Honoring Both the Occasion and the Poet in Occasional Poetry

Occasional poems recall, remember, and honor an occasion that has happened. These events are often birthdays, holidays, weddings, and sometimes about people who have passed away. Occasional poems are marked by close observation and detail. To honor an event is to remember it in detail.

Occasional poems were traditionally performed, often times at the event that they are about. For example, the poet Pindar wrote about the Olympic games in Greece and his poems were often recited and performed at the games. Here is an excerpt from Olympian Ode 1 by Pindar that honors Hiero, the victor of the single horse race in 476 B.C.:

Such bliss as mortals call supreme,⁠
⁠Which with its mild, perpetual beam
⁠Cheers every future day:
⁠And such my happy lot to grace
His triumphs in the equestrian race
⁠With soft Æolian lay.
⁠Nor will the muse another find
⁠Among the bless'd of human kind
⁠More potent or in regal fame,
⁠Or arts that raise a monarch's name,
⁠For whom she rather would prolong⁠
⁠The rich varieties of song.
⁠The god who makes thy cares his own,
⁠Thee, Hiero, still with favour crown.

Because occasional poems are performed, they are inherently public and for a group of people. They honor the places and events that we take in together.  

Can you think of events and public spaces worth writing about? Make a list below:

Here are some suggestions to get you started. Fill in the rest of the bullet points with your own ideas:

•    Birthdays—could be yours or could even be a pets!
•    Watching a performance—a play, a musical act, a dance production
•    Holiday celebrations—at school, with friends, or with family

Occasional poems and the writing and performing of them are just as much a part of the event as the event itself. As with Pindar’s poems in ancient Greece, the recitation of these poems about the Olympic games were as much a part of the event as the games themselves.

We’re going to be writing our own occasional poems. Think of an event you’d like to write about. Importantly, think of your poem as not separate from the event, but an important part of it. If you write about your dog’s birthday, for example, your poem is as exciting and joyous as the family dog lapping up a doggy birthday cake! Think of your occasional poem as holding up a mirror to the event it is about.

Step 1: Choose an event you want to write a poem about.

Tip #1: We talked about events in public spaces earlier, but events can also include something important that happened to you even if you were alone and no one was around. Examples: the day you lost your first tooth, the day you learned to ride a bike.

Events worth writing about are ones that left an impact on you. Did something happen to you that changed you? Is there something that happened that you will never forget?

Tip #2: Events can be celebratory or happy, but feel free to also write about sad and challenging events. There are a lot of occasional poems in the world about unfortunate, sad events. You are the poet—choose the event you’d like to write about!

Step 2: Brainstorm

Part I.
Do you know what the 5 W’s are? They are who, what, when, why, and where. The 5 W’s help us think of the thing we are writing about in a more elaborate and descriptive way.

    Think of the event you chose and answer these questions:

What happened at this event? What was it for?
Where was the event?
When did the event happen?    
Who was at the event? Who was it held for?
Why did this event take place?

Part II.

Do you know your five senses? They are hearing, seeing, touch, taste, and smelling.  The five senses help us observe the world around us. Honoring and remembering an important event is all about observation!

At this event what did you hear, smell, taste, touch, and see? Close your eyes and remember the event to the best of your abilities. List what comes to mind for each sense.

Think of sounds at the event. What did you hear?
What did you see?
What did you touch?
What did you smell?
What did you taste?

Part III.

Reflect on how the event made you feel.

What did you feel during this event? What did you feel after it ended?
Would you want to experience this event again?
Did this event change you in some way? How?

Step 3: Start off your poem by naming the event. For the rest of the poem incorporate your brainstorm from Parts I, II, and III.

Step 4: Read aloud and share with your favorite person!


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