Asa Gray wrote Increase Lapham:
pay particular attention
to my pets, the grasses.
— by Lorine Niedecker (1940).
This semester, I’m teaching a poetry course for third year undergraduates. I’ve never been one to divide a semester into the usual kind of weeks (week one: line, week two: stanza, week three: metre and metonymy … no, no, no!), so it will come as no surprise to some of you to hear that during week two we’ll be doing ‘lawnmowing’.
I have a small but rather lovely little folder that contains my favourite lawnmowing poems. These include (in historical order, by date of first publication):
- Andrew Marvell’s , ‘The Mower to the Glo-Worms’, ‘The Mower Against Gardens’, ‘Damon the Mower’ and ‘The Mower’s Song’ (1681). Quite a charming set, read together, as they were possibly intended to be read. As Linda Anderson writes, the mower of the poems ‘combines in his single figure the best and worst aspects of “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet,” incapable of conforming his desires to reality, but responding to the beauty of nature, desiring love and expressing his frustration poetically’.
- Louis MacNeice’s ‘The Gardener’
- Hollis Summers’s ‘The Lawnmower’ (1954)
- Mona Van Duyn’s ‘Notes From A Suburban Heart’, from her collection A Time of Bees (1964)
- J H Prynne’s ‘Acquisition of Love’, which appeared in his collection The White Stones (1968)
- Philip Larkin’s ‘The Mower’, first published in the magazine Humberside (1979)
- Charles Bukowski’s ‘Man Mowing the Lawn Across the Way From Me’, first published in the New York Quarterly in 1973. Reprinted in The People Look Like Flowers At Last (2007), and ‘grass’, which appears in Crucifix in a Deathhand (1965)
- Grace Bauer’s ‘Against Lawn’, which appeared in Lake Effect, Volume 8, Spring 2004.
- Andrew Motion’s ‘The Mower’, which was first published in the Times Literary Supplement in 2007.
- Sarah Barber’s ‘The Lawn Mower’, which appeared in the February 2009 issue of Poetry.
- Michelle Dicinoski’s ‘Turf’, which appeared in her collection, Electricity for Beginners (2011).
There are other poems that mention lawns or lawnmowing in passing, or in their titles, but are not focused on the art of lawnmowing (Louis Simpson’s ‘On the Lawn at the Villa’, A D Hope’s ‘Lying on the Lawn’ or Thomas Hardy’s ‘The High-School Lawn’, for example. Or there’s Richard Wilbur’s ‘To An American Poet Just Dead’, Howard Nemerov’s ‘The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler’ or ‘Suburban Prophecy’, or William Stafford’s ‘Elegy’) but these seem less of a kind to me. I was also reminded of Judith Beveridge’s beautiful ‘My Neighbour Blowing Grassblades’ when I asked some friends, recently, if they could help me find more examples by women and/or non-white poets — not quite there (nor is her equally wondrous poem about peacocks on the lawn)– but well worth seeking out and reading.
If you know of any other lawnmowing poems, I’d love to hear about them. I will be encouraging my students to write their own lawnmowing poems, and may have a crack myself – join us?