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Shannon Burns on “Blue Thing Feeling”

Shannon Burns on “Blue Thing Feeling”

In this week’s Revisionings, the poet Shannon Burns shows the benefit of occasionally abandoning a poem’s candleness for the sake of a more universal thingness in the case of her poem “Blue Thing Feeling” from the recent and great Oosh Boosh (out now on 421 Atlanta). Here’s Burns:

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“Blue Thing Feeling” started out as a poem about blue candles called “Blue Candle Feeling.” I wrote it about an experience of being in the Yankee Candle Store in the mall in Louisville, Kentucky, with my mom. For a long time, my ritual with blue candles had been to take them down and smell them and hate how they smelled and say “blegh” and put them back, then feel bad about it and silently bless them and acknowledge that someone would like them very much, it just wasn’t me. I only liked warm-toned candles, or an odd “cream” one. But on this occasion in the Yankee Candle store I found that the smell of one or two of the blue candles pleased me, if not enough to buy, at least enough to keep from setting in motion my old blue candle ceremony. At home, which then was Northampton, Massachusetts, I wrote “Blue Candle Feeling” about it:

I like that clean cloth.
I like that fog that came in.
I think that fog must have come
in sometime a long time
before I did.
I like that blue candle
feeling. In candles I’ve loved sun
and field and pumpkin
and have claimed in distress
to hate blue candles
and have then been afraid
it was a dark sin. So I have
touched blue candles’
glass and blessed them
and said I am sorry to them
and have said I loved them,
which is more than I have done
for the red, orange
and yellow candles,
the ones I love truly,
meaning love in the usual way.
One way to become spooky
is to send love through your hands
to a candle. One way
to grow to like that blue candle
feeling is to speak spells of kindness
to blue candles in shame
for all your life. Then
having blessed that thing
that makes you sneeze
and makes you think
of your Mamaw’s figurines
and petted the thing
that makes you sleep and dream
of places you’ve been
and won’t return to
you might go float
on the fog
in your home
in your room
and touch with your clean hands
tonight someone you love.

At the time, I was in Peter Gizzi’s poetry workshop, and I brought the poem in. After I read it, one of my classmates said something like, kindly but firmly, “I’m not really interested in candles.” And I remember there was some nodding agreement around the table. At first it seemed like a big criticism, since the poem was apparently about candles. Thinking about it later, though, I found I wasn’t that attached to the poem being about candles, even though I was personally very interested in candles. Part of what made blue candles smell bad to me, I had already realized, was that they were blue in the first place, and blue had always felt sad and thin to me. I had the same bias against other things that were blue in fact or essence—salad, winter, jobs. And blue candles were blue because they represented blue or blue-vibed things. I had thought about this without thinking about thinking about it the first time I wrote the poem, of course, which is why the poem talks about clean cloth, clean hands, fog, and my Mamaw. Thinking about it more on purpose, I realized that as I had gotten older I had become less offended by a lot of blue things that hadn’t suited me before. In some cases I had even begun to feel comforted by them or to like them. And, conversely, upon reflection, I felt less seduced by red things than I once had.

So in recognition of that I changed the poem to “Blue Thing Feeling,” which required few edits other than to change “candle” to “thing.” And in this mood of broadness I also changed it into a prose poem.

Blue Thing Feeling

I like that clean cloth. I like that fog that came in. I think the fog must have come in sometime a long time before I did and never went out. I like that blue thing feeling. In life I’ve loved sun and field and pumpkin and have claimed in distress to hate blue things and have then been afraid it was a dark sin. So I have touched blue things and blessed them and have said I am sorry to them, which is more than I have done for the red, orange and yellow things, the things I love truly, meaning love in the usual way. One way to become spooky is to send love through your hands to a blue thing. One way to grow to like that blue thing feeling is to speak spells of kindness to blue things in shame for all your life. Then having blessed the thing that makes you sneeze and makes you think of your Mamaw’s figurines and petted the thing that makes you sleep and dream of places you’ve been and won’t return to, you can go float on the fog in your home – in your room – and touch with your clean hands tonight someone you love.

The work of writing and thinking about and revising the poem ended up being a peaceful meditation on blue and on growing older. The end of both drafts borrows language from one of my dad, Michael Burns’s poems, “We Have These Cancellations”—a poem about work at Tyson’s Chicken being canceled because of snow. A poem of blue canceling red—a reordering that now felt not sad at all but sweet and correct. Earth instead of Mars, breeze instead of war, laundry instead of hell.

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Shannon Burns is the author of Oosh Boosh. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband, Jacob, and their baby, Michael.

Param Anand Singh

Param Anand Singh is a poet and translator who used to be called R.M. O'Brien. A sticker he made might be in a movie.

About The Author

Param Anand Singh

Param Anand Singh is a poet and translator who used to be called R.M. O'Brien. A sticker he made might be in a movie.

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