Welcome to Sunday Morning Lyricality, featuring a weekly song or poem by a Minnesota writer, followed by a prompt to help you write your own poem.

Kris Bigalk’s poem “Crow Pose” appears to be about practicing to master a difficult yoga position. On a deeper level, it explores the question of how, when life gets awkward and hard, a person might navigate that challenge.

Tracy Rittmueller

Crow Pose
Kris Bigalk

After balance is lost, the limbs tumble, push into the floor,
the solid flatness cold against the rounded muscles of calf,
of forearm. Crow, how do you tip into the perfection of strength
and humor, dipping your beak to the water, then lifting your throat
so it washes down into you, turning your body to black rivulets,
feathers catching the sunlight black and blue?

Turn over the glitter of coins, the foil
of thoughts unresolvable. Let me balance on my three pronged
foot, Crow. Let me learn to fly while facing down the earth.

Writing Prompt based on “Crow Pose” by Kris Bigalk

We offer writing prompts based on featured poems for people who want to write something, who need a little help getting started. We don’t imply that you ought to write something. Many people enjoy reading or listening to poems without feeling compelled to write one. You might simply read this prompt as an exploration into what the featured poem is doing, and how its language works. This can deepen your acquaintance with poetry and lead to great pleasure in being a reader of poems.

Want to write your own poem about doing hard things?

Have you had any difficult conversations or encounters lately? How’d that go for you? What happens to your body — your heart rate, breath, muscles, your emotions, and your self-control — when you encounter opposition to your position? For some of us, just the mention of the word “conflict” can trigger the hormone-fueled stress reaction of fight-flight-or-freeze.

To be the best version of ourselves during difficult and challenging conversations or encounters, we can look at the way athletes, martial arts experts, musicians, and actors prepare for a major performance or trial/try-out. They train and practice. Meditation, autogenic training, and freewriting are also ways to increase our self-control. There are myriad ways people train to stay calm and clear-thinking.

Betsy Johnson of Willow Yoga Minnesota wrote in a recent Facebook post for her page, “Practice yoga because it’s awkward. Yoga makes you move and bind and balance and hold and hold and hold and tip over all while trying to keep your breath deep and even. The whole point of yoga is to put you in awkward positions that are meant to challenge you—so you can stay centered and balanced in awkward positions. And not only to stay, but to be at ease. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat . . . . Just as we can count on death and taxes, we can also count on life to be challenging, awkward, and hard.” 

Are you wondering how to write a poem to inspire yourself and others to face up to challenges?

Notice that Kris Bigalk’s poem begins with the failure, “After balance is lost…” To write your own poem, think about something you tried that felt uncomfortable and awkward, something your early attempts failed to accomplish. Perhaps playing a musical instrument, turning a cartwheel, or flowing through qigong “cloud hands.” You might want to write about your first attempts at writing a poem. What did the moment of “failure” feel like? Start by making 4 lists.

  1. Describe what the failure looked, sounded, tasted, smelled, and/or felt like.
  2. Next, think of a totem animal, an object in nature, or a person who makes your task look effortless. Make a list of phrases that describe your task-master performing the activity you’ve chosen to write about. Try to collect more than you need, so you can discard the clichés and boring bits. In writing about qigong and “cloud hands,” I might first describe the various ways puffy, pretty clouds move in the sky.
  3. Then, list other, non-related things your “master” does. Writing about clouds, I might list “harbor electrically charged ice crystals and create lightning,” “spin into a hurricane,” “rain on my parade,” and “transport water around the planet.”
  4. And finally name some characteristics that make it possible to perform the action successfully. For my imagined “cloud hands” poem, I might name balance, fluidity, flow, grace, lightness, rooted, and calm.

To start bringing it all together, notice how in “Crow Pose,” the first stanza is made of one complex sentence followed a complex question. Begin by naming your failure and create a sentence from your list #1, of physical actions and sensations.

Next, address a “how” question to your task-master, the way Kris called on “Crow,” to be her mentor/guide. For my imagined poem, I would write, “Cloud, how do you…” and plug in some phrases from list #2.

The second stanza begins with a bit of advice. Craft a sentence of advice to yourself, using two of the most interesting “other things” your task-master does from list #3.

And finally, write two short sentences using list #2 again. Make them into a request, and repeat that request at the beginning of each sentence. Kris writes, “Let me… Let me…” Borrow her words, or use “hope for,” “I need,” “I crave,” or “I hunger for.” If none of those has the right ring or tone, search for synonyms of desire or want.

In revising, take a look at your list # 4 and choose two words to weave into your poem. Try to make them words you don’t usually associate together, the way Kris combined “strength” and “humor.”

Read through your poem, paying attention to the sound of the words. Can you add and/or change a few words to create some vowel repetition, a pattern of assonance? Look at the way Kris repeats the short “i” sound in the first stanza, which hints at the quick breath that comes from exertion. Notice how the repeated “i” give this poet’s lines a musical sound and feel, compared to the second set of lines, where I used words the poet could have chosen, but didn’t.

Kris’s writing is more musical:

… the limbs tumble, push into the floor,
the solid flatness cold against the rounded muscles of calf,
of forearm. Crow, how do you tip into the perfection of strength
and humor, dipping your beak to the water, then lifting your throat
so it washes down into you, turning your body to black rivulets,

While this is less adept:

arms and legs tumble, push into the floor,
the concrete flatness cold against the rounded muscles of calf,
of forearm. Crow, how do you lean into the perfection of strength
and humor, dunking your beak to the water, then raising your throat
so it washes down into you, turning your body to black tiny streams,

There is inherent conflict in using words that sound easy and nimble to address awkwardness. Reading and writing poetry is another practice that can nudge us to live with contradiction, to be less reactive and more conscious in its presence.

The Importance of Practicing and Preparing to Do Hard Things

These are hard times, no doubt. The question is, how will we respond? We we be emotionally and instinctively reactive, or will we behave with conscious wisdom?

In her “Litany for Those Who Aren’t Ready for Healing,” Dean of Howard University School of Divinity, Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce, challenges us to attend to this extraordinary time–of uncertainty, conflict, sickness, and violence–in human history with patience, humility, and compassion:

Let us not rush to the language of healing, before understanding the fullness of the injury & the depth of the wound.
Let us not rush to offer a bandaid, when the gaping wound requires surgery & complete reconstruction.
Let us not offer false equivalencies, thereby diminishing the particular pain being felt in a particular circumstance in a particular historical moment….

Let us not be afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, & the pain that is life in community together.
Let us not offer clichés to the grieving, those whose hearts are being torn asunder…

The important reason we practice things like yoga, martial arts, meditation, or poetry is to facilitate conscious awareness in the present moment, that we may be grateful for all that is delightful, that we may respond with appropriate kindness when we encounter pain.

What if, whenever tension or conflict arises, instead of rigidly defending our position, we could take a breath and stay in the hard moment? I imagine that if we became skilled enough to hold our position gracefully in ordinary moments of tension, then, when shattering injustice exploded into our world, engulfing our fellow humans in rage and bitter bereavement, we might have developed enough capacity to not only be emotionally moved, but we will also have developed the humility to sit with the ugliness and messiness, and will have mastered the self-control necessary to be compassionately silent, to listen, and to mourn.

“Crow Pose” from “Enough” by Kris Bigalk, ©2019, published by NYQ Books. Appears with the permission of the author.