Monday, March 4, 2019

Thoughts on Poetry

RHYS BOWEN: The death of Mary Oliver a few weeks ago started me thinking about poets and poetry. Poetry is something that is no longer part of our lives. If you asked a member of the younger generation to recite a poem, or even to name a living poet, they would not be able to do so.
And yet the other day something nearly fell off my balcony. I reached to grab it and turned to John saying, "Quick as it fell from it's broken staff, Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf."
"What?" he said, looking at me as if I'd gone gaga.
"Barbara Frietchie," I said. "Whittier."
He still looked puzzled.
"Don't you remember, "Up from the meadows rich with corn, Clear in the cool September morn..."
He had no idea what I was talking about and I realized that I could pretty much still recite all of that poem I learned in grade school.

Learning poetry by heart was a requirement in many of my English classes. I can still do Haiawatha, The Lady of Shallot, The Forsaken Merman, and many more.
There is a certain joy and satisfaction that comes from reciting poetry, borne along by the rhythm... Half a league, half a league, half a league onward. Into the field of death rode the six hundred."

So I wonder why we no longer enjoy and treasure poetry. Is it because our modern poems don't rhyme, aren't fun to recite? Or maybe many would-be poets are now song writers. Certainly many of the Beatles songs could be considered fine poetry.  And one has to admit that nobody gets rich from writing poetry!

Or is it just that we no longer have a need for it?  At the time of Tennyson poets were rock stars, revered, given knighthoods. I surmise that this was because there was no evening entertainment unless people entertained each other: learning and reciting poetry was a required asset for any young person. At a gathering they would be called upon to present their party piece. My great aunt Sarah (called Min by the family--yes we all have silly nicknames) could recite endless amounts of poetry, a lot of it dramatic and sad about poor children dying in their parents' arms and going to heaven. 

Poetry like that also took the place of history lessons. The Charge of the Light Brigade tells of the hopeless battle in Crimea. Ordinary people would not have known about it otherwise. It extols great deeds: How Horatio Held the Bridge. Of course, Shakespeare's works are all written in verse!

In the 1900s Rousseau and others theorized that humans could sing before speech evolved. Poetry was our natural means of communication. And now we have lost it. It seems we have reached a peak of language skills only to lose them again. CU later. Heart. Happy face.

One of the memorable moments of my life was walking around Robert Frost's farm with my friends, taking turns to read aloud the poems attached to different parts of the farm: the Woodpile, the swing, The Woods.... I still get chills thinking about it now. (Pic Tamra Bolton)

So Mary Oliver's death was particularly poignant to me as she is one of the few modern poets who actually spoke to me. The other was Leonard Cohen:
There is a Crack in Everything
That's How the Light Gets In.

And Mary Oliver somehow touches a nerve

So dear Reds: Do you feel the loss of poetry? Did you have to learn poems when you were young? Can you still recite them?

HALLIE EPHRON: I had to memorize a ton of poems in school. Yes, Barbara Frietchie. Evangeline. My mother was a writer and had been an English major. She'd recite poetry at the dinner table, and as a result I know an odd assortment of poems from beginning to end ("Richard Corey," "The Congo," "Crossing the Bar." We had a massive two-volume set of poetry (British poets in one volume, America in the other) at home that I worked my way through, reading aloud to myself. I loved Edna Millay's poems ("My candle burns at both ends/It will not last the night.") And e. e. cummings ("Anyone lived in a pretty how town (with upso floating many bells down" )") Of course, Poe's tintinnabulating bells bells bells and raven quothing.

And I love to read poems to my grandkids, though they still need pictures to be truly interested. Shel Silverstein's are short and funny and well illustrated. Mother Goose. Dr. Seuss.

JENN McKINLAY: I didn't have to memorize poetry in school, but my mother was a librarian so we had to memorize it for her. I can still trot out Robert Frost's "The Road not Taken" or a dozen or so gems from Shel Silverstein, the poet of my childhood. My personal favorite is Dickinson's "Hope" is the thing with feathers, which I made the Hooligans memorize when they were young. But they've introduced me to some powerful poets in the guise of rap. There is one in particular, NF, that left me breathless with his word us in the song Mansion, which I would argue could be considered poetry. Example:
"Broken legs but I chase perfection
These walls are my blank expression
My mind is a home I'm trapped in
And it's lonely inside this mansion."
I think poetry will make a comeback, like all the art forms do, but maybe it already is in the young voices like NF, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and Donald Glover who are using rap/poetry/spoken word in new and different ways to reach their generation.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, Mary Oliver's death has had me thinking a lot about poetry, too. I can't think of a modern poet who has reached so many people. I'm envious of your poetry rich upbringing, and of your memorization skills!

