Moon Garden Party

It’s small and all reserved
For plants that love full sun,
Edges distinct though curved
Refine how moments run
Through dainty daisy days
Succeeded when they’re done
By crazed azaleas’ blaze.

The details glow at closer range:
Kaleidoscopic shape, spread, height
Delight the guests whose interchange
Sweeps charm in phases through the site.
Delphinium in mighty spikes
Diffusive candytuft ignites;
The moon illuminates unlikes.

Moths flit above full champagne-saucer blooms
Of lambent vines around a balustrade;
Tobacco tendrils twirl from upstairs rooms
To meet warm whispers in a serenade.
Dim wisps of cloud transgress the lunar orb
By luster-loving visitors surveyed:
Slight throbs of thrill idyllic we absorb.

Unsettling rays of moonshine skim
Striated leaves with silver streaks;
Doves linger at the bird bath brim;
The jasmined air recycles weeks.
We shake off shoes suffused by dew,
And gazer after gazer speaks
Before we stroll, moonstruck anew.



Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others. 

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34 Responses

  1. Cynthia Erlandson

    Beautiful visual imagery, topped off by some olfactory and tactile phrases as well, in the last stanza. And the way you built the stanzas from trimeter to tetrameter to pentameter, then back to tetrameter, but with the same rhyme scheme throughout, is fascinating.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Cynthia. The stanza building you notice is my lunar numerological structure for the poem. The first stanza is the minimal new moon, the second stanza the first quarter waxing in size, the third stanza the full moon, and the fourth stanza the last quarter, same size as the first quarter, but this time waning away from full. I’m glad you also note sensory impressions increasing toward the end, because I want the party to come into full bloom as the night proceeds. Its flow doesn’t exactly reflect the moon’s phases, but it’s influenced by moonshine!

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I would love to stroll in that moon garden! Such pleasant moon enhanced images that seem to dance in the night. The use of meter is as smooth as the imagery. This poem put me in a good mood!

    • Margaret Coats

      Welcome to the party, Roy! You’re the perfect guest, pleased with words and motion. My imagistic decor intends to create cheerful energy in the scene, and I’m happy you find it.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    The kaleidoscopic diction in this poem perfectly suits the teeming multiplicity that is described: flowers, birds, scents, movements, sounds, flashes of light, and “champagne” and “silver” as colors (with the “azalea’s blaze” of all the other possible colors left to the reader’s imagination).

    Also, I make a rough count of about 26 adjectives or adjectivally-functioning participles here. This is a concrete and proud rejection of the choked barebones rhetoric that we have inherited from modernism. Critics used to make fun of Francis Thompson because he had the ability to weave great webs of gorgeous adjectives — here we perhaps are witnessing the rebirth of this long-denigrated skill.

    And Evan Mantyk — once again your choice of an illustration is absolutely uncanny in its perfection.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Joe. Aversion to adjectives is one of the silliest tenets of modernism. Terse or spare style best suits a very few kinds of lyric, but too many are maimed by it. For this poem which is a bit of lunacy, I preferred words that cannot be criticized as line fillers, but have double or triple connotations in relation to moon, garden, and party. You notice “champagne” as a color, and it is the color of the moon at times, and the natural color of some species of moonflower when they are not bleached white by a very bright moon, as in the illustration. But by “champagne-saucer” I mean the shape of moonflower blooms that are more like plates when they open. They resemble the saucer-type champagne glasses used before flutes became the proper receptacles for bubbly beverage. Thus party drinks come in, along with “tobacco” that suggests smoking, but also refers to white-flowering nicotiniana, a favored plant for moon gardens. If you’d like the party to become a reading, substitute “poet after poet” for “gazer after gazer” in the speaking line. That’s sound in this synaesthesia.

      • James Sale

        Yes, totally agree with you and Joe on this: the times we keep reading in quality newspapers reviewing ‘modernist’ poets that their language is ‘spare’, ‘taut’, ‘precise’, and as if these were words of highest praise! Well, they might be in a precis of a scientific document, but what it means in poetry is usually that they can’t describe or evoke anything meaningful! You, Margaret, by way of contrast, have shown how to exhibit that abundance of language, which like nature itself, reveals real depth.

      • Margaret Coats

        Thank you very much, James. Your finding “abundance of language” here relieves me about having the balance also necessary in descriptive poems. I wanted motion, as well as the varied sensory touches nature provides. Thus I consciously tried for active verbs, which I think helped me earn your remark that I know “how to exhibit” our linguistic treasures. Thanks again!

  4. Yael

    How nice, this sounds like my kind of party! I just came in from the vegetable garden to check email and to my delight found this beauty in my inbox. Thank you very much for the beautiful rhyming garden party imagery Margaret, I appreciate it.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you in return, Yael. Any hostess would beam at your kind of appreciation!

  5. C.B. Anderson

    Everything about this poem is masterful, from Salemi’s “Kaleidoscopic diction” to the firm introduction to moth-pollenated flora. Did you know that there flowering plants, even here in North America, that are bat-pollinated?

