Poetry and History

Monday Morning Musings


With Susan Weidener at my poetry workshop for her Women’s Writing Circle


“Prose is words in their best order; poetry is the best words in their best order.”

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Herodotus says, “Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects.

–Mark Twain, A Horse’s Tale (1907)

“I dream a dream that dreams back at me”

–Toni Morrison, A Mercy


It was a weekend of poetry and history,

ancient arts,

poetry, the word

derived from the ancient Greek, “I create,”

the forms,

honed over centuries,

the sea metric cadences of Homer,

the structure of Shakespeare’s sonnets,

the beauty of its language and rhymes,

discussing love and mortality,

the spare words of Emily Dickinson

magic with dashes

varied styles,

reflections on nature and life

best words in best order,

words in place and time.


I teach a workshop

with these ideas in mind—

to provide some guidance

to give my knowledge

(such as it is)

to women who want to

write their lives, their history, in verse

to help them find the best words

to capture the magic

to help them release it

in the right order.


We sit in a hotel conference room

large windows covered partly by pleated white shades,

in the lobby desk clerks laugh and flirt,

but in this room

we sit round the table

with a candle burning,

enlightening light,

coffee and water at hand

(nourish the body

as well as the soul).

I give the women prompts

and they create magic,

the right words come

in the right order.


“How did it go?”

my husband asks me,

he offered to drive me,

drive me

to the workshop

and home again.

Though I would have done it,

I was grateful for his gesture.

“It went well,” I reply

I feel good.

As we travel home,

I gaze at the traffic and cornfields

bright white clouds

fat, puffy sheep

frolicking across a field of blue,

Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Are they more real because I’ve recorded them?

I wonder.

We journey home to New Jersey

and I think of how these women have inspired me

and given me confidence in myself

my abilities to create,

to share the right words

the best words

in the best order



The next day,

My husband and I go to the movies,


a film about an historical event,

the plot to kill Reinhard Heydrich,

Architect of the Final Solution,

“Butcher of Prague.”

It is a true story of bravery and courage,

though fictionalized,

the men are humanized here,

they are not stone figures, no,

not larger than life,

their hands shake on triggers,

they love,

they feel regret.

And was their sacrifice worth it

in the end

when thousands were killed in reprisal,

the town of Lidice razed?

Something to ponder,

the costs of war

morality and immorality,

how to fight evil.

Still, no one can discount the bravery

of these seven men,

ordinary men

who did the extraordinary.

I think of Herodotus

(In my head,

his name pronounced

in Ralph Fiennes’s The English Patient voice)

telling history as an entertaining narrative.

There is a line,

but sometimes a story is richer

and somehow more true

for being told as fiction

by using the best words

in the best order.

History is not simply the lives of the great

or of defining moments,

floods and plagues,

wars and assassinations.

There are ordinary men and women

who lived through each of these moments

who survived

or died in cataclysmic events

that change the world

or fail to change it.

It is important to tell their stories, too.

And what of me?

And what of you?

What about our lives?

How do we tell our own histories?

I ponder this,

searching still to find

the best words

and the best order.


Susan G. Weidener, Women’s Writing Circle

Where you can find information about the groups and her books.

Also, find Women’s Writing Circle on Facebook

And Susan Weidener on Twitter


Here’s the official trailer for Anthropoid (be advised that the movie gets violent).








26 thoughts on “Poetry and History

  1. Some of us do that with poetry.

    I can’t imagine how I’d do at a workshop (let alone conduct one). My thoughts are so scattered that I consider myself lucky to record them at all. However, I must admit that much of my poetry these days is a result of prompts – a much needed motivation that still relies on corralling those scattered thoughts.

  2. I imagine your rapt audience drinking in every word, you the tutor not inclined to believe much less admit your expertise. Susan and the other women appreciated you greatly, I am sure; your husband adores you. Brava!

  3. It was a wonderful morning of words, images, and inspiration. Thank you, Merril, for teaching us about poetry and inspiring our muse with your own poems, prompts and images.We must do it again! And thank you, too, for featuring my books. I hope you enjoy the memoir and the anthology. Job well done, Merril!

  4. I think a workshop with you would be a wonderful thing, if I were brave enough to attend. I like the idea of putting the best words in the best order, and it’s something I’d like to learn how to do. 🙂

  5. People are so hungry for ways to tell their stories, and how wonderful that you could help some of them find their voices. Sometimes they just need permission. (K)

  6. “… the best words, in the best order.”

    I realize I try to do that too, in my prose. It’s what I strive for in those seemingly endless days of rewriting and rewriting some more. The best words. In the best order.

    I think we must love words to do what we do. Love their sounds, their rhythm, their melody as we string them together.

    What lovely images you created for me with this post, Merril. And how fun you got to work with Susan again. Good for you both.


    • Thank you, Janet. Of course, all writers strive to use the best words in the best order, it’s just a reminder–and I liked the quotation and wanted to use it as a refrain.
      It was a fun session. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about it. Someday, we’ll all get together again!

  7. Well done, Merrill and wish I’d been there. Tyranny of distance!
    I whizzed up a batch of banana muffins for my son to take on his Scout hike tomorrow and added some blueberries and macadamia nuts to ours. I don’t know how he’ll go with hiking food. He gets a bit spoiled at home!
    Hope you have a great weekend.
    xx Rowena

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