But while I don't remember my parents reading any poetry, I both read and wrote poetry from my teens at least into my thirties. I even slogged my way through Ezra Pound, which now astounds me. Then the novels seem to have overtaken my brain space, alas. Every year I vow to make more effort to read--and to reread--poetry--maybe this year I'll actually succeed! The first poem I memorized in my teens that still sticks is William Blake's Tyger, Tyger:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

I can recite big chunks of Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales (my all time favorite, I think), some glorious Auden, and of course, Goodnight Moon.

(RHYS: Debs, I always think of the thing we used to say in school Tiger, Tiger burning bright--however did you catch alight?)

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm envious of all that childhood training too! We had a copy of THE CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES in the house and my father liked to recite "Under the spreading chestnut tree, a village smithy stands..." and so on. But that was about it. I know more poetry would help my writing and my mind, but I have trouble fitting it all in! Except that when it rains, John recites Paul Verlaine to me:  Il pleure dans mon coeur, Comme il pleut sur la ville; Quelle est cette langueur. Qui pénètre mon coeur?

And that means roughly, it rains in my heart like it rains over the village. What is this melancholy that penetrates my heart?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, sure, we had to do it--got to do it, I suppose. I  loved. it Frost ,and Shakespeare, and Yeats, and Auden. I remember a big wonderful discussion we had about Auden's heartbreaking September 1,1939. The first version of the poem ends: We must love one another, or die. But later, Auden rejected that, and refused to have that stanza published..finally, he relented, but only if it were changed to: We must love one another, and die. How different those are! And I thank my dear English teacher, Mr. Thornburg, for a discussion I will never forget.

When my father died a few years ago, I was asked to read a poem at his funeral. (Yikes, huh? Very high degree of difficulty.) I chose one I knew he loved, and I love too. Milosz's On Angels. I bet I could recite the whole thing, now, but it ends with a musing on the voice of what the author believes might as well be angels:

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draws near
another one
do what you can.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I love poetry. I can't recall if I was required to memorize when I was in school, or if I just did, but I know many sing-sing types of poems (Young Lochinvar, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Te Song of Wandering Aengus) by heart, and I can quote snatches of other poems all day long, including, "'Shoot i you must, this old gray head/But spare your country's flag!' she said." Rhys, I'm impressed you were taught Barbara Fritchie, as it's such an American moment!

My girls aren't much for poetry, but the Sailor loves it, and started writing poetry in middle school. When he was 14 or so, he began attending poetry slams in Portland, reading his verse aloud. It thrills me that it continues to be a part of his creative life.

I can't claim to have a favorite poem because it changes with the day and my mood, but Yeats has been meaningful to me lately:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep...

RHYS: So, dear friends. Thoughts on poetry. Do you still read it ? Does it mean a lot to you? Do you ever recite it out loud?


  1. So many wonderful poems and poets, ladies. I enjoy poetry, read it to the grandchildren, read it for myself. Shel Silverstein and e.e. cummings were always favorites, but Robert Frost [“Let the night be too dark for me to see Into the future. Let what will be, be.”] and Carl Sandburg ]”My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive in the universe.”] both hold a special place in my poetry-loving heart . . . .

    1. Such great choices—and I love the snippets that stay with us. It’s the most personal treasure...

  2. Poetry is important to me. I suspect people aren't as aware of many of our modern poets as they are of those you mention is perhaps we don't have an English teacher handing us an updated copy of "One Hundred Best Loved Poems." That's not to say I don't love Robert Frost. Yeats. Auden. I do. But I also love Ross Gay, Linda Pastan, Ira Sadoff, Billy Collins, Sam Hamill, Kathryn Byer Stripling, Susan Frybort and many others. When I happen across a poem that touches me I will often post it at Facebook and at my blog. April in National Month and for the past several years I have posted a poem a day at my Meanderings and Muses in hopes that maybe some people will discover a new to them poet. Here are two poems from Tony Hoagland, who I love.
    By Tony Hoagland
    She goes out to hang the windchime
    in her nightie and her work boots.
    It’s six-thirty in the morning
    and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest
    tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,
    windchime in her left hand,
    hammer in her right, the nail
    gripped tight between her teeth
    but nothing happens next because
    she’s trying to figure out
    how to switch #1 with #3.
    She must have been standing in the kitchen,
    coffee in her hand, asleep,
    when she heard it—the wind blowing
    through the sound the windchime
    wasn’t making
    because it wasn’t there.
    No one, including me, especially anymore believes
    till death do us part,
    but I can see what I would miss in leaving—
    the way her ankles go into the work boots
    as she stands upon the ice chest;
    the problem scrunched into her forehead;
    the little kissable mouth
    with the nail in it.

