally as the ocean or sea. Frequently as tears.
Water is rarely stagnant in my pieces, though at times it is. And it can be many things: restorative, destructive, generative, freeing, retaining, accommodating... often baptizing.
This week, I read a beautiful prose poem called "Elegy for a River Dammed" by Caitlin Scarano. Caitlin Scarano is a writer living in Washington state and their debut collection of poems, The Necessity of Wildfire (Blair), was selected for the Wren Poetry Prize by US Poet Laureate Ada Limón. You can listen to them read this piece by visiting Terrain, July 1, 2022, and it’s also available in print there along with the associated artwork by Amy E. Casey.
Elegy for a River Dammed
And to the altered landscape. Altar, this river, for the built and unbuilt worlds, tangled. If you are still, you can see the river beneath the manmade lake, a palimpsest, echoes of earlier loonsong, flashes of summer tanagers. No river is a love story. It is an archive, becoming. But every river I’ve seen, I’ve loved. In the current, a memory I’d forgotten dislodges. I am by the Metolius, the Chena, the Two Hearted, with someone I loved but no longer know. Perhaps we love the river because we want to be what we once were. A river can run north, so can’t our grief be undone? Midwest farmlands, intricacy of industries. A nation needs to be fed. Irrigation lines laid, water diverted, rivers fragmented. I don’t have the answers, just the verbs of damage. We are not shadows on a wall—we act and are acted upon. You cannot hold a river all at once. You cannot know whose path you block. Sturgeon, bottomfeeder, recycler of excess, swimming in circles, dreaming of a spawning ground, a specific runnel upstream where the water is sweet and clear. For 100 years, no fish spawned in the waters above the Shawano Dam. Now, we carry them back. There are so many kinds of violence. Many ways to love—snake, braid, meander. Yield. The seam where it starts, dangerous as a human idea.
Whenever I read something that resonates with me, I think about how I can use the piece as inspiration in my own writing, whether it's by using an image as a jumping off point for a poem, writing a piece on a different topic that echoes the persona/speaker/narrator, or mirroring the structure. If you're struggling to find something to write this week, try using Scarano's piece as a writing prompt in one of these ways.
If you have thoughts about water in poetry or prose or about this piece--or if it use it as a prompt--tell me about it in the comments on this post or by contacting me directly!