As the northern nights draw in, we come to the end of the posters poems year-in-verse. In your final poem, write about the aspect of December - snowy fields or slushy streets, warm beds or Christmas - that inspires you
December, the year's final curtain, is upon us. The evenings are drawing in, the nights growing colder, and our thoughts turning to the nightmare that is the seasonal shopping madness. Still, if the Mayans were right, this December will be shorter than usual, so that's some consolation. The temptation when thinking about poetry for this month is to focus on the Christmas season, but as we did that three years ago, there'll be a shortage of Yuletide and holly in this month's challenge.
For Spenser's Colin Clout, the 12th month marked the onset of old age and a prelude to death. As the Shepheardes Calender draws to its close, Colin hangs up his pipe, abandons verse and bids farewell to the two great loves of his life, his sheep and the fair maiden Rosalind, in that order. The poem is, of course, based on quite a traditional metaphorical view of the calendar, and the December/death association is quite a standard poetic trope. We find it in poems as various as Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Fragment 3: Come, come thou bleak December wind and Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven; with the speaker longing for December to bring the release of death in the former and failing to recognise it when it arrives in the latter.
Of course, this association of the month with death's icy fingers is a very northern hemisphere thing; in Australia midsummer December is an outdoor month. But close encounters with death can occur under the summer sun, as happens to the farmer's child in Les Murray's December. Stereotypically, we northerners tend to think of Australian Decembers as being beach weather, and this cliché is used to ironic effect by Graham Rowlands in his Election 1977, an election in which the losing Australian Labour Party campaigned for an end to uranium mining amid growing public concern at the threat of nuclear war.
Meanwhile, in California two poets with connections to the Beat movement were more concerned with their personal nocturnal Decembers. In Dream: The Night of December 23rd, Michael McClure relates a dream of wildness, both natural and cultural, which calls up much of the spirit of the 1960s. McClure is a visionary poet in the Blakean tradition that was so admired by many of the Beats. His compatriot Richard Brautigan is also often associated with that movement, but his vision is much more down-to-earth, and his poem December 30 is concerned with a rather more solid, or should I say gaseous, nocturnal December experience.
In a chillier New England, May Sarton went to bed one December night having looked out on a snow-white field only to wake to the same field patterned with traces of an unknown world, the world of nature that exists in parallel to our workaday one made suddenly visible by an accident of the season and captured in her poem December Moon.
Anne Waldman's Giant Night opens with memories of rural New England spring but swiftly turns to the poet's here and now of New York in December. It's the 1960s, the city is soggy and cold, with the war in Vietnam is there in the background as people, including the speaker of the poem, try to carve out a life in the company of necessary strangers and the constraints of "jobs, families, friends, money" in "the toughest place in the world". Despite these difficulties, the poem ends with the one glimpse of Christmas we're going to get here, and a hopeful one it is too.
And so to the final calendar challenge, an opportunity to share your December poems here. Is it a month of hope or a dying fall? Are you surrounded by snowy fields or slushy city streets? Are you inspired when you snuggle down in your warm bed or is it the thought of Christmas to come that moves you. Whatever it is, let us know below.