27 participants, at least 3 new, Zoomed in from snow country: IL, ME, MI, NJ, NY, PA, and Canada. We are not sure how it was in Ireland and the UK but know it was warmer in TX.
All gathered around the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden, a poem of waking on cold Sunday mornings. Many people in the group related to the “weather” of fathers who were silent or serious or absent. Much of our discussion centered around what the poetic speaker referred to as “What I did not know” (with its Shakespearean resonance) and the changed perspective/understanding of parents when children become adults, perhaps become parents themselves, and know “love’s austere ‘offices”: work, responsibility, and silent preoccupations. And perhaps know, too, the young’s lack of gratitude or misunderstanding of these sometimes lonely offices.
By reading the poem aloud we were able to hear the assonance as part of the narrative: the harshness of hard “c” and “k” and “ch” in cold, cracked, chronic and the softness of “s” in Sunday, dress, and shoes.
Attention was paid to the possessive pronoun “my” modifying “father” signaling that the poem’s speaker was writing of personal experiences in a house that not only creaked in the cold but also was heated with “chronic angers.”
In the poem we heard the swerve from fear in childhood to sorrow and regret for the speaker’s own silence or indifferent tone as he did not hear the love expressed, if not in words, in actions.
The suggested prompt was “Begin writing with the words: What I did not know…”
Three people read their 4-minute writing. One told of meeting his father’s friend, at the funeral home, and how the man remembered the father as funny and fun–playing jokes on fellow workers–a father far different than the man’s son remembered. Two people wrote of changes in body and health, interests and attitude, which allowed then to see and act differently in middle age. All three readings incorporated the writers’ changed viewpoints from past to present.
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Those Winter Sundays By Robert Hayden Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house, Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays” from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Copyright ©1966 by Robert Hayden.