Yesterday, as I sat at my desk grading essay prompts, I wondered if I could get my students to write poetry prompts as well. Too bad it might not fit into the basic composition classroom. Maybe sometime after midterms.
I wanted to write about a woman who'd been robbed. Anne Boleyn. She had her head taken away, for God's sake. Okay. What about this woman? What would she say if she came back? She wouldn't want our sympathy.
Sarah and I were chatting online as I simultaneously graded and composed this prompt. I told her the phrase "Anne Boleyn doesn't want our sympathy" popped into my head for some reason. (Is this from a movie? Why this phrase? Anyone?) Sarah told me it had potential. I was still picturing students writing prompts. I saw more poetry prompts in elementary schools in Alaska than I ever see at universities. A child would be able to write this poem easily.
Don't know if it achieved its potential for greatness, but here's what resulted from the prompt. A young student, Eleanor; her mum; and a hint of dead royalty.
ANNE BOLEYN DOESN’T WANT OUR SYMPATHY
Henry VIII’s life was a love story, Eleanor writes,
even though my mum thinks otherwise.
I wish he didn’t kill his wives. Of course,
he had so many of them, I think he ran out of places
to keep them, which is surprising because
kings live in castles with ample storage.
My mum works at the university and says
she knows more about Henry than Henry did,
but she doesn't sounnd happy about it.
When I ask her what Anne Boleyn looked like
she feels better, in a sleepy way,
like she knew Anne and liked her more than Henry.
She says Anne was the most beautiful queen
since Cleopatra, she had brown hair just like ours
and hundreds of dresses, all in a different shade of red.
My mum tells me one or two things like this
(one day she said Anne had a magic pearl necklace
that she used to hypnotize men with full bellies,
another time she said Anne loved purple peonies)
but then she gets mad again and shakes her head
like she’s waking up from a strange dream.
She says Henry put a lot of strong women in the ground.
When I tell her we should bring peonies
to Anne’s grave my mum says
Anne Boleyn doesn’t want our sympathy.
She says Anne would much rather have her head back
so she could run away with a pack of hunters
like she wanted to so long ago, before the court,
before her first piece of jewelry, before she learned
to count how old she was on one hand.