April is National Poetry Month! It’s also time for spring cleaning. Dusting, vacuuming, washing dishes, and reorganizing can be seasonal activities for some and daily activities for others. Sometimes in these activities, we do other things to make them more pleasurable. We’ll watch some TV while folding towels. We’ll turn on a podcast while scrubbing tile. However, poetry approaches these tasks a bit differently. Poets focus on the tasks themselves or show how these activities help connect us to events or people. Here are poems about domesticity that see mundane everyday chores from different perspectives.
“What The Living Do” by Marie Howe
This poem begins by telling Johnny about a clogged sink. It then weaves its way to the thermostat, grocery shopping, and the streets of Cambridge. It presents such a tension of the to-do list of owning a home, the subtlety of desire, and the freedom of sipping coffee while ambling along. The speaker reveals, “But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, / … and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep // for my own blowing hair …”
For more from Howe, read The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.
“Taking In The Wash” by Rita Dove
Laundry day may be a chore that is a hassle. Here it becomes a way to reveal a relationship between parents. The poem is narrative; it tells a story of a memory of interactions between Papa, who “came home late” and Mama who “hid the laundry.” The poem acts as a dedication to a strong mother who protects her children.
For more from Dove, read Sonata Mulattica.
“Ode To Ironing” by Pablo Neruda
Another chore is ironing. The poem, however, is very meta. It begins, “Poetry is white” and shows the metaphor of poetry as wrinkled sheets that can be flattened and ironed out. Also, the imagery turns ironing into a beautiful action. The speaker says, “fire conjoins with steel, / linen, canvas, and cotton arrive / from the scuffles in the laundries, / and from light a dove is born.” He makes the mundane seem sacred and lovely.
For more from Neruda (with a different flair), read Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.
“The Cabbage” by Ruth Stone
This poem begins, “You have rented an apartment.” It’s a very clear sense of place and action to start. The poem then dives into how a place makes use feel. Then it shows a connection between where we live, how that place shows our interests, and how it affects our relationships. How does cabbage come into play? Imagine it as wall art. Then read the poem.
For more from Stone, read What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems.
“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden
Full disclosure: Whenever I write a list of poem suggestions, I try to work in this Hayden poem because it’s one of my favorites. It’s a memory of a father doing the work that fathers do that goes by every day. The father clearly works hard during the workweek as seen by his “cracked hands that ached.” Still, he gets up in the “blueblack cold” on the weekends, before everyone else, to light a fire and warm the house.
For more from Hayden, read Words In The Mourning Time.
The next time you pick up a feather duster, look closely to see its details. When you have to mow the lawn, contemplate every step. Spraying down your kitchen counters after cooking chicken? Take in how the spray moves through the air to the surface. There’s poetry in all of these actions.
Head on over to Book Riot’s extensive poetry archive for more poems to celebrate National Poetry Month.