Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Appreciating Poetry

April is National Poetry month. I'm pleased that an entire month to celebrate this medium is given rather than the one day that many others receive. Why?

There are so many facets to the topic between reading it, writing it, sharing it or attempting to have it published. Add the fact that there are many who say they can't stand poetry, that teachers made them hate it by requiring memorization or some other flimsy reason. Perhaps it is just that many of those people were not ready to appreciate poetry and never attempted to try reading or writing it on their own later in life. They have probably missed a lot. 

We were first exposed to poetry when our parents recited nursery rhymes to us when we were small children. Children like the sing-song rhythm Mother Goose gave us. My son loved Little Boy Blue so I often recited it while bathing him. One night, when he was about 3 1/2, I realized that he was really listening to the words and the story within it. That night it went something like this:

Little boy blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow, the cow is in the corn,
Where is the little boy that tends the sheep?
He's under the haystack, fast asleep.
Shall I wake him? No, not I
For if I do, he's sure to cry. 

When I got to the question Shall I wake him? my son, with eyes dancing with mischief, hollered Yes! Before I could manage to think of a good reply, I just had to laugh. But it was obvious he knew the story of the poem.

I never thought much about poetry in my school years. It seemed part of our classwork and I can't say I either loved or hated it. It took me many more years to develop a true love and admiration for poetry and those who write it. It wasn't a revelation on one day. The appreciation of this form of writing grew slowly. I found poets whose work I especially admired and then I attempted to write a poem on my own. 

I started with free verse because it seemed the easiest, no rhyming, no particular rhythm, no meter pattern to follow. I still write mostly free verse but have done some rhyming poems, as well, and even a narrative poem that was published in Boys' Quest magazine. I tried haiku after listening to a fine poet at a writer's conference. Recently, I have worked on a prose poem. Are my poems great? Not by some standards. They did allow me to express what I felt in fewer words than a 1500 word personal essay might. 

Two of my poems have placed in a contest, two more have been published. The rest sit in files where I work on revisions now and then. That old revise and edit thing works the very same way in poetry as it does in fiction or creative nonfiction or article writing. We can always make something we've written a little bit better. 

I've had the pleasure of getting to know some of the poets in my state author's group. As a result, I've increased the amount  of poetry that I read. I've purchased the books they've put out with collections of their poems and I've read them all more than once. There's pleasure in reading poems many times for a reader might see something new or from a different perspective on multiple readings. 

Give poetry a chance. Don't attempt to drown yourself with it all at once. Try a little here and a bit there. Learn what type you like and search out more of the same kind. I will admit that there are some poets who write words that have meaning for themselves alone. Anyone else reading it might not have a clue what was meant. That's alright. Move on to something that you can understand and enjoy. 

So, this month, check our some poetry websites. Browse the shelves of the poetry section at your local library. Pull out those poetry books on your own bookshelves that have been there a long time and read them again. You might even try to write a poem yourself. Aww, go ahead and try it.

Here's the poem for kids that was published in Boys' Quest back in 2004.

Chinatown Cat

                                          Ling Po had a ginger-colored cat,
                                          not a very pretty one at that.
                                          Near a window he oft slept by day.
                                          Nights he went out and far away.

                                          Where in Chinatown did he go?
                                           Ling Po really wanted to know.
                                           Night after night Cat went
                                           As if on a mission he’d been sent.

                                          One warm and moonlit night,
                                           Ling Po followed on Cat’s right.
                                           Cat slid by cans for trash,
                                           then Ling Po padded softly past.

                                           He stayed a bit behind,
                                           while Cat continued down the line.
                                           Cat didn’t even seem to slow
                                            when sirens began to blow.

                                            On through dark and eerie streets,
                                            Master and pet moved on silent feet.
                                            Farther and farther, past store upon store.
                                            Ling Po could not take much more!

                                            Now, beyond temple and pagoda.
                                            This Chinatown boy needed a soda.
                                            Then, Cat stopped, looked all around
                                            and crouched down close to the ground.

                                            He lay there, green eyes peering
                                            at an ancient man now nearing.
                                            “There you are, my friend,” he fretted
                                            “Come close to be petted.

                                             Ling Po waited behind a car.
                                             Was this the reason they’d come so far?
                                              The Old One bent, pigtail swinging,
                                              from Cat’s throat, a purr like singing.

                                              Now Cat belonged to the pair,
                                              for Ling Po knew he would share.
                                              This cat who loved both young and old
                                              was surely worth his weight in gold.
                                              With patience, Ling Po watched the two,
                                               no more than that could he do
                                               until Cat turned to take his leave
                                               and Ling Po followed him home with relief.
                                                                                             --Nancy Julien Kopp




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