Lee Slonimsky Walks Woodstock To Write Poems

(When Lee Slonimsky told me that commutes from his home across the Hudson River to Woodstock simply to walk our roads and write poems, I wanted to know more. He has written a guest blog. He recently published a thriller involving the hedge fund industry, Bermuda Gold, and his latest poetry collection, Red-Tailed Hawk on Wall Street.)


By Lee Slonimsky

For over a decade, I have been writing most of my poems on walks. They generally tend to be short poems, often sonnets, given the limitations of time this method imposes. I write on folded squares of blank paper that I carry in my pockets, pausing briefly each time I need to write a line down, and subsequently pausing again to reread and revise. Later, I will type the poem on my computer and make further revisions.

I mostly write nature poetry, so the locale for my “poetry walks” is of crucial significance. I view the locale where I walk as a kind of collaborator with me on these poems, often providing an inspiration or catalyst in the form of some quirk of nature that gives me an image or an idea. My poetry walk nowadays is often one through the outskirts of Woodstock, along a combination of Lower and Upper Byrdcliffe Roads.

A recent experience in which my walk seemed to co-author a poem involved the beautiful blue flower, chicory. I do not have even the lay person’s knowledge of flowers (that I may have of birds and trees), and I had not noticed this flower, which is common along a section of Rock City Road and Lower Byrdcliffe Road, previously. One day, fascinated as ever by the role that math plays in nature, I happened to pause before one, stoop, and count how many petals it had. Nineteen. Wondering what the genetic history might have been that led to this particular number, I went on to count several others. Fourteen petals. Seventeen. Fifteen. There was no exact replication of number from one to the next, rather a range from the low to high teens. I puzzled over it. Barring accident or disease, humans go through life with two arms and two legs, not a combination that might add up to five in this person, three in the next, etc. So I wondered about a genetic narrative that provided only a range for petals. This was obviously not the sophisticated questioning of an evolutionary biologist, and maybe petals shouldn’t really be compared to limbs, but I’m a poet, not a scientist. And my bafflement inspired two poems.

Before concluding with the poems, I should mention one or two additional catalysts for them. Beyond observation of nature I am as mentioned above concerned with the role that math plays in nature, and toward that end have chosen a poetic and historical alter ego for myself, the Greek philosopher Pythagoras. I’ve published two collections from Pythagoras’s imagined point of view, Pythagoras in Love and Logician of the Wind, and have continued to write and publish poems from Pythagoras’s point of view. That’s how I came in the first poem to transform my experience with the chicory into a dilemma that might have startled Pythagoras two thousand, five hundred years ago. I fictionalized my observation for this poem, because the poem grew too complicated and unwieldy otherwise. The second poem, a triolet, was truthful to my observation but did not involve Pythagoras.


These thin blue petals crowd together so,
it’s hard to count them. But Pythagoras
can gently bend their head into sunlight
and patiently observe until he knows
there are nineteen. He’s pleased with his eyesight,
a mild west breeze, a gleaming abacus,
the virtues of pure math. But wait: nineteen,
he thinks, seems awfully random. Odd. And prime.

He counts four more blue flowers, all the same;
the breeze picks up; a broken branch sags…moans,
as if in sympathy with his distress
at nature’s strangeness. Quite the mystery,
where nineteen came from, so haphazardly
that life itself could be all chance. Unless…
Thoughts drift off slowly. Black clouds in the west.
A flock of thirteen birds. Lightning. No rest.


The petals range in number, narrowly:
thirteen to nineteen, composite or prime.

This flower loves math more than you or me!

The petals range in number, narrowly,
aimed at a pleasant blue geometry;

it loves to count, like timber wolves to roam.

The petals range in number, narrowly:
thirteen to nineteen, composite or prime.

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