This is just to say

I did not eat
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you may still
for breakfast

Forgive me
the chocolate cake
looked delicious
but now looks gone

(with apologies to William Carlos Williams)

My daughter is doing a poety assignment for school, so every poem that strikes her fancy has been thrust before my eyes lately. I’m not a poetry snob, mind you, but some of them appeal much more to a sixth grader than to me. That said, there is a lot to love about poetry if you’re a person who loves words. Modern education tries its best to beat that out of you (both loving poetry and loving words), but there are some poems that are just a lot of fun. Others are poignant, and some are wonderful for all the reasons the professors tell you and more. Some endow language with sensory impact in startling ways.

I’ve matured in my rebellion against the collegiate deconstructionists. I now admit that much of what is in poetry was done on purpose, if not for the reasons the professors say. Word choice matters, though ironically I learned that much more deeply writing and editing marketing copy than in English Lit. classes. Playing with rhyme and meter, imagery, alliteration, assonance–all of that can add so much when done well, but can be left out altogether when done well, also.

I love a good Robert Frost poem, as some of you may have noticed, even if he’s not in vogue so much anymore. I also love a good Shel Silverstein, or e.e. cummings, even–the Picasso of the Poetry world. Edgar Allen Poe has influenced me through the years, though more from Annabel Lee than from The Raven. Wordsworth, Keats, Browning–they’ve all impressed me in one way or another. I’ve certainly benefited from a classical education.

But for all that I don’t read poetry much, and my daughter’s school project has convinced me that is an oversight on my part. Dan Wells, one of my new favorite authors, insists an author can benefit greatly from a study of poetry. It certainly shows in his work. There’s not a stitch of poetry in it, and yet his imagery is often poetic. It’s hard to argue that the choice of words, the efficiency in saying as much as possible with as few words as possible, even meter and rhythm have no place in prose, especially storytelling.

I am therefore going to make an effort to include more poetry in my reading list. It’s about time, too. I bought a hardbound book of Rudyard Kipling poetry last year, and I’ve still yet to read more than a smattering from it. I’m placing that on my reading list as a good place to start.

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2 Responses to This is just to say

  1. Poetry CAN be fun. I recollect the poem that you referenced from my own college days. Unlike, you, though, I find the majority of it to be a bunch of pretentious boobery. I still can hear my English prof going off about the plums. I just didn’t see the thrill in that one. I DO see it in others, and I certainly enjoy some good imagery.

  2. Oh, there’s plenty of pretentious boobery, just as there is in prose, including the William Carlos Williams one (Which is why I parodied it). I mean really, who thinks their note to their wife is such fine art they publish it? Most of the time if I enjoy a poem it’s IN SPITE of my various professors. Or, to quote Robin Williams, “Be gone, J. Evans Pritchard!”

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