    Reasons to Survive November
    November like a train wreck–
    as if a locomotive made of cold
    had hurtled out of Canada
    and crashed into a million trees,
    flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.
    The sky is a thick, cold gauze–
    but there’s a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
    and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
    full of luminous red barns.
    –Or maybe I’ll visit beautiful Donna,
    the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
    and roll around in her foldout bed.
    I know there are some people out there
    who think I am supposed to end up
    in a room by myself
    with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
    a locked door and my slack mouth open
    like a disconnected phone.
    But I hate those people back
    from the core of my donkey soul
    and the hatred makes me strong
    and my survival is their failure,
    and my happiness would kill them
    so I shove joy like a knife
    into my own heart over and over
    and I force myself toward pleasure,
    and I love this November life
    where I run like a train
    deeper and deeper
    into the land of my enemies.
    –Tony Hoagland

    1. Kaye, I love your poetry postings!!!

    2. I realize I've neglected modern poets, Kaya. Thank you for these!

    3. Kaye, Tony Hoagland was from my neck of the woods! Several years older but I remember him vaguely. His father was a doctor at the hospital where my mother worked as a nurse, and they were good friends. I had a summer job there when I was 19, and I sold a feature article on senior citizens disco-dancing to a local magazine. Dr. Hoagland told me I was a professional writer now. He was the first person to say those words to me, so I remember him fondly!

    4. Kaye, I always look forward to your poetry postings! You find and share the most wonderful verses!

  3. I do love poetry, and I have neglected it horribly. Definitely something I plan to address. Our dear friend Kaye Wilkinson Barley introduced me to Mary Oliver, and I'm still catching up on her poems. Robert Frost is one of my favorites, and although I've visited the house in Key West where he spent time, I now want to visit his farm like you did, Rhys. One of my favorite poetry books is the quirky Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. I'm also fond of Emily Dickinson, Robert Louis Stevenson (How do you love to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue), E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes (Hold fast to dreams), Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Wordsworth, Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou, Jack Prelutsky, and more and more and more. And there is that favorite scary poem that my father-in-law used to tease the kids with, James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphant Annie. When my father-in-law was in the rest home with Alzhiemer's, I took my old Childcraft book with "Little Orphant Annie" in it to visit him, and he recited part of it with me. It was an emotional moment I'll always be grateful for. When my granddaughter was quite young, she surprised me by reciting "The Owl and the Pussycat," especially by remembering "you elegant fowl."

    When I was a teenager I wrote an awful poem entitle "The Tale of the Midnight Bell," but parts of it have stayed with me ever since. My son is the poet in our family, writing first poems in high school and more recently song lyrics. But, he's rather let that get away from him, and I need to remember to encourage him to get back to it some.

    So, thank you, Rhys and Reds for once again reminding me of reading material I need to attend to.

    1. Yes—we learned those too! Spoon River—we had to memorize many of those and I am so grateful for that.

  4. I remember having to create different styles of poems while in high school. I actually enjoyed it, though did not pursue it beyond the creative writing required in school. I don't remember being required to memorize and then recite poetry in school or at home. My mom did, she almost failed the class, getting and speaking in public was terrifying for her. I do know that there are times I like poetry and there are times I get lost. I think it's the rhythm that can throw me off sometimes. I grew up singing in church choir and we sang chants. Chants have a distinct rhythm to them. There's a place where you take a breath and there are places you absolutely did not. I guess my old, traditional choir director, who taught remedial English at the local college, must still be in my head. One contemporary poem that is stuck in my head is really a book by Dr Seuss. If you've never read it take a minute and see if you can find it. I think he may have written it more for adults than kids, it's long. It's called Dr Seuss's Sleep Book. I can still recite the first page without looking but there is one section in the book that you can't rush. It talks about a moose being asleep and dreaming of moose juice and a goose being asleep and dreaming of goose juice.... I'll let you figure it out from there. Believe me, it is the most difficult passage in the book. When I taught day care, it was the book I would read to the older children during their rest period. I could make it last over 15 minutes but I never showed the pictures. I told the kids to find the pictures they needed to close their eyes and see the pictures in their minds. Oh, and by the way, I now have parts of my old haiku poem stuck in my brain, now I'll never get to sleep. :-)

    1. Deana, this made me think of Madeleine - I can recite the whole thing.

    2. But you can see it does make our brains work!

    3. "Miss Clavell ran fast and faster!"

