Urchin

A few of years ago, I took a writing class through a local community college’s extension program. A woman named Ruth Wilkins (who has since passed away) taught it. She was knowledgeable, supportive and kind. One assignment was to compose a poem on any subject. I got to work and produced this one, which she (as was common) did not criticize in any way. I then emailed it to a friend I call Mrs. Language Person. She only had issue with one of my favorite parts of the poem, so I refused to change it. Unsatisfied, I sent it to my former high school classmate, a writing chair at a four year university. She was also kind to me and it, but I was still not happy. Finally, I entered it into a local writing contest. After I saw the winners announced, I contacted the organizers, who sent me the judges’ comments, which I tried to incorporate. Then unincorporated. Then reincorporated less extensively (adding the first stanza). Eventually, I realized that it was far from perfect, but that wasn’t the point. I wrote it for me and I like it…pretty much.

Urchin
Senseless
unaware
as the sea assaults the shore
Aristotle’s lantern
shines no more
Is this a test?
Your final place of rest?

Incorrigible children scatter
scour the driftwood-strewn,
cement gray coast
for corpses
egg shell skeletonned,
space ship shaped,
palm-sized
forms
spines shorn
shades of green
like artichoke leaves
the lichen
that grows on local trees

Once a formidable foe
bristlyspiny from head to toe
long since left defenseless

You await
your fate
fodder for the land
as the beach’s sand
where you lie
while the urchin
cries,
“I found one!”

You contemplate
your fate
dust covered, fading
on a mud brown
windowsill
Maybe shared (carefully?)
for show and tell.

This is the back story. One day my children and I were out at Crescent Harbor, a Whidbey Island beach, collecting sea urchins, which, on that particular day, were everywhere. It made me think of the word “urchin” and its multiple meanings. With the judges’ comments, I felt compelled to learn more about urchins, especially about their senses, which I did. Those who know a bit about them will hopefully understand some of the text that I added at the beginning (the entire first stanza) as a result of the judges’ comments.

Here are the judges’ comments:

General Comments:  this poem creates a nice doubleness for the urchin image:  it is both the searching child, and the found artifact.  The poet makes good use of seashore imagery in describing the shells.  There are some rhymed lines, but this is not overdone.

One suggestion I have:  because the poem shifts abruptly into second person (“You”) at the third stanza, and repeats that in the fourth, perhaps the poem should begin with an address to the urchin, rather than beginning with the incorrigible children.

Content/message: Your use of urchin to describe both children and sea urchins is fun, and writing from both perspectives is an interesting idea.

Form: It is difficult for editors to read poems with center margins. Consider using left hand margins only.

Use of Language: Random use of rhyme – leaves/trees, foe/toe, await/fate and land/sand leads the reader to expect its repetition at regular intervals, but we don’t find that here. It leaves her feeling like she got lost within the poem.

General Comments: We tend to favor visual description over other senses, but this would be a perfect poem to incorporate the smells and sounds of the beach as well.

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