Hope Jordan on “Ode to a Luna”
In June of 2017, I was in a poetry workshop with Peter Balakian at the Colgate Writers Conference. Colgate, for those who have never been there, is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful campuses in America. The weather was brilliant, so Peter decided to have individual conferences outside. As we sat opposite each other under the trees, I was trying to formulate an answer about my poetry when a man walked by, staring at something on the ground. Peter got up to see what the man had been looking at and I trailed behind. It was a luna moth, which are about the size of your hand, uncommonly beautiful, and uncommon to see, especially in the middle of the day. It felt like a visitation. Peter and I followed it around for a few minutes, took a photo, and then resumed our talk about poetry. Later, he joked that we’d each have to come back with a poem about the luna the following June.
Although Peter didn’t write a luna poem (“You won the bet,” he said), I did, and I brought it back to Colgate in 2018. I liked a lot of the language in the poem, and I’d submitted it for publication a few times, but there was something unfinished about it. No journals picked it up. I returned home from the conference, put the poem away, and resumed my daily life of commuting to Boston for graduate school. As part of my assistantship, I taught an undergraduate poetry class. I like to teach contemporary poems, so one day I introduced my students to Peter’s poem “Ode to a Duduk,” which had just been published. As I worked my way through the lesson, I realized that my luna poem was an ode, just like the poem I was teaching. I decided to try rewriting my luna poem using Peter’s duduk poem as a template.
The two poems are very different – mine is about a living creature and his is about a musical instrument – but I wondered if the exercise might solve my problem and bring the poem to life. I kept most of my original language and added a few lines. I was happy with the result. I wanted this poem to communicate what it’s like to read and write poetry – an encounter with mystery, almost unbearable beauty, deep sorrow and an enduring sense of how ephemeral are the materials we’re given to work with in this world