  5. I love all these! We memorized the Night Before Christmas, some A.A. Milne, and lots of Mother Goose, but I don't remember being asked to learn poems in school. I also love Mary Oliver, and Billy Collins, too.

    I didn't learn about the Barbara Frietchie poem until a couple of years ago. I'm an occasional docent in the Whittier Home Museum down the street, and he is in my Quaker Midwife Mysteries, so every book has a bit of one or two of his poems. My favorite, though, is a section of Whittier's "The Meeting," which he wrote about the same Meetinghouse where I go every Sunday.

    And so, I find it well to come
    For deeper rest to this still room,
    For here the habit of the soul
    Feels less the outer world's control;
    The strength of mutual purpose pleads
    More earnestly our common needs;
    And from the silence multiplied
    By these still forms on either side,
    The world that time and sense have known
    Falls off and leaves us God alone.

    1. Oh yes. A A Milne. I can recite all those and still do ( quietly, to myself). Halfway up the stairs there😊'S a place where I sit...

    2. I loved my A.A. Milne--I had to go dig out my copy of When We Were Very Young.

      Whenever I walk in a London street,
      I'm ever so careful to watch my feet;
      And I keep in the squares,
      And the masses of bears,
      Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
      The sillies who tread on the lines of the street,
      Go back to their lairs,
      And I say to them, "Bears,
      Just look how I'm walking in all of the squares!"

      I still recite this in London sometimes!

    3. Ah, Milne. How I loved those books, both of them, and the illustrations by Ernest Shepard. "James, James Morrison Weatherby George Dupree, took great care of his mother, though he was only three..."

      So many more. I used to be able to recite them all, but seem to have let many slip away. Fortunately, I have my copies close to hand.

  6. First poem/ Carl Sandburg: The fog moves in//then a long love affair with the parodies in Mad Magazine: In a bar called Gitchie Gummy/Where they serve the giggle water// Then Lewis Carrol's Jaberwocky --I still put myself to sleep with that one. On to University and language major taught Spanish poetry: Sueno con los ojos abiertos/ sueno (I dream with my eyes wide open, I dream // Julia's book titles leading me back to Hymns as poetry: Snow on snow on snow/In the bleak midwinter // Reading my favorite ee cummings (anyone lived in a pretty how town) to my beloved ...she replied "Huh?" --rethinking the missing sound still hearing the voice internally I regain my Simple Gifts.. dancing with words I come round right.

    1. Ha ha ha! We're fans of Pogo poetry here, too. "Deck us all with Boston Charlie.."

    2. The hymn In the Bleak Midwinter is adapted from a poem by Christina Rossetti.
      In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
      Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
      Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
      In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

      Very useful for titles:-)

  7. Though this will forever brand me an uncouth savage
    It is mysteries and thrillers whose pages I prefer to ravage
    Outside of song lyrics, Poetry
    has forever been a mystery to me.

    1. Another modern poet for me to study! Thank you, JAY!

    2. Why don't these blogs have a like button.

    3. See me in the corner snapping my fingers.

    4. Hallie - Thanks!

      Hank - Well, I try.

      Rhys - It doesn't happen often, but on the rare occasion, inspiration strikes.

      David - Yes, Jungle Red Like Button! LOL

      Lyda - I don't know if it is THAT snappy. :D

      Ann - I know, I kind of shocked myself that I was able to come up with something that seemed like it worked and relatively quickly at that.

  8. In Ireland last fall I fell in love with Seamus Heaney's poetry. It fit my mood and the wonderous landscape.

    Yes, poetry for my kids. Shel Silverstein, Madeline, Dr. Suess, The Owl and the Pussy Cat. In high school, my son regularly missed AP English to ride the bus to afterschool CC meets and soccer games. Required to memorize a sonnet of at least 16 lines and recite it to the class for every class he missed, he spent his bus rides memorizing Shakespeare's sonnets. I gave him a slim paperback and assured him it would come in handy when trying to impress a girl. It did.

  9. We read poetry in school but never had to memorize or recite any. My favorite was "Jenny Kissed Me" but I recall bits and pieces of other ones, especially "The Midnight ride of Paul Revere" and "The Song of Hiawatha."

  10. I have many friends who are poets,and I attend a lot of open mics and poetry readings. I can't write a haiku to save my life.

