While we're waiting: another "making of" post.
In these rain dances, I worked for a balance among incantation, science and humility. I know that they can't "work" in a literal sense -- words have no causal relationship with evaporation and condensation -- but I wanted them to sound like they could work.
Partly for that reason, they're more direct than is usual for me. I often want my poems to do several things at once, and to be somewhat rigorous about those things -- not just to sound true, but to be true. There was one main thing I wanted the rain dance poems to do, and that thing was impossible. To counteract this, I tried to fill the poems with tangibles and ponderables, items to give grit and grip, to make them sound concrete since they couldn't be concrete.
It might be that their form of working, their concreteness, is the money you all have donated -- but the poems aren't a direct invocation to your money, an attempt to whistle it out of your pockets. In their attempts to move the rain, I did hope that they would move you; I tried to make them moving, as pleas can be. I also tried to make them modest, as pleas must be: the poems give me no power over the rain, so in them I was asking the rain to fall, knowing it couldn't hear me, is not one entity. Humility here was also a nod to science. And around the poems, I was asking you to share what you had, which I know in some cases is not a lot, with people you didn't know -- humility was an acknowledgment that it was up to you whether you wanted to do that.
The poems' incantatory qualities -- their rhymes, consonances and assonances, the tautness of some and the refrains in others -- reflect what tends to move or stir me in a poem or song that's also a plea or an invocation. They are associated in my mind with irrational or instinctive response, with being stirred, with magic. Since these rain dances couldn't work through science, maybe, I thought, they could work some other way.
In a book I loved when I was a kid (Margaret Mahy's The Changeover, if you're curious), a family of witches tells the main character that magic is based on "imagination and exchange." These are key to the workings of certain kinds of poetry, including, I believe, these rain dances.