April is poetry month. I’m not sure when that started, but I’m happy for it. I love poetry, both reading it and writing it. David says I have a quote or a poem for every occasion, and he may be right at that.
I came by my love of poetry honestly. My mother used to quote poetry, and she would also read it to us sometimes at bedtime. I remember a poem called “The Plumpuppets” she quoted while fluffing pillows, and I spent some years looking for it again. (This was pre-internet, when the only way to find a poem was to look through books for it. Somehow we survived.)
When I was still quite young I used to borrow one particular book of poetry from the library over and over again. That book was The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund. I remember that I once counted all the poems in the book and decided that I wanted to write that many poems, too. When I was twenty, and working for the princessly wage of $3.25 an hour, I found a copy in a Toronto bookstore and shelled out about $25 to buy it without the least hesitation. It’s still one of my favourites, and I buy it for children of my acquaintance from time to time.
I think everybody should have some kind of acquaintance with poetry. You don’t have to read or love the Great Poets, such as Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare and the like. There’s lots of poetry out there, from Edward Lear’s nonsense verse to A.A. Milne’s lovely collections. There are solemn pieces and funny ones. One of my favourite poets is Ogden Nash; another is Geoffrey Chaucer, and still another is Rudyard Kipling. Lest you think I’m leaving out the excellent women poets, I love Christina Rossetti, Edna St Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson. (Apparently any Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, which delights me.)
Some time ago David found me a quatrain which immediately made it into my commonplace book:
For years a secret shame destroyed my peace —
I’d not read Eliot, Auden or MacNiece.
But now I think a thought that brings me hope:
Neither had Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope.
— Justin Richardson.
If you never, or seldom, read poetry, then just this month read something. It doesn’t matter what. If you do read poetry, I invite you to revisit old favourites, try something new, share a poem you love with a person you love.
As for my childhood ambition to write 200-some poems to match the contents of The Golden Treasury of Poetry, I may be closing in on it. I have one completed archive book with 130 pieces in it, and about a hundred in the second collection, which hasn’t yet been completed. When I looked at the number of pieces I’d written, I was quite surprised. The original goal seemed daunting to that child I was, but fifty years or so of diddling with rhythm and rhyme has stacked up quite a pile of writing when I wasn’t paying attention. That doesn’t count my poet-for-hire gigs or the duotang folder of sophomoric high-school poetry and verse, which I will never show anyone. I know, I know, “never” is a long time. Believe me, it’s not long enough in the case of bad poetry.
It’s a great pleasure to be able to find a rhyme, or a choice of words that says what you mean and maintains a rhythm, or to learn a new poetic form and play with that. It is never a wasted day if you can come up with a quatrain, a triolet or – gasp! – a whole sonnet, or even a bit of nonsense.
I’ll leave you with something I wrote to a five-word prompt. The game is to take the five words provided and write something no more than fifty words long. The words of this prompt (aviary, beret, pecan, savvy, vintage) suggested a counting-out rhyme to me, and so that’s what I wrote.
Aviary, breviary, Bouvier, boo
Pecans, parakeets, parrotlets, poo!
Vintage velvet beret on a cocky cockatoo,
Savvy wavy gravy, and out go you!
Happy Poetry Month!