For National Poetry Month in April, Orion Magazine hosted a poetry exchange inspired by a collaboration between poets Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Ross Gay. The theme was “This Growing Season.” Orion put out a call for anyone who was interested and then matched people up randomly.
I was paired with Anastasia Andersen, who teaches poetry at the University of New Mexico (her full bio is below). Here is how she described the challenge we set forth for our poetry exchange:
We chose a writing game based on those of the French Surrealists. We agreed upon number of stanzas (6) and lines per stanza (5). We also alternated writing stanzas, but only forwarded the final line, which would inform the next stanza. The “missing” lines of the stanzas were revealed after all 6 stanzas had been written. We also chose a line from a poem by Robert Desnos as a title “I Circle Around but the Sky Changes.”
All we had was a shared theme and the last lines of each other’s stanzas and yet, the results were remarkably connected, with common themes interwoven throughout both our writing.
Here is the poem:
I Circle Around but the Sky Changes
…and then I’m circling over the anatomy of last year’s garden—
knuckle bones of gravel for mulch, the awkward bulge
of water warped wood, wide as hips. I have to admire
the stubborn green, the tenacious flex of texture and attitude—
that quirk of weeds already muscling through.
Unstable riverbeds, made quick and loose by the rain, let go
carrying the seasons down stream, fleeting ice and old leaves crowd the surface.
We dip toes in the cold water, shivering against the sun.
All is movement after rest, buds like fists burst from branches, sap runs,
and we are here, on the soft edges of spring, leaning into the light.
The gray philosophy of winter thinned to memory.
I circle around and the sky changes again—
seeds split and spin in a time lapse twirl
a whorl, a revolution of growth, a revision
of skins, slipped or discarded.
We leave parts of our selves behind, like limbs, in the flood.
Downstream they will find us in pieces, half buried,
where the sun warms the wet ground. Cast offs. Remainders.
And quietly, we will start something new there,
the elements all gathered up, spun in eddies, and forgotten.
I circle around but the sky changes again—
there’s a violence to this wind that hauls away the unwary
sparrows. Wasps jostle for position on every petal. There’s a hum
under the tumult, a sliver of color and memory
just before spring grenades into bloom.
So close to drowning, we gasp and watch the ox-bow rise and wrap around itself.
The river climbs up tree trunks, submerges landmarks.
Branches reach away from the flood, stretching for sky, tipped with new green,
like candles, like flames.
This season is all precursor, all tinder, all spark.
My poetry partner for this project, Anastasia Andersen, received her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico (UNM). Her work has appeared in various publications and journals including Puerto del Sol, Poet Lore, and Southwestern American Literature, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She teaches poetry workshops through the UNM Continuing Education program.