Ashley McHugh*, a poet and friend, directed my attention to this poem, “A Figure of Plain Force,” by Michael Heffernan (to be more precise, she pointed out the next poem on the page, but I was drawn to the first poem).
In “A Figure of Plain Force,” the speaker considers “you,” a person turned into an open door in the early morning. We aren’t given anything about their relationship, or even the person’s gender, but I couldn’t help imagining the speaker as a child remembering his mother readying herself to meet the day. She might work on “nothing of consequence,” or perhaps she’ll fall into a whirl of activity to finish a task she’d left undone.
As you’ll note from the line I pulled for the title, the location is somewhere near the ocean, but when I read these lines:
In this condition you pretend to lean
Solidly into the open while you gather
The winds about you by deliberate grace
Turning you into a figure of plain force,
Careful and candid, never in a dither,
Given to nothing noisome or unclean.
I can’t help but think of a pioneer woman looking out onto a sea of prairie grass, formidable in her determination.
What’s your reaction to the poem?
*By the way, you should check out Ashley’s glorious first book, Into These Knots.
10 thoughts on ““And beyond them a stretch of open country / That strives into the sea.””
I am not really very good with poetry, but that one is really beautiful. I didn’t like the poem below it as much.
You’re such a careful reader — I bet you’re not giving yourself enough credit!
That’s very nice of you to say. I think I’m not strong on imagery. I had to be forced to take a poetry class in college (although I did find I enjoyed it). I have a lot harder time reading poetry than prose. But I’ll keep reading your poem a week and maybe open up to it more.
You have no idea how much that delights me!
I do love how you present poems in the form of exercises here – it is a nice challenge for me as someone who is also not very familiar with poetry.
For some reason I also think of “you” as a woman. Maybe it’s the imagery of grace. (I know that I am sadly stereotyping there.) Also, I think of many women who are not obviously strong. They may be physically small, or soft-spoken, and yet have a will of steel. The words and imagery in this poem seem to capture that the juxtaposition. In particular, I love “While you gather / The winds about you” – as if with the ease of gathering your skirt – what power to be able to do that!
I love that idea — gathering skirts! I think you’re a wonderful reader, and I so appreciate that you take the time to read the poetry posts! For many, many reasons, poetry is dear to my heart, so I have to restrain myself from posting about it every day!
Thanks! I am glad I can put my over-analytical mind to use somewhere 😉
I think so many people are under-exposed to and thereby intimidated by poetry (at least that’s the case for me). You present really nice selections and the prompts are fun!
I hope I’m not being too didactic! And don’t worry about typos. We’re all friends here.
You’re not at all! They are fun prompts and I just appreciate being able to learn something each time.
And thanks for the typo forgiveness! 😉
Yikes, I just noticed a typo in my first comment. (Drives me crazy so I felt compelled to follow up.)