When we visited the middle school the spring before my daughter was to begin, the head of the math department asked, “Who here is afraid of math?” Naturally I raised my hand.
“That’s the last time I want you to admit that out loud,” he said, embarrassing those of us who had raised them into dropping our hands. I understand why he did that, but in hindsight I’m wondering why the same wasn’t done for poetry, because let’s face it, there are a lot of people who are afraid of poetry, too. There’s even a word for it, according to this recent post by Kim Rosen, metrophobia.
I was aware, growing up, that poetry had its place. I knew that my father had wooed my mother with A. A. Milne poems and clearly she thought that was winsome because she married him. She, however, was a fan of more traditional poets, Emily Dickinson being one of her favorites (as evidenced by my sister’s middle name), and I, too, found Ms. Dickinson reasonably accessible. But as I got older and was forced to study more complex poems in high school and college, my fear grew. Then I met my future father-in-law who enjoys reciting entire poems, including The Tiger by Blake, of which Wikipedia says, “Much of the poem follows the metrical pattern of its first line and can be scanned as trochaic tetrameter catalectic.” That sounds scary—and dangerous!
Recently, I’ve been trying to overcome my fear. Two members of my critique group write children’s poetry, and one of them, Cheryl Lawton Malone, is currently engaged in a March Madness tournament for kid’s poetry. Her first entry, which beat the competition, was called The Giving Tree? (which you will recognize as a riff on The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein). With her permission, here it is in its entirety:
“Malarkey,” said a nearby tree.
What nonsense! Are you kidding me?
Your apples could have fed all types
of millipedes and worms with stripes.
Your branches could have given rest
to turkeys who’ve been dispossessed.
And now he slumps against your stump?
That boy of yours. He’s quite a chump!
On a more grown-up note, another friend, writing under the name Valerie Ann Prescott, has just released a book of poetry called In Gratitude, published by Finishing Line Press. Reproduced here, with permission, the title poem:
Auntie Mame said:
“Life is a banquet,
I am privileged
for a minute
my whole life.
to give birth.
of infinite number
it is the pen
That poem is not scary, even though it doesn’t rhyme. It made me think; made me pause; made me appreciate what I have. And it made me want to read another one of her poems, none of which rhyme. The second half of this slim volume is a series of poems that tell the story of a relationship, starting with “First Meeting.” I read through those holding my breath, feeling the tension, the joy, the pain. In those few poems alone, I got my twelve dollars’ worth.