Monday, September 28, 2009

Poet's Corner

The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg

"The first poems I knew were nursery rhymes,
and before I could read them for myself
I had come to love just the words of them; the words alone."
—Dylan Thomas, poet

When I was five my bedroom was painted light blue. On one wall there were two closets with a built in writing desk separating them. A wall-paper border ran around the room, with pictures of Jack and Jill and Little Boy Blue. My world globe sat on the desk next to a delicate pink china doll labeled "September," a ballerina jewelry box filled with pop-beads, and some babyish boy-stuff my little brother treasured. White painted bookshelves displayed our polished-rock collections, and held our books.

My favorite book was a willow green volume called Tell Me More Stories. In those days my mother wore red lipstick and a skirt, like Donna Reed. I'm sure she changed her clothes daily, but my memory has her sitting on my bed every night in a tapestry-like print dress, that was pink and gray, with cherubs and angels dancing around the hem. Could that be true??

Anyway, she read us Runaway Bunny and Peter Pan (the clapping version) from the green book. A poem followed every story, and I loved the comfort of the sing-song cadence. It was soothing, even when I couldn't follow the drift. "Over in the meadow, in the sand in the sun, lived an old mother toadie and her little toadie one. 'Wink' said the mother. 'We wink' said the one. And they winked all day in the sand in the sun." It was not a picture book, although a few simple ink drawings were scattered through the pages. Words were the art-form. I loved the images they painted in my mind.

Packed tightly on our living room bookshelf was a 21-volume set of The Book of Knowledge. Brown leather, with gold-leaf lettering, each volume held secrets I wanted to know. But the book of poetry was my preference. Late at night, when I was old enough to babysit my younger siblings, I entertained myself by reading the verses out loud to memorize them. Some that I still remember are:

By the shores of Gitche Goomee,
By the shining big-sea waters
Stood the wigwam of Nocomis
Daughter of the moon Nocomis . . .
And her little Hiawatha . . .


'Twas many and many a year ago in a kingdom by the sea
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabelle Lee.
And this maiden she lived with no other thought Than to love and be loved by me . . .


Now in Injia's sunny clime, where I used to spend me time
A-servin of 'Er Majesty, the Queen,
Of all them black-faced crew, the finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din . . .


There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place; There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
When responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the Bat.


Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay
To wash the cups and saucers and brush the crumbs away;
An' all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire and has the mostest fun
A listenin' to the witch tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the goblins 'at git yer ef yer don't watch out.

Bonni Goldberg asks "Are there words or phrases you like to say because they feel good to your ear and in your mouth? One of my favorite phrases to speak is the first line of a Coleridge poem, In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree . . ."

She says, "All words are associated with sound. Writing is using words with their volume turned down. In poetry the volume is turned up a little bit higher due to the attention poets pay to rhythm, meter, and the music of the words. A piece isn't complete until you're satisfied with how it sounds out loud: the rhythm of the phrasing, the melody of the words grouped together."

Words are a hobby with me; I collect them. I read the Thesaurus for fun (I know it's pretty pathetic, but I've given up on trying to be cool. It's a perk of being sixty) Searching for colorful, vibrant expressions jump-starts my writing. Verbs are the energy of a sentence—they dazzle nouns. Adjectives illuminate a gloomy page. Whine, pounce, raze, whisper, blaze, dusk, glitter—poets arrange alluring words into phrases like these:

Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


On my way into church, I saw Sister Monroe, her gold crown glinting when she opened her mouth to return a neighborly greeting.—Maya Angelou

Songwriters are some of my favorite poets. Paul Simon especially intrigues me: "These are the days of miracles and wonders;" "there's no doubt about it, it was the myth of fingerprints;" "the Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar." I've wondered if he just fashions random sentences and hooks them together, or if they mean something. No matter, the words sound great. Robert Frost said, "All the fun's in how you say a thing."

The greatest poetry of all is in the scriptures:

"And Jesus took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again; and he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them."—Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 17:21-24.

A truth told from heart to heart is poetry.

Homework: Channel your inner poet for the assignment you choose. Or be inspired.

~Write a line from a song or poem that speaks to you. Explain why.

Idea: "Doodely-do-do-do. The steel strings caught my attention over the raucous giggling in the back seat. I was chauffeuring the kids along the old Wasatch Boulevard to visit Mom when I first heard Paul Simon sing 'I'm a poor boy, empty as a pocket, empty as a pocket with nothing to lose.' I could relate. We had just come home from a year in England empty as a pocket with nothing to lose . . . "

~Imagine yourself as a child, listening to stories, nursery rhymes, or scriptures. Describe the person reading them, and the room you're in as vividly as you can. Prompt: "Grandma smelled like____when we snuggled in_____."

~Make a list of at least five words that are fun to say (ideas: googly, moist, chewy, linguini, juicy.) Write a poem using those words.

Write away!


kenju said...

"By the shores of Gitche Goomee,
By the shining big-sea waters
Stood the wigwam of Nocomis
Daughter of the moon Nocomis . . .
And her little Hiawatha . . ."

That poem was in one of my childhood books too and it conjured up such wonderful imaginary sights and smells and sounds for me!!

KJ said...

words make me happy

words like these:

diane said...

I have fond memories of reading Shel Silverstein poems with my children. They loved the silly sounds and pictures his words evoke. It was always a giggle fest when Shel's words were around.

hannah :: sherbet blossom said...

I wrote a poem. :) I am in no way a poet, so I think I'll keep it to myself, but it was fun!!

I am loving all your assignments. I have a notebook jam-packed full of fun.

Diane Linford said...

Thanks for a thought-provoking assignment. I'm not a big poetry person, but there are a few poems that really knock my socks off.
wk 5 assign 1

Allison said...

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this.


audrey said...

I really appreciate the comments from both Oma and other classmates. Thank you!

Here you go.

La Yen said...

My assignment

I love sad poems.

crissy said...

I was almost ready to throw in the towel on this one. I was feeling uninspired as I went about my day. But a little drive before bed did the trick. Here it is.

~j. said...

Good to write that out.

dalene said...

apparently i missed one. but it's done now. i won't share what i wrote, but the song is superman, by five for fighting. if you substitute the word mom for man it pretty much captures how i feel as a mom sometimes. but not always.

only without the funny red sheet.