Poetry of the Prosaic

It is human nature to notice the unusual, to things that are dramatic or arresting. But the simple and ordinary can also be interesting if we stop and notice more, and practice what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle call, “the observation of trifles.” We may just discover a different kind of beauty or joy in what was overlooked. Today’s poems are devoted to this theme. May they inspire us never to stop looking for sparks of joy in the midst of the ordinary.

I’ll start with a classic poem by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) who is both a physician and an accomplished poet. It’s called “The Red Wheelbarrow”.

So much depends

A red wheel

Beside the white

~ William Carlos Williams


The next poem – one of my favorite – is by Linda Gregg (1942-2019), who was the author of several collections of poetry, including All of It Singing: New and Selected Poems (2008), a Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of 2008 and winner of the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award. The title of the poem is ‘Elegance.’

All that is uncared for,
Left alone in the stillness
in that pure silence married
to the stillness of nature.
A door off its hinges,
shade and shadows in an empty room.
Leaks for light. Raw where
the tin roof rusted through.
The rustle of weeds in their
different kinds of air in the mornings,
year after year.
A pecan tree, and the house
made out of mud bricks. Accurate
and unexpected beauty, rattling
and singing. If not to the sun,
then to nothing and to no one.


I wrote the next poem, “Ordinary Days” after spending a quiet morning in London’s Hyde Park.

On the bench, an old man talks to himself,
as if he has forgotten his past,
and cannot reach the future.
On another bench, a couple embraces.
He whispers something. She laughs.
Around them, leaves fall
from a circle of trees,
a dog pisses on one of them,
then sprints back to its owner.
A woman saunters past the old man
and gives him a look.
How strange to feel alive
on a day like this,
in a time and a place like this,
with no agenda, no schedule,
and no purpose other than
just looking.

© Wallace Fong


Lastly, here’s a haiku by the 17th-century Japanese poet, Yamaguchi Sodo (1642-1716)

In a hut in spring,
there is nothing.
There is everything.

I absolutely love this haiku. Here, Sodo is embracing his poverty, symbolized by his modest hut. At the same time, he is speaking in the kind of riddle that is common in Zen poetry to convey the apparent paradox of plenty in the midst of poverty, where poverty does not refer so much to the lack of material things, but a poverty of spirit that prevents one from appreciating the simpler thing in life.

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