It's the Winter Poetry Challenge, which will run each day from now through Saturday. Here's how it works:
I challenge all you poets out there to share a poem (or poems) on a mythic theme posted each day. There are no rules beyond adhering to each day's theme: brand new poems are encouraged, but your older poems are welcome too. You don't have to be a published poet to contribute; you don't have to be a regular reader of this blog; and you don't even have to be an adult (but if you're a child, please let us know your age). I'll start the ball rolling each morning by posting a poem on the theme from the Journal of Mythic Arts archives, along with related imagery.
There are two ways to participate in the Poetry Challenge, both equally important: One is by posting your poem(s) in the Comments thread under each post. The other is by leaving feedback for the poets, which I highly encourage everyone to do. Please help us out by joining in the conversation.
(And if you're still not sure about how this works, have a look at the Autumn Poetry Challenge. Just follow this link and scroll down.)
Since we've been discussing bears and hibernation on this blog recently, today's theme is: Bears in Myth, Fairy Tales, and Fantasy. Some examples: the white bear in East of the Sun, West of the Moon; the bear husbands in Bearskin, Snow White and Rose Red, and various Native American tales; and the numerous bear gods, goddesses, shamans, and sacred spirits of Finland, Japan, Mongolia, Canada and other places the world over. For inspiration, have a look at the comments under last week's bear posts, full of links to bear poetry and tales.
To kick off the week, here are three bear poems from the JoMA archives, approaching the theme from three different directions. The first poem is rooted in fairy tale motifs, the second in the myths of the Arctic north, and the third in Robert Southey's classic nursery tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
The Bear's Daughter
by Theodora Goss
She dreams of the south. Wandering through the silent castle,
Where snow has covered the parapets, and the windows
Are covered with frost, like panes of isinglass,
She dreams of pomegranates and olive trees.
But to be the bear's daughter is to be a daughter, as well,
Of the north. To have forgotten a time before
The tips of her fingers were blue, before her veins
Were blue like rivers flowing through fields of ice.
To have forgotten a time before her boots
Were elk-leather lined with ermine.
Somewhere in the silent castle, her mother is sleeping
In the bear's embrace, and breathing pomegranates
Into his fur. She is a daughter of the south,
With hair like honey and skin like orange-flowers.
She is a nightingale's song in the olive groves.
And her daughter, wandering through the empty garden,
Where the branches of yew trees rubbing against each other
Sound like broken violins,
Dreams of the south while a cold wind sways the privet,
Takes off her gloves, which are lined with ermine, and places
Her hands on the rim of the fountain, in which the sun
Has scattered its colors, like roses trapped in ice.
by Ari Berk
Rouse with hunger or indifference
to a morning darker than the night
Shake the season from your fur and rise
to stand inseperable from the snow
Below the ice swim seals thick with blood
So shaking somnolence from your brow
you crawl like a man across the drift
smelling for prey, intentions sharp as stone
Wind of knives and fury born of stars
May not deter a giant built of ice and claws
Unless the sleep of solstices be on him
He, Son of Sedna and the Northern Waste
by Neil Gaiman
"There was a little girl, called Goldilocks,
for her hair was long and golden,
and she was walking in the Wood and she saw — "
"— cows." You say it with certainty,
remembering the strayed heifers we saw in the woods
behind the house, last month.
"Well, yes, perhaps she saw cows,
but also she saw a house."
"— a great big house," you tell me.
"No, a little house, all painted, neat and tidy."
"A great big house."
You have the conviction of all two-year-olds.
I wish I had such certitude.
I remember, as I tell it, that the locks
Of Southey's heroine had silvered with age.
The Old Woman and the Three Bears . . .
Perhaps they had been golden once, when she was a child.
And now, we are already up to the porridge,
"And it was too— "
"And it was too— "
And then it was, we chorus, "just right."
The porridge is eaten, the baby's chair is shattered,
Goldilocks goes upstairs, examines beds, and sleeps,
But then the bears return.
Remembering Southey still, I do the voices:
Father Bear's gruff boom scares you, and you delight in it.
You giggle when I do the baby's wail,
"Someone's been eating my prridge, and they've eaten it —"
"All up," you say. A response it is,
Or an amen.
The bears go upstairs hesitantly,
their house now feels desecrated. They realize
what locks are for. They reach the bedroom.
"Someone's been sleeping in my bed."
And here I hesitate, echoes of old jokes,
soft-core cartoons, crude headlines, in my head.
One day your mouth will curl at that line.
A loss of interest, later, innocence.
Innocence; as if it were a commodity.
"And if I could," my father wrote to me,
huge as a bear himself, when I was younger,
"I would dower you with experience, without experience."
and I, in my turn, would pass that on to you.
But we make our own mistakes. We sleep
It is our right. It is our madness and our glory.
The repetition echoes down the years.
When your children grow; when your dark locks begin to silver,
when you are an old woman, alone with your three bears,
what will you see? What stories will you tell?
And then you say, "Again. Again. Again."
We owe it to each other to tell stories.
These days my sympathy's with Father Bear.
Before I leave my house I lock the door,
and check each bed and chair on my return.
The art above is: "Bear Dance" and "Bear Child" by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" by Kay Nielsen (1886-1957), "Playing With the North Wind" by Susan Seddon Boutlet, three illustrations for Robert Southey's "Goldilock and the Three Bears" by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), "Goldilocks" illustrations by Katherine Pyle (1863-1938) and Margaret Tarrant (1888-1958), and "The Snow Princess" by Ruth Sanderson.
Publication information: "The Bear's Daughter" first appeared in the Journal of Mythic Arts and is copyright c 2004 by Theodora Goss, who reserves all rights. "Arktos" first appeared in the Journal of Mythic Arts and is copyright c 2004 by Ari Berk, who reserves all rights. "Locks" first appeared in Silver Birch, Blood Moon (Datlow & Windling, eds.), and was reprinted in the Journal of Mythic Arts; it is copyright c 1999 by Neil Gaiman, who reserves all rights. All poems posted in the Comments thread are the property of their authors, who likewise reserve all rights to them.
Please note: There are so many responses to this post that Typepad has broken them into two pages. Be sure to click on the "Show More Comments" link at the end of the first page (which is easy to miss) in order to see the lastest poetry additions.