The Dog Days of Summer—
days when heat and humidity reign,
sizzling July days that melt into August.
Don’t waste them allowing your writing to languish. Instead, study the descriptive paragraphs, sentences and phrases found in summer poetry. Think about how words transform into specific moods and pictures. Then apply what you learn to your works in progress.
Here are a few examples.
A stanza from John Koethe’s poem, “Sally’s Hair”
It’s like living in a light bulb, with the leaves
Like filaments and the sky a shell of thin, transparent glass
Enclosing the late heaven of a summer day, a canopy
Of incandescent blue above the dappled sunlight golden on the grass.
(Copyright © 2006 John Koethe.)
Discover how Phillip Lopate uses a loaf of bread to describe layered city sounds in “The Last Slow Days of Summer” .
I’m lying on the grass, listening to city sounds.
They come to me in three-dimensional form,
Like a loaf of Wonder Bread. Baby carriages squeak
Near the middle. Cars humming through Central Park,
Somewhere near the back of the loaf.
What sound would be the end-piece, the round brown sliver?
The unzipping of airline bags.
Or a glove thwacked
By a rookie pitcher who falls apart
In the eighth inning.
(“The Last Slow Days of Summer” from At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, copyright © 2009 by Phillip Lopate.)
In his “Summer Song” William Carlos Williams describes the moon fading on a summer morning and then adds himself to the scene.
faintly ironical smile
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
where would they carry me?
(This poem is in the public domain.)
And, finally, study poet Mark Strand’s character description in “My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer”:
When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from her cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges,
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon’s ash-colored coat
on the black bay.
From Mark Strand: Selected Poems, by Mark Strand, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1979 by Mark Strand.
Make time during these Dog Days to read and study more summer poems. You’ll find them online at:
A reminder: In narrative writing use descriptive language sparingly and with good judgement. Keep it in your writer’s “toolbox” as a technique for advancing plot, character and theme.
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