As a working poet, I often have the opportunity to write for specific circumstances, as I mentioned a few days ago when I offered the poem I wrote for the wedding of some friends many years back. This is called occasional poetry. It is a more public poetry, in comparison with what might be considered the “more intimate … lyric” poem (Sugano 5).
Wikipedia tells us:
‘As a term of literary criticism, “occasional poetry” describes the work’s purpose and the poet’s relation to subject matter. It is not a genre, but several genres originate as occasional poetry, including epithalamia (wedding songs), dirges or funerary poems, paeans, and victory odes. Occasional poems may also be composed exclusive of or within any given set of genre conventions to commemorate single events or anniversaries, such as birthdays, foundings, or dedications.’ (Occasional)
Some occasions are not as obvious as those listed here. For example, many years ago a good friend ended up on the wrong end of a restraining order from her roommate and bunked on my couch for three days while she sorted it out. When the judge had thrown the roommate out of court and out of my friend’s apartment, and after all the dust had settled, my friend had an Exorcism Party, for which I wrote the following poems. The goal was not only to celebrate the end to an excruciating time but also what I think of as the prophetic task of reminding us to forgive our enemies eventually.
The Exorcism, First Movement: The Beans
oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi
(out with the devil, in with good fortune)
In this place, we rise and shout:
Good luck in and demons out!
To darkness that has gathered here,
We now demand: Go! Disappear!
In foreign lands, where now sunlight
Is rising silver on beached stones,
Many-colored demons wrapped
In deerskins wander winter night
Free. They fear one thing alone.
They tremble when they hear beans tapped
Together, gathered for the rite
Of Setsubun, Bean-Throwing Fest,
Which, every February, means
The end of winter-darkened fright.
All folk have ways to expel the Beast;
There they drive it out with beans.
But here no Oni stalk our night,
Steal our rice, upset our shelves
Or walk the night to work us ill.
It’s with each other that we fight:
The dark fire is within ourselves
To stoke or extinguish as we will.
Now in this place, we rise and shout
To darkness that has gathered here,
Forgiveness in and anger out!
We eat the beans. It disappears.
The Exorcism, Second Movement: The Book
The book proclaims
that God’s voice
strips the bark from trees
standing in the wilderness
Your money or your life–
How long O Lord–
How long can I stand
here without skin. The wind is cold;
the thunder cracks through; each layer
around layer cowers.
The book reminds
that wilderness is wild
but not empty.
the voice shouts,
you do not stand alone:
all around you I have planted
my people, whose arms reach out.
the voice whispers
I will sing you
into new skin.
We Speak of Exorcism, Yet
demons never lived here. Just a woman
surrounded by light, who ground the heels of her
palms into her eyes, a woman surrounded
by the spirit, who steadfastly refused
to inhale. We must know the spirit; like a child-
woven paper chain, it rises and falls
here between us, these people you have
called to your side in trouble. We all have
breathed, these forty days, its freshening wind.
The spirit is the only part of God
I trust: out of darkness, invisible eyes see us
in our frailty. We skitter below like woodmice
cowering alone–we think–waiting,
praying for the spirit to swoop down,
not a dove but a hunting owl: accurate,
terrifying, saving us.
When She Has Finally Moved Out
After the room has emptied, you weigh
the air between winter-locked windows
with your kitchen scale: lighter, easier
to breathe now. You take a sip
of tea, the saucer in your left hand as
you wander, a sacrament. Liberated
like this air, like this room’s white door
now you are swinging
Occasional Poetry. Wikipedia. 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 April 2015.
Sugano Marian Zwerling. The Poetics of the Occasion. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992.