The Rhythmic Writing of the Impossible

A Poetry Workshop with Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

I heard Lyrae read her poetry for the first time at the Appalachian Writers Symposium on September 13th, and I knew that I just had to attend her poetry workshop the following morning. Her voice carried her poems with a rhythm that made me want to bop around. I felt the musicality of her writing in my bones.

On Thursday morning when everyone walked into Baird Lounge to get ready to learn from this force of a writer, Lyrae was prepared with music to kick us into gear. We were in for a treat as Lyrae launched on her balance of academia, history, and laughter.

Lyrae’s recent work focuses on adynaton, a form of hyperbole that insinuates the impossible. She walked us through a description and examples of adynaton and then set us off on our own poetic journeys with a challenge to choose something black that we found beautiful.

She directed us to set off in trying to use adynaton to tease out the impossibilities in our chosen black subjects, and the room got quiet as we all shifted into writing gear, letting the words flow and the pages absorb our full concentration. Here, I want to share the poetry of some of our own in the LJAC family. Director Chris Green and Program Assistant Heather Dent have generously shared their poems from that day.


The Life of a Coal

Beautiful, rich, and dark,

The coal is tossed into the fire.

It becomes an ember

Pulsing with orange light.

But then,

The flames suck out the life.

They suck out the color,

Leaving it ashy, white, and dull,

Hollow, and ready to crumble.

The black beauty is gone.


Heather Dent

The depression after my wreck grew and wrapped

my neck like a stark tree, drunk from the tar of my loss.

Its silhouette hung forked and naked against the night sky.

My pupils were not strong enough to pull in the night

where nested light of a billion billion stars. But decades

of love given have chipped that cold tree’s black buds

into infinitesimal starlings, grackles, crows, and ravens

that shoot like sparks through a cloudless new-moon night.

Untouchable their energy spreading space wider, brief breath

of a billion birds on the shanks of each neutrino mountain,

pushing time that much more apart, they rush together

like people who know each other by smell, reading braille

on each photons’ still, dark subway drilling its way toward connection,

like how husband and wife’s fingers graze one another’s faces.

Flint flake kisses thrown to the sky, what could contract

their push that gives room to particles to fly? Maybe if my wife

were to leave, my daughter to die, my poems to smother under

boulders of reports, memo, and law? Before that, obsidian geysers

would erupt from the Indian Ink that surges through my pen,

from my daughter’s fingers dancing on the keys of song and story,

from my wife’s calls and faxes to Frankfort and Washington,

from the midnight walks whose dark energy spreads out space

so we can meet, so we can find each other, so our children can run

in yards and dance with fireflies, so that space will continue from

its first burst where distance between allowed the distance to be

so voice and ear and lip and cheek would meet and dance.


Chris Green