    • Margaret Coats

      I had no idea that bats pollinated anything, but I see we can thank them for agave and tequila. As a margarita mixer upon occasion, therefore, I value them. But while I might welcome batty persons to my party, I prefer that bats themselves stay away. You see that my moon garden is full sun in daytime, because I do not want to block any moonlight at night. Glad you approve of my garden design in the introductory stanza, as well as plant and word selection overall. Thank you!

  6. Brian A Yapko

    Margaret, I have so enjoyed reading and re-reading this magical garden poem – one which I relate to greatly since we have a gigantic moon plant (related to morning glory, I believe) which in the summer only opens at dusk and which draws gigantic hummingbird-moths to feed. Evan’s gorgeous photo captures it exactly.

    I love the way you use poetic structure here to mirror the variety of beauties present in your garden. I will adopt Cynthia’s observation regarding the varying number of feet which is both fascinating and brilliant. Stanza 1 is in trimeter, stanzas 2 and 4 are in tetrameter and stanza 3 is in pentameter. It’s as if you were describing different flowers with different length lines. But there is also deep order here – each stanza is comprised of 6 lines, each with an a-b-a-b-c-b-c rhyme scheme. I want to point out two lines with unexpected word choice. “The moon illuminates unlikes” which I assume refers to flowers that are dissimilar (unlike) to each other rather than something the speaker dislikes. And “The jasmined air recycles weeks” which I interpret to mean that the jasmine’s scent freshens the air for only a limited time. If I’ve misinterpreted, I’d love to hear from you on poetic intent.

    This is a stunning and beautiful poem, Margaret, which has certainly left me moonstruck!

    • Brian A Yapko

      Margaret, I read your note to Cynthia and am even more impressed — for some reason the phases of the moon never came into my head but now that you’ve explained it, it makes perfect sense. I love the planning that goes into your poetry.

    • Margaret Coats

      Many thanks for your moonstruck comment, Brian! Regarding the lines you singled out, the first one, “the moon illuminates unlikes,” does indeed mean that the moon beams on things that are dissimilar. In the immediate context, those things are the tall torch-like spikes of delphinium and the lower-growing mounds of candytuft. But it also refers to the dissimilar guests present at the party, who all receive (and may react differently to) the influence of the moon. If this were an Asian moon-viewing party, everyone (whether poet or not) would compose a poem, and these might reveal as much about the viewers as about the scene.

      Your second chosen line, “The jasmined air recycles weeks,” is the most lunatic line in the poem. It makes no sense, but I had to have one. Jasmine are lovely white flowers with deep fragrance, highly desirable for a moon garden, especially in Japan, where incense identification and appreciation is a party game in itself. But it’s the moon that recycles weeks, with one quarter of a lunar cycle being about equal to a week. This line comes near the end of the poem, when the party night is almost over, and shoes are full of dew from walking around outdoors so late, and a new moon is expected after another few days. I said it didn’t make sense, but thanks for the opportunity to explain my moonshine-drunk point of view!

    • Margaret Coats

      “Recycling weeks” is more sensible if you see the poem as four stanzas (weeks) times seven lines (days in each). Weeks get recycled by starting again every month (so called from the cycles of the moon), although February is the only month where four sets of seven days is satisfyingly conclusive. The sun, not the moon, is responsible for the extra days that don’t fit the pattern in most months.

  7. Joshua C. Frank

    Margaret, this is great! I certainly wouldn’t have thought of that rhyme scheme or changing the meter in each stanza as you did. Also, I had never heard of a moon garden… but your poem and the picture Evan chose both show its beauty!

    • Margaret Coats

      Moon gardens may not be as popular as butterfly gardens, but they require no more than white or pale flowers and leaves to glow in the moonlight. That’s easier than searching out all the plants for a Shakespeare garden. The ababcbc rhyme scheme, like the stanzas, demonstrates waxing and waning, with fewer words on the /a/ and /c/ sounds at either end than on /b/ sounds in the full-moon middle. Glad you like the effects!

  8. Monika Cooper

    “The moon illuminates unlikes.” Although we’re used to thinking of poetry as showing similarities between things, this line makes me think of the peculiar way poetry points up distinctions, even very fine ones.

    This poem is hospitable and refreshing. A oddly pleasant surprise, to find my shoes suffused with dew.

    I’ve been reading some of your thoughts on haiku here at the site, Margaret, and it made me want to know more about the “haiku notebook.” How do you keep one? How does it work? I hope you don’t mind me asking here!

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Monika, for the comments on “Moon Garden Party.” I’m glad you liked the “unlikes” line. The idea is commonplace about the sun shining on everyone and everything, but then, so does the moon in a different way and to different effect.

