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Saturday, April 18, 2020


I first encountered the poetry of Robert Frost in high school, and I was captivated enough to buy my own unabridged collection of his poems, which took up residence on my nightstand along with the collected works of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Frost's Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening is one of the first poems I can remember learning by heart. It is the poem that taught me that poetry holds, at its essence, potential energy. For the first time I connected with a poem so deeply that it took up residence and became a part of me, where it remains at rest, until suddenly it isn't. I'll be walking a dog when the night is dark and snowy, and the trees stand silent vigil between the brook and the pasture, and the poem is drawn spontaneously, instantly, into motion, its lines moving easily, rhythmically through my mind, perfectly capturing my experience in that moment and I think "This! This is what Frost was distilling onto the page."

I love the moment when the potential energy of a poem is released.

As the Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Swiss chapter, it's part of my responsibility to facilitate professional development opportunities for the writers and illustrators in our region. Last week we held a webinar during which poet and writer Bridget Magee talked about how to write poetry for young readers, as well as about ways we can incorporate lyrical language into our prose. At the end of the presentation, she shared a pandemic-themed poem that she wrote using the Golden Shovel poetic form and then challenged us to attempt our own poem using this form.

Today I finally had time to sit down in the study and start pulling books of poetry off the shelf: Emily Dickinson, The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Leonard Cohen, Carl Sandburg, and finally, Robert Frost.

My first collection of Frost's poetry is long gone, a casualty of many moves, both domestic and international, so a couple of years ago I went online and ordered a new (used) copy of my long-lost book of Frost's poems. It had to be the exact same edition - with the same cover - that I had read and loved before.

This morning I opened it up and reacquainted myself with poems so long unread that I felt as if I was reading them for the first time, and then I found it:

"the footpath down to the well is healed"

The line speaks to me with a voice so strong that I have to answer it - engage in dialogue with it through my own poem. Write my response to its call.

And so here is my own pandemic-themed poem in the Golden Shovel form.

Our footsteps crunch on the
gravel footpath
Life’s tempo slowed down
Viral army marches around the world as we walk to
the castle, past blooming apple trees to the
farm. We are well
Uncertainty is
our travel companion. We wait for the world to be healed.

©  Elisabeth Norton, 2020, All Rights reserved

A Golden Shovel poem, based on a line from Robert Frost’s “Ghost House”