In Seattle poet Laura Da's great poem "Passive Voice," she reflects on teaching kids to avoid passive voice using that old trick:
Circle the verbs.
Imagine inserting “by zombies”
after each one.
Of course, if the sentence works with "by zombies," it's in passive voice. But that's not the point of the poem. She goes on to imagine those kids on their summer vacations, traveling the country "on the way home/from Yellowstone or Yosemite." She pictures them getting some fresh air, addled by hours in the car, witnessing roadside attractions.
How she ties these two images together — the passive-voice zombies and the sun-baked highway monuments — is immensely pleasurable and I won't ruin it by summarizing it here.
The interesting thing about the poem is how Da', in a few short lines in the middle of a poem, places the reader so solidly in a place. You don't just imagine the summer road-trip pitstop. You're in it, you're there.
This is a rare talent in a poet. Too often, poets will fail to remember to anchor their poems in space and time, leaving the reader afloat in a mysterious gauzy nowhere. Da' never fails to remind her readers where they are.
That's why she's the perfect teacher for a free class called "Poetry of Place," which is happening in the Capitol Hill branch of the library this Sunday. Da' promises to help her students "look to land and water ways as a source of poetic inspiration."
Whether you're a poetry novice or a published author, this (free!) class is for you. All it costs is two hours of your life. Students are asked to bring a pen and paper or a laptop to write on. Da' will do the inspiration. No maps required.
Seattle Public Library, Capitol Hill Branch, 425 Harvard Ave E, http://spl.org, 2 pm, free.