Unanswerable Question Poem with the Poetry Sisters

Happy Poetry Friday! (Wondering what Poetry Friday is? Click here.)

During National Poetry Month, I’m posting a magnipoem each day that I can. That’s a poem inspired by my simply looking at an object under a magnifying glass for 1 minute each day, and then jotting a poem. Feel free to try this with students (you can have them just get up close and personal to something and study it closely for a minute). If you want to share online, tag me (@LauraPSalas) or share here in the comments!
I’m combining my National Poetry Month challenge with our monthly Poetry Sisters challenge. Kind of cheating, but life is hectic!
Our Poetry Sisters challenge this month was to “Ask an unanswerable question and answer it.” It came from a comment Georgia Heard made in a fabulous session at NCTE last year.  My final note from her session says, “Another thing to do with students: Generate impossible questions, such as how many slams are in an old screen door? Then answer them.”
Intriguing, right? When 6 of us gathered on Zoom to write together, we were all…hesitant about where to begin. Tricia pointed out the reference to “How Many, How Much,” by Shel Silverstein. (I didn’t know that poem.) Since we had no strong feeling about how to start, I suggested that perhaps we could take a few minutes to individually brainstorm some impossible questions (however we interpreted that). So we took five minutes to do that and generated all sorts of different questions and approaches. We agreed that we could use each others’ questions, be inspired by them, or ignore them.
Mary Lee Hahn asked, “What does the oak tree know about me?” That really intrigued me. I wanted to use that idea about something small that I could look at with my magnifying glass. So I took one of my very favorite rocks and studied it. It’s from Loch Ness in Scotland, near Urquhart Castle. During our 20 or 30 minutes of drafting time, I did a bit of research on the history of Urquhart Castle (a very bloody history, as with most castles). And this is the draft I wrote.  Actually, it’s draft 2. It’s kind of an unanswerable question combined with a magnipoem combined with a What a _____ Knows poem. Too long for a magnipoem, really. But, it’s what I’ve got! I did try to really work in connections between this specific rock and how it looks and the castle’s history.
See what the rest of our group came up with here. And I can’t wait to see what you came up with, if you joined in!

Mary Lee

Click here to see all our previous Poetry Princesses collaborations.

In May, we’re writing poems about a body part, inspired by Lucille Clifton’s “homage to my hips.” We’re going to try to adopt some of her poetic style, but you can approach it however you’d like! Just share your poem on May 31, and use the tag #poetrypals if you share on social media. Have fun with it!

The lovely Ruth at There’s No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week! She’s sharing a beautiful/painful poem about Haiti, a country so close to her heart.

26 Responses

  1. Well, it seems you got a lot of history in, Laura, love the “monsters aren’t myths, they are men” & the ending, “It knows what stays”. Great work meeting your challenge(s)!

  2. There’s so much to love here. You have included history, as well as the geography a rock might recognize. And what a rock knows IS an unanswerable question. Bravo for addressing so many forms and ideas!

  3. I love how you combined so many ideas and projects into one. That is something to be celebrated. I especially like “…that wars worry on.” War sometimes seems never-ending, it just moves from place to place.

    1. It does, doesn’t it? Rocks seem like they must be so patient, since they have such a long view…

  4. Wow! You got so much in here–both in terms of various prompts and meanings. My favorite part is “The rock knows that clans / come and go like waves flow.” I’m always fascinated by rocks’ stories being so much longer than we humans’, and that is a compelling way to look at it.

  5. With your build up commentary, I expected something silly or rhyming and what you wrote is much deeper. Are these poems called Deeper meaning poems? Your castle rock knows more than anyone.

    1. Oh, that sounds familiar too, Margaret. I think that is what Joyce Sidman dubbed them. So many poems…all poems?…offer a peek into a deeper meaning, so I remember them by What a ______ Knows. Hehe.

  6. Ah, yes, wars worry on, and “monsters aren’t myths, they are men,” is probably a statement for the ages. This has depth and texture to it — much like the rock.

    1. Thanks, Marcie! I love when a prompt makes you write a poem you never would’ve written otherwise!

  7. I also liked “wars worry on” and the water that was here before walls. I would say this twofer is a smashing success, Laura! Kudos!

  8. All these overlapping challenges could’ve resulted in a tangle—instead, you made a well-built, evocative poem with history, and geology, and rhyme! I predict this one will “stay” in readers’ heads, too. Really impressive, Laura.

    1. Thank you, Sara. The approach felt very tangled, but I’m happy if it doesn’t sound that way in the end!

  9. Laura, your magnipoem hits alot of the big questions. I especially like “monsters…are men.”

  10. Wow, I love everything here — unanswerable questions, Scotland, the rock, and your rock solid composition. How do you do that? Just dash off something so good?

    And echoing others on the monsters/men line. So good.

  11. Laura, I have read your poem so many times. It is fabulous, standing as a commentary on feuding, war, and violence in a short poem. As many have said, you captured the history of the castle, the geography of the land through the eyes of a little rock. Amazing!

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