    I have a few poems from school burned into my head. This one in particular:

    The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
    The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
    The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
    And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding.
    The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.


    1. Phil Ochs set this Alfred Noyes narrative poem to music in the late '60s. I can still sing it from beginning to end.

    2. Oh, Ramona, how did I forget to mention "The Highwayman"? I loved and still love that poem and the tragic story it tells. There are some good Youtube videos using it. Here's one that made a short movie out of it And, the song that Loreena McKennitt sings with its verses is beautiful.

  11. Fell in love with poetry as vivid language come alive in 5th grade. Continued Spanish and picked up French in college so I could read the poets referenced by English-speaking poets. Discouraged by much modern poetry--my former English professor noted that much of it is 'academic'--the poets are demonstrating their mastery of form. Bah! I say--I want to feel something when I read or recite a poem--whether it's Auden or Stafford or Dr. Seuss!

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  13. Poetry lover here. We memorized and I had my Middie School students memorize and perform. With my students I did a lot of Harlem Renaissance.
    I’m about to embark on a Lenten program using Nary Oliver’s “Devotions” and materials from the Episcopal church.

  14. If we ever had to memorize poetry, I've forgotten all but snippets. Instead, I still remember the numbering system we used for inventory when I was a buyer for a chain of petite wear stores in the 70's. Not nearly as gratifying, really.

    However, like Margaret, I love children's poetry. Sometime in the early 80's I bought a great volume of poems about food, and our kids loved them, along with Madeline, and all the usual childhood poems. My husband was quite the dramatic reader, and I still chuckle over some of his poetry presentations, sitting at the top of the steps, two little girls in his lap.

    Every Christmas Eve, the youngest reader still reads A Visit From St. Nicholas. One poem I mostly remember.

    The only part of Rabbi Ben Ezra I remember is one of my all-time favorite bits of poetry, the first three lines:

    Grow old along with me!
    The best is yet to be,
    The last of life, for which the first was made:
    Our times are in His hand
    Who saith "A whole I planned,
    Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''

    And of course, the poems of Ogden Nash.

    Is Dandy
    But liquor
    Is quicker.

    The Rhinoceros
    The rhino is a homely beast,
    For human eyes he's not a feast.
    Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
    I'll stare at something less prepoceros.

    The Camel
    The camel has a single hump;
    The dromedary, two;
    Or else the other way around.
    I'm never sure. Are you?

  15. Lovely, Rhys. Thank you to you and the Reds who always inspire my thoughts to move with freedom.

    We memorized and recited poetry throughout my school years in Massachusetts. For my first project in graduate school it seemed natural to write and illustrate a book of poetry. I found it in the garage a couple of weeks ago and was surprised that I had done it and couldn’t imagine that I actually thought I could do it. One poem was about people I saw in the square each day and my wondering how they would make it through the night. Not all did, and I was deeply affected that year by two deaths of street people I’d talked to or said hello to each day. Poetry, I found, reached quickly and deep that other forms of expression couldn’t touch.

  16. This has been so interesting. The poetry I read all the way through high school and college has stuck with me - John Donne through early 20th century - and yet I haven't read poetry as an adult. Must think about that. Interesting perhaps - my father was not a literary man but loved the Poe he learned as a kid.In old age, when he had lost almost all of what he knew and cherished,he could still recite some of Bells or the Raven.

  17. We had poetry books around when I was first starting to read--A Child's Garden of Verses, and the A. A. Milne books, plus some for adult readers--and I remember my mother reading some of it to us. I also remember me trying to read some of it to my parents, which my father had little patience for.

    In college I majored in theatre, studying under Dr. Leslie Irene Coger, who literally wrote the book on oral interpretation. (I'm in one of the photos in the third edition.) I got drunk on the words of Dylan Thomas, e. e. cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Wallace Stevens, and read nearly all the Shakespeare there is, even if it wasn't assigned.

    But as an adult I've fallen away from the faith. I did love to hear Maya Angelou read her work in that deep, elegant voice, and Marie Howe's book "What the Living Do" holds a special place in my heart, but mostly I don't read much poetry anymore. I should probably get back to it.

    I agree with Jenn that rap is essentially declamatory poetry--the latest iteration of a tradition that stretches all the way back through Beowulf and Homer. It's what I tell my stuffy classical music friends when they huff and puff about how "that's not music." Of course it isn't, but it's still a legitimate artistic expression. Between that, the poetry slams Julia mentioned, and game-changing hits like Hamilton, I think poetry is alive and well these days. It just hangs out in different dark clubs and urban alleys than I usually investigate.

