Poet's Choice: 'Turning' By Janice Harrington

By Janice Harrington
Sunday, May 17, 2009

One summer, my uncle brought me a June bug. He tied a string around its legs and gave the beetle to me as a toy: my first airplane and perhaps, in an imaginary way, my first airplane ride. This memory provided the foundation for "Turning," but a poem must move past sentiment and the raw fodder of memory. AS Ted Kooser writes in his "Poetry Home Repair Manual," a good poem is not simply an anecdote broken into lines. It has to connect to a larger human story.

I took that connection as my challenge in writing "Turning." How can I help readers find meaning in a personal recollection? What is the larger story that the memory enacts? That we are capable of awe and cruelty? That the human capacity and hunger for joy is our best achievement? Trying to answer these questions helped me shape a childhood memory into a conversation with readers and with the past. In "Turning," what could be a simple retelling is expanded by making the beetle a larger metaphor, by re-imagining memory through concrete detail and by addressing the readers directly.

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In the side yard, this small hub: a child

clasping a cotton string bound to a June bug's legs.


Maybe the iridescent minstrel will weary and die.

Maybe its leg will shear and cast off its bridle.

Unfortunate machine, maybe it doesn't know

we are held and bound by prescribed orbits.

Yet the child will never weary,


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