      I don’t mind at all the question about a haiku notebook. I need to get a new one myself. I’ve been writing occasional haiku in the composition notebook I use for most of my poetry, but they get lost, even when I try to reserve a page for them. Better to have a flexible blank book small enough to carry around easily, with a design or picture that appeals to you on the cover. Date each poem, at least by noting the month. Try to use it often enough to get a feeling for haiku, but don’t insist on daily or even regularly if you have other projects. Leave some room around each poem for revising.
      Soon enough you’ll have a collection from which to choose your best! We had a rare Southern California blizzard today:

      Spongy plops of snow
      Plash randomly on asphalt
      Shocking plain raindrops

      • Monika Cooper

        Thank you so much, Margaret. That’s exactly the kind of guidance I was hoping for. I’ll now have an eye out for a notebook I like. I’ve also been writing haiku in an all-purpose composition book. They usually need a lot of revising! I showed some to my husband and daughter the other day. My daughter, who also writes haiku, mentioned that she thought each line should also be a phrase. That the enjambment I had in some of my haiku was something to be avoided. Now I wonder about that.

        A blizzard in Southern California! I love your raindrops, glancing askance at the interlopers. And somehow the snow plops remind me again of the podgy pigs from your calendar poem.

    • Margaret Coats

      Monika, this is about enjambment in haiku. We find it in both Japanese and English. To give you another example, I picked up the volume entitled “Cherry Blossoms,” translated by Peter Beilenson from different Japanese poets. I opened the book to a page with this one by Basho:

      Moonlight nightingale
      casts a whistling line of sound
      over the millpond

      We also find, in both English and Japanese, haiku that build as your daughter says, with each line apparently distinct from the other two. Some teachers may say to avoid enjambment, but because the poem requires a perception that often depends on first and second line in contrast with the third, or second and third looking back to the first, it’s hardly useful to always avoid any particular means by which lines might link. As you read and write more haiku, you’ll find many means used to good effect.

      • Monika Cooper

        “The Lord whose oracle is at Delphi neither reveals nor conceals but gives a sign.” 🙂

        Thank you for this answer: a helpful gesture in a promising direction. I’ve started a haiku notebook now as well.

      • Margaret Coats

        Glad to hear it! Wanted to acknowledge what you said, and not let a comment seem lost because it comes in after my poem has been up for a while.

  9. Cheryl Corey

    The formatting of your poem, to mimic the waxing and waning of the moon, demonstrates the creative process of a poetic mind. That process is fascinating in and of itself.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Cheryl. I usually ask myself what form or meter or line suits the topic when I begin writing (after collecting ideas and maybe some words). But thematic artistry may happen unconsciously, too, I imagine. I thought I saw some snowflake symmetry in your recently posted sonnet. Take a look at the last comment if you haven’t already. You said you had done some research about snowflakes. I’d be interested to know how that affected your composition.

      • Cheryl Corey

        Margaret, I read your interesting observation regarding my snowflake poem. To answer your question, any relationship between the poem’s structure and the symmetry of snowflakes was not a conscious decision. To the extent that it does exist, it’s a happy accident! And I’m very appreciative of people like you who offer more in-depth analysis to our poetry.

  10. Sally Cook

    Margaret, I apologize for being late to this, your celestial garden party. I enjoy the surreal magnificence of it all, and look forward to more moon magnificence in the future. There is nothing quite so lustrous as large flat flower plates illuminated by rays streaming from that incandescent orb.
    Lovely! Had I not missed the party, I would have attended in free-flowing pale green gauze, and a moon-like garden party hat made of the same gauze stretched on a circular wire frame; crimped, fluttering ribbons flying from the crown.

    • Margaret Coats

      Sally, with the poem still up, the party is still going on. We were just waiting for your entrance, and you’ve made it in style! A flowing dress of pale gauze and a wide matching hat with fluttering ribbons is the perfect outfit to catch maximal moonlight. You’ll be beaming with full reflected luster. Thank you so much for coming and appreciating poem and party. I believe I do have another mention of the moon coming up soon.

  11. .Tom Rimer

    Again, I am coming late to a reading of this poem because of the press of other commitments.

    Reading the various comments already made, I am struck again by the shrewdness of some of your readers, who point out various technical achievements you have accomplished in the poem. This in turn led to the speculations below.

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment on one of your poems, my wife and I belong to a group that on a monthly basis reads poems they have personally selected, followed by a discussion. There are fourteen or fifteen regular members, and some have been teachers of literature, but none are practicing poets themselves. In the six or so sessions we have had so far, no one has ever discussed the particular technical skills employed by the poets that have been chosen. But we have had long discussions concerning the emotional tenor of so many of the poems.

    This suggests to me that there is a second, larger pool of poetry readers who are prepared to respond intellectually and emotionally to the “contents” of a particular poem, but whose response to the techniques used by the poet are at best grasped intuitively. Thus, the reader is swept along and only notes the details of the verse form, rhyme scheme, etc. when there is a deficiency that stands out.

    I suspect, therefore, that most lovers of poetry respond on an emotional rather than an analytical level of engagement (for better or for worse). I would enjoy knowing what some of your colleagues in the Society think.

    As for this poem it is a delight and conjures up some of the feelings generated in me when I read sections of Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.


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