  18. I am sad that children no longer memorize much of anything except passwords. I thought I was the last generation to learn a poem per week in elementary school and study poetry in high school and college. But most of you are younger than I, so perhaps there is hope. I love coming across some of your verse, Deb, when I read and reread your books.

    My first gift to new babies is RLS's A Child's Garden of Verses. I hope it is a beginning, but I suspect Goodnight Moon is preferred.

    Yes, I still recite, rarely the whole poem any more, but certainly the salient points! Julie is quite amazed, being a "bit" younger, she had read but never memorized a line.

    The following is something that helped me through a particularly difficult time in my life. Thank you James Kavanaugh, for being my friend:

    Will You Be My Friend? by James Kavauaugh

    Will you be my friend?
    There are so many reasons why you never should:
    I'm sometimes sullen, often shy, acutely sensitive,
    My fear erupts as anger, I find it hard to give,
    I talk about myself when I'm afraid
    And often spend a day without anything to say.
    But I will make you laugh
    And love you quite a bit
    And hold you when you're sad.

    I cry a little almost every day
    Because I'm more caring than the strangers ever know,
    And, if at times, I show my tender side
    (The soft and warmer part I hide)
    I wonder,
    Will you be my friend?

    A friend
    Who far beyond the feebleness of any vow or tie
    Will touch the secret place where I am really I,
    To know the pain of lips that plead and eyes that weep,
    Who will not run away when you find me in the street
    Alone and lying mangled by my quota of defeats
    But will stop and stay - to tell me of another day
    When I was beautiful.

    Will you be my friend?
    There are so many reasons why you never should:
    Often I'm too serious, seldom predictably the same,
    Sometimes cold and distant, probably I'll always change.
    I bluster and brag, seek attention like a child.
    I brood and pout, my anger can be wild,
    But I will make you laugh
    And love you quite a bit
    And be near when you're afraid.

    I shake a little almost every day
    Because I'm more frightened than the strangers ever know
    And if at times I show my trembling side
    (The anxious, fearful part I hide)
    I wonder,
    Will you be my friend?

    A friend
    Who, when I fear your closeness, feels me push away
    And stubbornly will stay to share what's left on such a day,
    Who, when no one knows my name or calls me on the phone,
    When there's no concern for me - what I have or haven't done -
    And those I've helped and counted on have, oh so deftly, run,
    Who, when there's nothing left but me, stripped of charm and subtlety,
    Will nonetheless remain.

    Will you be my friend?
    For no reason that I know
    Except I want you so

    1. Ann, A Child's Garden of Verses was one of my first gifts to Wren.

  19. Now I want to read (or reread) all the poems you ladies have mentioned! I love reading classic poetry and especially enjoy the way Louise Penny uses poetry in her Three Pines books.

    We didn't have to memorize poems when I was in school (in the 70s) but I remember that reading The Erl King by Goethe scared me half to death. For years I was so traumatized I couldn't even remember the name of it. Found it a few years ago and made myself read it in order to exorcise it from my brain.

    1. Oh yes. I love Louise's poetry. Someone asked me yesterday whether she writes the poems that Ruth writes in her books. Of course she does, I said.
      I was also so impressed with the poetry written in AS Byatt's Possession.

    2. Louise may write some of the poetry, I'm not sure. But I know she has used excerpts from pieces by A. A. Milne, Margaret Atwood and Auden. She has said in interviews that she writes with a stack of poetry books close by.

  20. Poetry has evolved as much of art does. I agree that poetry comes to me in the form of song lyrics. This one, by Sinead O'Conner, started the healing of my childhood.

    This Is To Mother You

    This is to mother you
    To comfort you and get you through
    Through when your nights are lonely
    Through when your dreams are only blue
    This is to mother you
    This is to be with you
    To hold you and to kiss you too
    For when you need me I will do
    What your own mother didn't do
    Which is to mother you
    All the pain that you have known
    All the violence in your soul
    All the 'wrong' things you have done
    I will take from you when I come
    All mistakes made in distress
    All your unhappiness
    I will take away with my kiss, yes
    I will give you tenderness
    For child I am so glad I've found you
    Although my arms have always been around you
    Sweet bird although you did not see me
    I saw you
    And I'm here to mother you
    To comfort you and get you through
    Through when your nights are lonely
    Through when your dreams are only blue
    This is to mother you

    1. Now I need to find this song! Thank you, Lyda!

    2. I use to listen to her first version of this song over and over. One can find it on Spotify.

    3. Flora, I was introduced to it on a CD by Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris titled, "Western Wall The Tucson Sessions"

  21. This really speaks to me, Lyda. Thank you.

  22. Yes, Coralee--"Jabberwocky" is the one that's stuck with me the longest, because my father used to love it. "Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe . . ." So when in Toastmasters I had to present something involving movement, I wrote a speech breaking down this poem and what some of the words meant (most invented by Lewis Carroll). It gave me the opportunity to go "galumphing" across the room and just being silly, which I enjoyed tremendously.

