Image by Ram Viswanathan
Balls of gas and plasma…stories and destinies written in the sky…a means of navigation… Stars can mean many things. What will you write about?
National Poetry Day falls on 4th October this year, and the theme is ‘Stars’. Stars have captured the human imagination for centuries: they have been used for religious rituals; in myths and stories; for practical purposes such as navigation; for foretelling the future; to explain personality traits; to wish upon; as a metaphor for describing people we regard as heroes…
In fact, stars have been used as metaphors to express an almost infinite range of ideas. If you think about the qualities of a star, you can see why they are so metaphorically rich. Stars are full of contradictions: they look so bright, but the light is really long gone by the time it reaches our eyes; they are millions of miles away, but you can raise your hand and blot them out; they can be hidden, though of course they are really always there. The sun is a star, but it appears in the daytime, and is hot and tangible on our skin. Stars seem to arrive with the night. Some come out in the early evening, and some are still visible at morning. Certain constellations appear over different parts of the world. The stars are fixed while our planet is always on the move.
We challenge you to write a new poem on the theme of stars – using any aspect/s of them you choose. Of course, you can use this challenge as a private workshop just for yourself, but if you’ve written something you’d like to submit, and would like the chance to receive feedback on your work, read the submission guidelines below. For inspiration, here are some ways other poets have written about stars.
For Robert Browning, ‘My Star’ expresses an intensely personal way of looking at the world: the star throws out “Now a dart of red,/ Now a dart of blue” but “stops like a bird” when his friends try to look at it. In one way, stars look much the same to all of us – small pinpoints of light in a dark sky. Can you find a way to make a star or stars seem particular to you?
John Keats wishes he might be “stedfast” like a ‘Bright Star’, but examines its other associations – its distance and solitude – and rejects them in favour of lying “Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast”. He accepts some of the qualities of the star, but not others. Can you think about which qualities you admire and find applicable, and which you don’t?
For American poet Sara Teasdale in ‘Winter Stars’, the consistency of the stars is a consolation in a changing world. They are distant but they also seem close, “Above another city’s lights”, and they seem almost deliberately to solace humankind: they have “faithful beauty”. Do you think of stars as remote, or is there something almost human about them?
There are many well-known ways to express the light of a star – ‘shining’, ‘burning’, ‘twinkling’. Can you think of more original ways to describe your star? You might take some of these poets for inspiration:
For Gerald Manley Hopkins in ‘The Starlight Night’, stars are “fire-folk sitting in the air”, “flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare”, “a May-mess”.
For Lord Byron in ‘Darkness’, stars “wander darkling in the eternal space”.
Walt Whitman in ‘On the Beach at Night’ imagines a sky where “nigh at hand… Swim the delicate sisters the Pleiades” [a constellation of nine stars].
Charles Wright in ‘Clear Night’ describes how “the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark”.
Adam O’Riordan in ‘NGC3949’ describes stars in a sideways way: he writes of “perforated darkness”, and we understand that the perforations are the dots of light.
William Blake’s ‘To the Evening Star’ is the “fair hair’d angel of the evening”.
John Donne turns the image of a mighty sun on its head in ‘The Sun Rising’ – instead it is a “busy old fool”, “saucy pedantic wretch”.
Submitting your poems
The challenge part of this workshop is now closed – but we hope you will still be inspired to write a poem about stars, which you could submit to one of the opportunities on our Poetry Map!
When all the stars poems had been received, the YPN team workshopped several poems in collaboration with the poets, and posted the poems before and after, along with detailed feedback, plus some general comments on all submissions.