“Olsen’s Pond”, a poem answering Victoria C. Slotto’s prompt

 Victoria C. Slotto over on dversepoets.com has issued a prompt on Place and Setting in Poetry.  Below are her words, though she goes on to describe other devices answering to this intriguing prompt.  They can be found on today’s dversepoets.com.

Place and Setting in Poetry

“As writers of poetry, I believe we have the opportunity to allow readers to travel places they have never been, to revisit places that are familiar or to share experiences they may never have, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.
Today, I’d like to consider how we, as poets (or writers of prose) use setting or a sense of place as a poetic device.”

(quoted from Victoria Slotto, on today’s prompt at dversepoets.com)

I am submitting my poem “Olsen’s Pond” written a few years ago, because I believe it does answer to one or probably more of these devices Victoria mentions.

Lady Nyo


Olsen’s Pond 


I returned to the old house,

now still, vacant,

staring with unshaded eyes

upon a snowy front garden,

shrubs overgrown with the

lustiness of summer and neglect

now split to the ground,

taxed with a heavy snow.

I tried to light the parlor stove,

old cranky cast iron smoker

clanking and rattling

 in the best of times

now giving up the ghost,

cold metal unyielding to wadded paper

and an old mouse nest.

The silence of the rooms were broken

by hissing wind whipping around  eaves

rattling old bones in the attic,

stirring the haunts sleeping in  corners.

It took  time for twigs to catch,

water to turn  to coffee,

bacon and eggs brought from the city

 cooked in an old iron skillet–

tasting far better in the country air.

I looked down at hands cracked

in the brittle winter light,

moisture gone,  

hair static with electricity,

feet numbed from the chill,

that woodstove not giving

more heat than a miser.

Walking down to Olsen’s pond,

I looked through the glassine surface

remembered the boy  fallen

through the ice while playing hockey–

slipped under the thin cover, disappearing

without a sound,

only noticed when our puck flew

Up in the air and he, the guard, missing.

We skated to the edge, threw bodies flat

trying to reach him just out of catch,

crying like babies, snot running down chins,

knowing he was floating just under the ice,

silent as the lamb he was.

Childhood ended that day for us.

We started to drift away to the city,

our skates and sticks put up,

Olsen’s pond deserted like a haunted minefield.

Fifty years ago I still remember that day

when stretched as far as I could

my belly freezing on treacherous ice,

grasping to reach a life just out of sight,

his muffler and stick floating to the surface–

The boy, the important part,

gone for good from a chilly winter ‘s play.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2012

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22 Responses to ““Olsen’s Pond”, a poem answering Victoria C. Slotto’s prompt”

  1. Claudia Says:

    oh dang jane…this made the hair on my neck stand and brought tears to my eyes…really lost for words..


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Claudia! Wow..that was fast! I just finished posting this. LOL!

    Well, childhood can be a time of haunting tragedy, and usually we don’t escape something either physical or psychological.

    I am getting my steam back…have been sick for months, but now, with the sultry heat….am anxious to get back to reading and writing…and especially reading poetry on dverse!!!

    Thank you so much Claudia, for reading and your comment. Will make the rounds this evening.



  3. Victoria C. Slotto Says:

    Jane, this really got to me…a perfect response to the prompt on so many levels. You tell a story, evoke a profound sense of loss and sadness, use sensory details that allow us to be there too. So good. Thanks for joining us.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Victoria! Thank you so much, first for offering a prompt that really excited me! I found your words so full of description that I knew i had at least one poem that would answer to your prompt. Thank you so much for developing such a full and rich and interesting prompt!

    and thank you for reading “Olsen’s Pond” and your insightful comment. I am trying to get back into the swing of poetry after months of nuthin’…..and this prompt was so full of detail and guidelines, it really got me thinking again about the breath of poetry.

    Congratulations on your new book!!!



  5. aprille Says:

    It certainly does take us there.
    And full of sadness and the failure of rescue.
    All bound up with the sounds, smell s and sights of the old house, which provides just the right tone for your gripping tale..


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Aprille, for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  7. brian miller Says:

    oh this is tight jane….sad….heart wrenching in the end…but your details through out are amazing…the old clanking smoker, the hiss ….all that up front really built it for me and i was engaged so i could not look away in the end…


  8. leahJlynn Says:

    I felt a bit of the abandonment as I read this and a being of being detached for the modern world


  9. charlesmashburn Says:

    This is a stunning bit of poetry. A sad story, but so utterly well told, it leaves one wide-eyed, and hoping it isn’t fact.


