Poetry Sunday: “Word Pond,” by Susan Kolodny


Word Pond

Go back, past the curtain of details, the wall
of chores, the grimy surfaces that obscure.
Go around the corners, under the broken fence,
crawl if you have to over moss, snail
slime, climb up the uneven hills
and down the dips through the snarl of vines
to the word pond with its scummy surface, frogs,
pond you found when you were seven,
and you slipped on mossy stones
and fell, breaking your birthday watch,
its yellow crystal, its bent and loosened black
Roman numerals, stopping time.
Pond you have had each time to refind,
kneel beside, brace yourself against
falling into, and reach into–fingers, wrist,
arm, shoulder­­—down, and down.


First published in HazMat Review, then in After the Firestorm (Mayapple Press, 2011), reprinted with permission of the press. Order the book at mayapplepress.com.

         Susan Kolodny book cover_after the firestorm_12-12-15

Susan Kolodny’s work appears in New England Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Bellingham Review, and in other journals and several anthologies. She has been featured on American Life in Poetry and Poetry Daily. Her first collection, After the Firestorm, was published in 2011 by Mayapple Press. She is a psychoanalyst practicing in Oakland and the author of The Captive Muse: On Creativity and Its Inhibition (PsycoSocial Press, 2000). Her website is susankolodny.com.


Notes on “Word Pond”

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

I liked After the Firestorm so much that I reviewed it in 2012 and “Word Pond” was one of my favorite poems. In the book, time loops and circles back around the speaker like T.S. Eliot’s “Time present and time past . . . present in time future,/And future time contained in time past” (“Burnt Norton”). The continuity of personal history and our ability to access it through memory and creativity are Kolodny’s central concerns. How do we unspool the narrative of our lives? And what are the risks and rewards of doing this?

The relationship between memory and creativity is probed in “Word Pond” with its injunction to Go back, past the curtain of details, the wall / of chores, the grimy surfaces that obscure. The pond, which I take to be a metaphor for the subconscious, is crucial and yet the speaker must continually refind it. Penetration of its layers is both feared and sought. Body-of-water images recur After the Firestorm and often, as here, with the speaker at their edges or partially or wholly immersed in them.

This poem presents two vivid images: the pond and the watch. Described with spare but precise detail, the watch was a gift for the speaker’s 7th birthday, it had a yellow crystal, and its numbers were Roman and black and bent from the fall. In a technique I would call “imagist,” the image is presented without explication, leaving the reader to draw inferences about its meaning. I take it to represent time, specifically childhood, and the speaker’s loss and distortion of memories of that time.

We are introduced to the pond first by way of the difficulty and even danger of its access—to get to it the speaker must “crawl” through a “snarl” of vines and its mossy stones so slick that she slips and falls, breaking her watch. Besides being hard to find and get to, this pond is uninviting, with a “scummy” surface the speaker must “brace” herself to reach into and through:

kneel beside, brace yourself against
falling into, and reach into–fingers, wrist,
arm, shoulder­­—down, and down.

Creativity, then, is an act of remembering, and one that takes perseverance and courage.

I’d been thinking of this poem as a sort of Ars Poetica, but it did not quite fit the term’s contemporary usage: a poet’s statement of why they write or of what they take poetry to be. In contrast, “Word Pond” stresses the “how” of writing poetry, where inspiration comes from (experience and memory) and how to access it (at least partly through a conscious act of will). As it turns out, this latter kind of Ars Poetica is closer to the work that gave original rise to the term, a poem written by Horace in 19 BC, which (in contrast to Aristotle’s more theoretical Poetics) advises poets from a practical standpoint on the craft (ars) of writing poetry and drama. “Word Pond” explores creative process, a topic of vital interest to Kolodny that you can read more about in her comments below. READ MORE

 Next Page: Susan Kolodny on “My Work on Creativity”

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  • Judie Rae January 18, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Wow! This is one of those poems I wish the muses had sent my way. Great work: evocative, moving.

    Let us see more from this poet.