Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Poetry 101

 Late last fall, I had a fun shopping experience. [To be noted: fun + shopping are never in my realm of existence.] But, this day in Asheville, NC, my son-in-law, three-year old grandson and I went to Bins of Treasure, a huge resale store of Goodwill Industries. It is a last stop before the recycle plant for items that have not sold in the regular Goodwill store. Sounds like it would be terrible? Not so. In the past my son-in-law picked up a well-used Barbie car, refurbished it with paint, decals and imagination for the brand new miniature Land Rover for his son, just like daddy’s car. He has found like new items and interesting cast offs like fishing waders, hundreds of Legos and camping equipment no one else wanted. Items are in waist high, five foot long, plastic bins on tables, mostly sorted by categories such as toys, clothing, books, outdoor equipment, etc. You pay by the pound, $.50/pound except for books which are bargain priced at $.75/pound. The items are clean, “interesting” and a definite bargain.

This day I found the book 100 Best-Loved Poems edited by Philip Smith, 1995 Dover Publications, Inc and previously owned by Sarah. Sarah seems to have been about 12 when she owned the book, not a good speller but an excellent student with a good English teacher. The book is underlined with her personal Cliff Notes written in the white spaces. What a treasure I had found!

Young Sarah had underlined all the alliterations and similes in poems they studied. She noted personifications and defined words or allusions to words she did not understand. Written were explanations that Dylan Thomas did not want his father to die when he wrote the last lines of "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." "The Lamb" by William Blake reintroduced me to to personification. Sometimes I would read "i dont unerstand" and wonder if the teacher explained it to her. I also learned that "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman was about Abraham Lincoln; I don't think I ever knew that. This little gem of a book with 100 well chosen poems will never be recycled but it will remain with me, Sarah's fun, education comments and all. It is Poetry 101.

To quote Winston Churchill (he was talking about Russia), poetry to me is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Enigma defined is a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling or difficult to understand. In my world poetry = enigma. Thanks to Sarah, her teacher, some studying and a blog with no author’s name anywhere with a stamp date of 169 visitors to the site since June 28, 2009 (, I began a journey to better understand the lure of poetry. Re-reading Writing North Idaho’s frequent informed and eloquent guest blogger, Liz Mastin, after reading this book and blog, has given me a refined appreciation of poetry. I still do not have any extended ability to write poetry but I do understand it better.

From the poetry blog site here are some explanations that may help you on your road to discovering poetry too.
In short, poetry is bones, prose is flesh. Prose is a smooth ride, with all of the threads tied up neatly in an adventure, with the reader often left in midair after the last and largest bump. Whereas prose fills in all of the cracks, poetry covers just enough potholes to make the road navigable and get the reader to a destination. Indeed, the bumps along the way are half the fun of poetry.” The author goes on to say that prose has subplots and red herrings while poetry contains only the necessary to delineate the theme.

_____ From the poetry blog one helpful view of the basic elements of poetry may be the five "S's":

Also known as
Alliteration, assonance, consonance, etc.
Concrete images, not abstractions.
Precision, focus and theme.
The Succinct
Economy of language.
The Sempervirent
New, as opposed to clichéd.

To further our understanding of poetry on an elemental level, check out this informative power point teaching presentation.
File Format: Microsoft Powerpoint - Quick View
This PowerPoint is designed to help you understand what makes poetry such a creative and wonderful form of self-expression.

“Poets must seek “complex” thoughts and feelings and compress such complexity into a single moment.” –Ezra Pound

1 comment:

Solicitor said...

I think not patronising kids, and giving them a chance to express and explore complex values - they have the capacity to! Starting poetry early is a great way to do that.