CU Poetry at the Champaign Public Library - Praise Poems

  • Champaign Public Library - Room 215 200 W Green St Champaign, IL, 61820 United States

This week bring in 8-10 copies of a poem you would like to share. Need some inspiration? Try writing a praise poem. Below is an example, prompt and useful tips for how to write one from poet Diane Lockward's blog Blogalicious and her newletter - Give it a try - it could be fun

"Poem and Prompt 
This month's model poem is by A.E. Stringer. It first appeared in Still: The Journal.  
  
Hummingbird 
  
You vent a riff of high clicks  
like a dollhouse door creaking as it  
swings unlatched in a model  
of wind. Unlike me, you can sing 
and fly at the same time.  
Sucker for a touch of honey  
in the water, you small marvel,  
great unbumbling bee, you are more 
  
brazen than the winged 
idols of gold that brought endless  
song to Byzantium and the mind  
of Yeats. Hmm: more miracle 
than bird, yet not once out of nature.   
The faster you can fly from  
the unnatural, the more fearless  
you are, anything but delicate.  
  
Today in a wood I’m stilled 
by majesty unimagined. You light 
within reach, cooling wings  
at a trickle of water over crystal  
charms that someone has set 
on a mossy stone. Here you are 
drinking, thinking me, in my dull 
green shirt, just another small tree. 
  
  
The title of Stringer’s praise poem names his subject. The first line begins with apostrophe. This direct address to the hummingbird is then maintained throughout the poem. As is typical in a praise poem, Stringer uses hyperbole: the hummingbird is a “small miracle” and a “great unbumbling bee” and is “more // brazen than the winged / idols of gold that brought endless / song to Byzantium and the mind / of Yeats.” The allusion to Yeats and his “Sailing to Byzantium” works to elevate the significance of the hummingbird. 
  
I admire the poem's tone which Stringer achieves through a variety of techniques. The direct address creates a feeling of intimacy. The hyperbole creates a feeling of reverence as well as playfulness. The reverence is enhanced with elegant diction such as “delicate” and “majesty.” The playfulness is enhanced by colloquial language, e.g., “Sucker for a touch of honey” and “Hmm.” There’s also a touch of humor in the poem as the speaker compares himself to the hummingbird and declares that “Unlike me, you can sing / and fly at the same time,” a spin on the walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time cliché. 
  
Stringer makes rich use of imagery. Notice how many senses are appealed to in just the first stanza: sound (“clicks,” “creaking”), taste (“touch of honey”), and motion (“swings,” “fly”). In the final stanza we have the stillness of the speaker as he observes the motions of the hummingbird, the “cooling wings / at a trickle of water,” and the “mossy stone.” Note especially the image that closes the poem as the speaker imagines the bird mistaking him in his “dull / green shirt” for “just another small tree.” 
  
Stringer gives his poem a somewhat formal structure of three stanzas, each consisting of eight lines. This seems appropriate for a praise poem. 
  
  
For your own praise poem, first choose a subject from nature. This might be a different kind of bird, a rodent, insect, flower, vegetable, or tree. Do not choose a person. 
  
Before you begin drafting, brainstorm a list of your subject’s virtues. Others may come to you later. 
  
As you begin your draft, use apostrophe, speaking directly to your subject. But also keep the speaker present in the poem. Make us aware of him or her as observer. 
  
Work in the virtues. Use some hyperbole in describing them. Mix elegant diction with colloquial diction. 
  
Include some imagery. Try to appeal to several different senses. See if you can end with an image that reveals what the subject thinks of the speaker—a difficult challenge, but try it. 
  
As you revise, work on achieving a strong tone. Do we hear the speaker’s voice? Does your poem elicit powerful feelings in the reader? Is there some variety in the feelings? 
  
Include some formal elements in your poem’s structure."