  10. Steve E Says:

    Yep Jane…poetry–a realm of breath and ‘breadth’. “Olsen’s Pond” elicited from my memory a 40-year-old happening. My son, age 2+ was nowhere to be seen. Our boat was sitting comfortably in it’s dock. On a whim, I reached down into the murky (dirty) water, and felt him scraping against the barnacles. A minute later he appeared floating under the surface, eyes staring at me, unblinking, unknowing. Yup, I got to pull him out before anything terrible occurred.

    Sometimes he remembers, he says. You brought me to remember,(shudder). Thanks!

    One more thing. I would refuse to die under ice–grin. I hate any temperature under 80F. “The Cremation of Sam McGee” a dissertation by Robert Service is MY kinda prose.

    There seems to always be a sort of special connection between our writings and experiences. Strange, but not too much strange!


  11. punnypalaver Says:

    Beautiful description, but the ending so tragic–a tale well-told


  12. hedgewitch Says:

    The feeling of the past and all its ghosts, and how they’ve marked us, very strong in this Jane. The central incident is devastating in intensity, made more so by the more prosaic, atmospheric lead in. Place is not always passive, or there for our appreciation. Excellent writing.


  13. shanyns Says:

    Oh…tragedy in such a place will haunt you for life. Such a powerful write. Thank you for sharing.


  14. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Shanyns.

    All childhood has some level of tragedy…I think it is hard to get through one without this happening.

    and….these things are unexplainable….random….and haunting.

    Thank you for reading.

    Lady Nyo


  15. ladynyo Says:

    Hedge…..first thank you for reading and your very insightful comment.

    Yes, the past does mark us…especially childhood. Perhaps it is that this period is at the beginning of our lives and these things hit harder? But they certainly mark us. For life.

    You know what? I have found that my earlier poems (I say ‘earlier’ with laughter, because I have only been writing poetry for about 5 years….) have a rawness and a more directness to them than the more convoluted newer stuff.

    And there was a power in that rawness earlier that I can’t tap into anymore. Once we become more conscious of the ins and outs of poetry….for some of us…me here….we lose something.

    Thank you, Hedge. Always.



  16. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Punny Palver for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  17. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Steve…what happened to your son made me shudder. How horrible, but water and kids sometimes has tragic results. You were fortunate, as was he.

    I remember my father diving into the cold river water in front of our house, because one of us (my baby brother I think) was missing…in this large, old pre-Revolutionary War house, and I remember him coming up soaking wet. Brother was hiding in a closet, playing.

    There is always a sort of special connection between our writings and our experience I think. One follows the other, but not always.

    Hugs back,


  18. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Charles….childhood has many tragedies…some first hand experience, and some the fruit of our writings decades later.

    Thank you for reading and your comment.



  19. ladynyo Says:

    Leah…I understand about this detachment you are feeling. I, too…feel it. from the modern world.

    This came from a simpler time….but was it?



  20. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Brian…the way this poem formed was surprising to me. It was an early poem…three years ago? And I had the ending …or what was the tragedy in mind, but it weaved itself around it…and the ending surprised me as much as any other reader.

    Sometimes poetry does this, and we are grateful for the ride.

    Thank you for reading and your comment, Brian.



  21. janehewey Says:

    this is a stunning piece of art. I felt the place (the silence of the rooms), I felt you in the place (I looked down at hands) and I was completely wrapped in with your words. simply lovely. ~jane


  22. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Jane. that is so kind of you.

    I wrote this 3 years ago, before I became so self-conscious about my attempts at poetry. When I really didn’t know squat about the medium and I think I wrote some of my rawest and best stuff back then before I knew anything.

    Sometimes that happens…and I think it is because we are in a simpler place in our work…not concerned with much except telling a story or an event. We don’t know the ‘rules’.

    I am stuck right now on this poetry issue; for two months I haven’t had a clue as to a poem, but I am hoping that will pass.

    When we can get another reader to a place where they have a physical reaction to a poem, then I think we are hitting on all cylindars. Or most of them.

    Thank you, Jane, for reading and your lovely comment.



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