Written by Hazel Burke


Could Be Verse

Fancy getting stuck into a sonnet or cosy with a canzone but no idea where to start? In her column, our poetry *doctor (*she’s not a real doctor) Hazel Burke’s celebrating things in small packages.

Emily Dickinson illustration by Louise Boulter.

Emily Dickinson illustration by Louise Boulter.

by Josephine Corcoran

When it rains
we wear our tartan rugs like capes
shake crumbs of DNA in fields
while workers take the queen
our jam

A lot of good things in life come in small packages: micro scooters, micro pigs and, of course, micropoems, miniature poems designed to fit into a tweet. When I first came across this idea I was intrigued: after all, isn’t writing poetry hard enough without the extra challenge of fitting it into 140 characters?

Luckily for us, where I see ridiculous limitation, Josephine Corcoran sees possibility. Just have a read of her miniature poem Picnic with all its lovely imagery and humour and then remind yourself that it is 117 characters long.

As well as the cute size, I also like the subject of the poem. I’m a huge fan of a picnic. As a kid, I always wanted to be one of those people who own a picnic hamper with special plates and cutlery and special matching rugs. But now, I think these kinds of picnics are not the ones I really enjoy. They just transpose meals outside, which is a nice idea, but somehow misses what, for me, is the true essence of picnicking.

For me, picnics are a miniature escape: from normal life, routine table manners, dietary good sense and the washing up. I like to picnic in the park with friends on crisps and warm red wine from a beaker. Or on a few butties and a banana on a walk on the woods. Or when the nights are long I find it fun to take my usual tea, or fish and chips, and eat them on a bench somewhere.

A bit of spontaneity or unpredictability adds to the fun of a picnic. Like the picnickers in the poem, I like to play fast and loose with the weather. I like how the picnic in the poem captures this feeling of freedom and excitement, created by the movement of snatching up the rugs, shaking them out, and twirling them into capes to keep the rain off.

The last three lines of the poem have some lovely, quirky, imagery. There’s a slight weirdness in the idea of shaking “crumbs of DNA in fields” because DNA and fields aren’t usually linked in sentences (unless I suppose it’s an article about GM food). I don’t know for certain whether the DNA Corcoran is referring to is the actual DNA of bits of spit and skin and hair left after the picnic or whether it’s just the food crumbs that are equally distinct markers of human inhabitation. It might be a bit of both of these ideas, but either way it’s a great way of illustrating the human traces left on the natural landscape.

Equally, the image of wasps taking not nectar, but delicious human-made jam, back to their queen is another way in which the picnic becomes a point of overlap between the worlds of humans and animals. It leaves me with the feeling that the poem is in fact about two picnics: the first is planned by humans and the second is the after-party picnic for the wasps.

A fascinating minibeast of a micropoem full of alfresco action #lovingit.

Josephine Corcoran blogs about her writing and family life at www.josephinecorcoran.org and is editor at And Other Poems: www.andotherpoems.com

Read all of Hazel’s previous poetry columns here.


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Written by Hazel Burke

Hazel likes seed catalogues, maps and toast. She lives in Manchester. @oxpecking