“For me, poetry is the music of being human. And also a time machine by which we can travel to who we are and who we will become.”

Carol ann duffy, poet laureate of the united kingdom, 2009


The theme of “homecoming” resonates with deep connection for poets. For June’s Mindful Poetry session, we enjoyed Dylan Thomas’ nostalgic poem Fern Hill about his Welsh childhood steeped in nature. In the United Kingdom, reading Fern Hill is considered high art, and a number of actors and celebrities try their hand at reading Thomas’ poem. We listened to Sir Richard Burton’s version, but view Dylan Thomas’ own version below and listen to Prince Charles’ reading for Britain’s National Poetry Day in 2013

To contrast with Thomas’ homecoming poem, we listened to Phillip Larkin’s I Remember, I Remember which recalls his childhood with grim humor,  parodying the effusive remembrance of by-gone days.  In his typical fashion, Larkin remembers his childhood as “unspent” and humorously defines his past in terms of what didn’t happen. To understand Phillip Larkin’s craft and background a bit better, consider reading this profile of him in The New Yorker. We also explored the poetry of Dame Carol Ann Duffy, a past poet laureate of the United Kingdom, who delves into the theme of “homecoming’ in the poem Originally, by remembering her Scottish cultural past that is lost in emigration.

In addition, we looked at two American poets, Nikki Giovanni and Mary Oliver,  who also consider “homecoming” a prominent theme in their poetry. Both Giovanni and Oliver are skilled readers who know how to engage their audience.  Watch below two videos that showcase their talent.

To Fully Explore the Theme of Homecoming…We Found Poetry!

As a group, we generated a free association list of words and phrases (images, sounds, textures) that we associate with home. Then, individually, we “found” a poem in the list – using images, a succession of words, or a sound combination of words. Our word/phrase list: splinters, ant hill, thunderstorms, vacant lot, elderly yellow lab (Sandy,) ancient black cat (Sam,) eating flowers, hum of plastic wheels on sidewalk, Morning light, nesting in the iris, Hostess fruit pies, Fish slime, Perch, running away from home, Bass – Bluegill, Magnolia trees, trick-or-treating, daffodils, burnt hog dogs, roasting marshmallows on the gas stove, Jiffy-Pop, playing cards in the spoke of bike wheels, getting stitched up at the ER, Ollie-Ollie-oxen-free, easy-Annie-over, red-rover, chalky fingers from hopscotch, wind on cheeks from jumping bikes over hills, ice cream truck music, smell of pine, spanking.

This was great fun and something we recommend you try with your poetry-loving group! Use our word/phrase list, or create your own.

A sampling of our poems:

On one side, an uneasy red line, a remainder of an encounter with Sam, our traitorous old cat;
On the other, a black splinter intractably deep.
Still, from across the road I had captured a few victims from a pirate raid on the ant hill;
They now scrambled circles inside a jam jar I had stolen from my mother’s dish drainer,
Ignoring the bit of cherry pie filling I dropped in to feed them.
I watched the numbers on the clock flip.

-Rev. Brian Lennstrom

It’s warm and I’m running barefoot, playing
Easy-Annie-Over among the daffodils,
leaping over our old yellow lab and
full of burnt hot dogs and hostess pie,
caring less about splinters, or cholesterol,
feeling the wind on my cheeks and
smelling the pine trees in the
vacant lot across the street, and
not yet aware of one day dying.

– Stephanie Butler

The burnt hot dog bubbled
as my heart worked to remove
the splinter from the cobbled foot
burnt from rough pavement.

She smiled as we smelled
the late summer thunderstorm
gathering quietly on the
blue monarchs.
We had run away from home once more.
Gathering our covert pack like ghost dogs
down on the secret beach.
Building a fire as we whittled
our hot dog sticks.
We smiled as the smooth rocks shined
and the waves forever lapped.

Fire dying.
All of the refugees turned
towards home. Hotdogs gone.
Water drank from local creeks,
draining slightly the failing septics up the hill.
The great Northern Pacific stopping our progress
As we counted the cars
and waved at the
speckled travelers stuck in fluid,
passing like a silent film.
The lightning flashing for special effects.

Returning to home
before they knew we were lost–
before we knew that all could be lost.
I looked at my sister and all our friends,
smiling like the end of summer days.

For us, the warriors struck down
with fall beckoning–
Our slow childhood passing by.

– Robert Berntson

The cool evening wind singed my cheeks
as I pushed my feet in circles against the plastic pedals
of my Big Wheel as fast as I could –
the loud hum of their tread against the sidewalk
sounding faster than I was moving.
I’d coasted down the hill from the vacant lot –
the one to which I’d run away before
and from which, this time of day, could catch
me a spanking and lose me a popsicle,
when my long-tongued brother would brag about his own.
I could hear the tune now, chiming from the ice cream truck,
teasing us away from the hopscotch grid,
over the neighbor’s daffodils.

– Sylvia Sepulveda

Video Resources:

Dylan Thomas reading Fern Hill
Nikki Giovanni reads her poem Vote
Mary Oliver reads her poem The Summer Day, aka The grasshopper
We watched Black Folk by Tank and the Bangas

Our Curator and Guide:

Poetry has been a life-long passion and solace for Rebecca Echert-Lennstrom. The beauty and playfulness of verse captured her heart early and became a well-spring of reflection and inspiration. For the last 25 years, she’s been sharing that love with high school students as an English teacher and creative writing instructor, steeped in words and imagery. She’s coached students in the National Poetry Out Loud Competition for ten years, paired with professional poets in the classroom to inspire student writing, and published high school creative writing magazines. This is her second year curating the Mindful Poetry Series as a ministry of the Episcopal Church.

Learn more at our Mindful Poetry page.

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Mindful Poetry – June Notes