    1. "Jabberwocky" is one of my favorites, too, Margie. I used to recite and act it out for my kids when they were very small.

  23. Your observation on song lyrics is interesting. I hadn’t thought about that, but you are right.

    I wonder how much of it is because poetry has changed so much. It’s hard to tell what makes a poem a poem any more. I got into this with a college English professor 20+ years ago. I rewrote a passage from a novel and showed her a poem I liked. She was very impressed. Then I showed her the novel it really came from.

    Yet she still tried to explain to us what modern poetry was. Sorry, but I struggle with it too much.

    1. Mark, the best explanation I received was that poetry is prose with every extraneous word removed.

  24. Have always loved poetry...and, yes, we had to memorize it when I was in school. Junior year, we each had to pick a poem to memorize and present to the class. I've never liked speaking in front of people so chose an emotional poem so that if and when my voice cracked, it would be acceptable! I chose Little Boy Blue by Eugene Field and still remember every line. Sometimes when I have trouble going to sleep, I'll say this poem over and over until I drift off.

  25. Shalom Reds and fans. I confess. I am guilty. I can’t name a living poet. I don’t generally read poetry. The last new-to-me poem that I fussed over was a poem by Jose Marti and called A White Rose. I don’t speak Spanish but I could almost untangle it without reading a translation and when I looked at the translation I found it wanting. I sent it as an email birthday greeting without translation to a friend. I followed it up when she asked with my own translation. The poem still moves me. When I was in my mid-twenties I started to try and read Shakespeare’s sonnets. They could have been gobble-di-gook. However, I stuck with it. Line by line. Word by word. Little by little, like a tangled knot of shoestrings, they yielded to my effort. I was so pleased with myself (and the Bard). I memorized a whole slew of those sonnets.

    Nearly 15 years later, I was sitting with a friend in Rittenhouse Street park in Philadelphia not far from the church I was attending in those days. We were reading and discussing something, maybe the Bible or something. A church elder who spotted us and came over to say hello. He asked what we were doing and we told him we were reading together. So, he asked what was my favorite type of book or reading material. I told him, everything from Shakespeare to mysteries. He asked about my reading of Shakespeare. I mentioned the sonnets. So he asked I could recite from memory any of them. I recited a first line. My friend replied just like that with the second line. We both knew the same Shakespearean sonnet by heart. It was an ode to friendship. “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought…”

    1. David, sharing poetry with friends is what brings it to life. It is written to be read out loud and that is the difference!

  26. I love poetry but I hardly ever read it anymore, and I must do something about that!

    We did have to memorize and recite poetry in school. I remember usually choosing Longfellow or Tennyson. My parents had a huge well-worn volume of poetry (which I eventually absconded with), and I often read through it as a child. They also had the complete works of Shakespeare, also well-worn. (Guess who has that?) They were self-conscious about not being able to afford to go to college, but they were each well-read and exposed us to good literature. In second grade I had to write a poem, and they were so encouraging! Later that year, they gave me, for my birthday, a book of poetry for, and by, children. I still have it.

    (Sorry that I’m just rambling around here; the power came back on a short time ago after being out for seven hours, and my brain is still thawing!)

    Dickinson is one of my all-time favorite poets. I did a paper on her in college, and floated around all day in a cloud of happiness when I received it back with an A!


    1. Congrats on getting your power back, DebRo! There's nothing like that moment when you hear the furnace kick on again...

    2. This is now my go-to explanation! "My brain is thawing."

  27. So interesting how our brains process poetry and song lyrics in a different way than prose. Maybe they're stored in a different place! I wonder if anyone has done an MRI study. Wouldn't that be fun?

