Friday, January 12, 2018

#3 A New CRC Blog Series: BACKSTORY OF THE POEM . . . Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

***This is the third in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  Links to other BACKSTORY OF THE  POEM features are at the end of this piece.

Backstory of the Poem
by Barbara Crooker

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?
To begin with, I think of myself as primarily a nature writer or spiritual writer, not a political one.  Recently, I had three poems chosen for The Poetry of Presence: an Anthology of Mindfulness Poems (Grayson Books), which speaks to my intent in poetry. 

And yet, since the 2016 election, despite my best efforts not to do so, I seem to be ending up writing political poems.  Which are tricky little devils, both to write, and then to place, because hot button topics turn into yesterday's ho-hum news stories pretty darned quickly. 

This one found a home in Not Our President (Third World Press) and I've placed others, but I suspect the rest of them may linger in my "unplaced" folder forever and ever.  And these won't be poems I'll consider for my next book manuscript, because who knows where we'll be (At war with Korea?  With a new administration after impeachment/resignation/criminal indictments? (Oh, please, oh please!)) by the time I finish sending the manuscript around (3-5 years), then a couple of more years before it comes out.  So these are "poems of the moment," but I can't seem to stop writing them. 

Another problem, of course, with political/topical poems is that they can very easily tip into polemic or diatribe, something I'm hoping doesn't happen here.  Because above all, a poem should be a poem, an object crafted with as much skill as I can muster. 

With this one, I started with the color, the peculiar shade he seems to be choosing on the tanning bed.  I've been fascinated with the word "orange" for years, because of the inability of the English language to come up with an exact rhyme.  Rhyme, whether exact or slant, and sound are important to me in a poem, so here I get to play with orange/ deranged/ strange/ borage/ porringer. 

I like poems that take some leaps, so after fooling around with sound, I hip-hopped over to a familiar knock-knock joke, then referenced the tweetstorm of last September. 

At that time, I'd been blessed with a writing residency at the Moulin à Nef, a studio owned by The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, in Auvillar, France, near Toulouse. 

I spend a lot of time writing outdoors (en plein air, like the painters), so what was in front of me, a Great Blue Heron (heron cendré ) fishing in the river, popped into the poem.  A couple of lines meditating on the bird and our place in human history, and I'm back off on a rant about us teetering on the edge of a nuclear holocaust.

So I end with a prayer, or an invocation, going back to color and the visual.  (I strongly believe in writing through the body, writing through the senses.)  But it does conclude with a hint of menace—is that flickering light merely the sunset, or does it harken to something more sinister?

Auden tells us "poetry makes nothing happen," and in the most literal sense, I'm sure he's right.  But to not write anything about these times feels like complicity, and so, wielding a pen instead of a weapon, I keep writing the Resistance. . . .

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?)
Four drafts, two in longhand, two typed.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us?
Initially, I over-wrote the ending:  “Let us not go up (or detonate) in flames.” Most of the other edits were word choices and other bits of grammar.

Why did you NOT mention CHEETOS in the poem?
Because I didn’t think of it!  Genius suggestion!

Contact info?,

Anything you would like to add?
I’ll let the poem speak for itself. . . .


I am no longer using this color because of our toxic
President.  Nothing in English rhymes with it anyway,
not deranged or strange.  Not borage, that starry
blue herb.  Porringer comes close, but no one uses
it now.  Aren’t you glad I started this conversation,
the tagline to an old knock-knock joke that begins
with bananas?  Were we bananas to elect this maniac?
With a rival who threatens to turn us into
ashes and darkness?  Here, in a quiet corner of
southwest France, I am watching a heron cendré
stalk a silver fish in the shallows of the green Garonne.
His only concern is the fishing line of his hunger;
he doesn’t covet his neighbor’s fish.  But here we are,
imagining our incineration.  Let’s let orange return
to the palette merely as a mixture of yellow and red.
Or the color of the fruit of the same name.  The skin
of nectarine, tangerine; the sweet flesh of melon.
Or the changing shades on the horizon at sunset,
when the last flickering light remains.


Barbara Crooker’s poems have appeared in magazines such as The Green Mountains Review, Poet Lore, The Potomac Review, The Hollins Critic, The Christian Science Monitor, Smartish Pace, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly,
The Tampa Review, Poetry International, The Christian Century, America, and anthologies such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Good Poems for Hard Times (Garrison Keillor, editor), and Common Wealth:  Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania.  She is the recipient of the Pen and Brush Poetry Prize, the Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the Pennsylvania Center for
the Book Poetry in Public Places Poster Competition, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, the "April Is the Cruelest Month" Award from Poets & Writers, the New Millenium Writing's Y2K competition, the 1997 Karamu Poetry Award, and others, including three
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, eighteen residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; two residencies at the Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France; and two residencies at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland.  A forty-four
time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and five time nominee for Best of the Net, she was nominated for the 1997 Grammy Awards for her part in the audio version of the popular anthology, Grow Old Along With Me—The Best is Yet to Be (Papier Mache Press). Her books are Radiance,
which won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance (Word Press 2008), which won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence; More (C&R Press 2010);  Gold (Cascade Books, a division of Wipf
and Stock, in their Poeima Poetry Series, 2013); Small Rain (Purple Flag, an imprint of the Virtual Artists Collective, 2014);  Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2015); Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017); and The Book of Kells (Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and
Stock, in their Poeima Poetry Series, 2019). Her poetry has been read on the BBC, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company), and by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac, and in Ted Kooser's column, American Life in Poetry.  She has read her poems in the Poetry at Noon series at the Library of Congress, in Auvillar, France, at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, the SoCal Poetry Festival, the Festival of Faith and Writing, Poetry by the Sea, and in many other venues.



001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018 
Arya F. Jenkins “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph, “History Abandoned"

012 March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”
020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s (It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”


  1. Christal
    Your review is gratifying, honoring and impressive in its wise commentary and scope. You have graciously acknowledged all the creative hearts and minds engaged in the making of this anthology. I have tasted each section of this excellent review and have savored each. Better than a very, very delicious tangerine. Thank you! Susan

    1. Dear Susan

      Thanks for the words! and for reading the blog! Keep on writing!


  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.