    1. Yes, it's SO easy to learn a song..much harder to do it without music.

  28. Replies
    1. I wish! I'm not the first to think of this. Here's one study.

  29. Yes, we memorized poems in school too. I remember we took on The Village Blacksmith in the sixth grade. "with arms like rubber bands." We also satirized it. Once in a blue moon I'll pull out 100 most loved, either American or English, to see if anything calls to me. I fell out of like with poetry in high school due to teachers who insisted on dissecting the poems for their "real" meanings. How could they possibly know what a poet was thinking when he/she wrote it? I am envious of anyone who can pull an appropriate line of poetry out of their brain to quote at just the right time. Wish I could!

    1. Pat, I so agree. That is the main reason I didn't major in English--literary analysis, especially of poetry, made me nuts.

    2. Deb:

      One of my college professors told us about attending a reading by Robert Frost when she was in college. A student asked him about the message he was trying to convey in one of his poems. I can’t remember which one. He got a little annoyed and said he was tired of people looking for “messages” or “meaning” in his poetry! Sometimes he just wanted to write about something that looked pretty!


    3. Yup- sometimes the curtains are just--blue. :-)

  30. I'm late to the party today, but love reading about all your favorite poems and poets--and Jay! a star is born...

    1. Lucy, does that mean I get to due a steamy duet with Lady Gaga?

      Seriously though, thank you. But my future does not lay with an endless search for rhyming couplets. I think I was just really fired up this morning for some reason and all the synapses fired just right for me to come up with the piece.

  31. I did have to memorize poetry in school - although for the life of me I can't think of it now. And The Girl's AP Literature class in high school had a big poetry section. The analysis of the year's scores (an all-time low) wondered if lack of focus on poetry is part of the reason.

    Are any of you familiar with poetry slams? Some of them are amazing.

  32. I have something that might restore some faith to us about poetry still being alive for young people. In our local paper today, on the front page no less, was a story about a program called Poetry Out Loud. The contest was created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Here's the Website, The article in our paper was about the winner from our county who was advancing to the state competition, and the winner of the state would then advance to the national competition in Washington, D.C. I have to tell you all that I was much encouraged by this news, and I plan to follow the student's progress. So hurrah for good news on the poetry front!

  33. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were dinner readings at my house. Early on we could recite The Jabberwocky, The Walrus and the Carpenter, You are Old Father William (a bit of a joke since my father's name was William), and others.
    Libby Dodd

    1. I just remembered a favorite.
      I wrote a paper on Lewis Carroll in high school and found some of his other offerings (other than the usual).
      From PHANTASMAGORIA by Lewis Carroll
      (an excerpt)
      “ And did you really walk,” said I, “On such a wretched night?
      I always fancied Ghosts could fly— If not exactly in the sky, Yet at a fairish height.” “It’s very well,” said he, “for Kings To soar above the earth:
      But Phantoms often find that wings— Like many other pleasant things— Cost more than they are worth.

      I love how it feels in my mouth and brain when I say it outloud.

  34. My Mom's family were all from the country. It seems like many of them wrote poems about where they lived and things they did. I remember seeing some my aunt wrote while she was in a sanitorium recovering from a bout of TB. One infamous poem was composed by Great Uncle Clarence. It was assigned by the teacher of their one room schoolhouse. Uncle Copper didn't do the assignment so improvised.
    The thunder roared. The lightning flashed. Hit a rock and killed a pig.
    All accompanied by dramatic flourishes. I think he had trouble sitting for a while after that.

  35. I don't recall having to memorize many poems in school, though "Casey At the Bat" was required in an early grade, and I had to recite it. I loved the Brit. poets, and the classic Americans, so Sanders and Frost and Worthworth and so on. Cummings' wee ballon man, even a bit of Shakespeare. I also like some of the San Francisco hippie poets, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, ("Dog" - he had a tale to tell and a real tail to tell it with) even Ginsberg (he wrote other things than "Howl", thank goodness). I have three shelves of poetry books, but rarely pull them out. Did you all know there is a fat book of all of Bob Dylan's lyrics? Of course it's poetry. Oh, and Maisfield, the fog coming in on cat's feet. Note I'm pulling this out of my head, so I may have some words off, but it's the spirit that counts.

  36. A day late to the party. I am a passionate fan of Wallace Stevens, and used to travel with his Collected Poems just in case I needed one. The Idea of Order at Key West brings me to my knees. I also have a "poetry book." When I find a poem that moves me, I cut it out or copy it and paste it into my poetry book. I think these days a lot of poetry is hip-hop. There are poetry "slams" in the Bay Area where young people get to have an open mic for their poetry.

  37. Wonderful post about poetry. I loved the poem And Now You are Six. For a long time, I struggled with poetry because I thought the words had to rhyme. Thank you.