Friday, April 8, 2011

Flashback Friday - Rhyme Time

What poems do you remember from your childhood? Did you have to memorize many poems for school when you were growing up? Did you learn any just for fun? Do you remember which ones they were--and can you still recite them? Did you have a poetry book that you liked to read? Do you enjoy poetry today? Do you prefer rhyming poetry or free verse? Whimsical poetry or epic poems that tell a story? Do you have a favorite poem or poet? Have you ever written any poems?

I have always loved poems. My first poetry book that I remember having was Poems for Little Ears. We had several poetry books and one of my favorites to read was My Poetry Book, which was originally published in 1934, but we had the red one, which was a subsequent printing. But it looked just like the picture on the right. I remember sitting in my dad's chair in the corner of the living room many, many times and reading through the various sections of poems. I also liked Best Loved Poems of the American People, although it was a much bigger and thicker book and harder for me to handle as a child.

I got my love for poetry from my mom. All through my childhood, I remember her reciting poems that she had learned in her school days. My favorite for her to say was The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service. I eventually memorized it and loved telling it to my kids when they were little.

I do have a fairly specific taste in poems. I like them to rhyme! And preferably, to make sense as well. The rambling free verse of modern poetry doesn't do a thing for me and makes me feel restless and unsettled most of the time. I suppose my affinity for the other is because I like the cleverness of the wording and I like the structure and the order and organization. And for the most part, I don't like exceedingly long poems. The Cremation of Sam McGee is unusually long for me. Poems that go on for several pages and relate a saga wear me out. I remember trying to read Casey at the Bat when I was younger and I thought the poem lasted as long as the game! The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere affected me that way too.

and e e cummings drove me nuts

I had to memorize several poems in elementary school, which unfortunately seems to be something that is no longer required. Several that I learned immediately come to mind, and I can still say parts of them: Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening by Robert Frost (always one of my favorites!), Trees by Joyce Kilmer, Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt, Fog by Carl Sandburg. I'm sure there were more.

In high school English, the focus was on analyzing rather than memorizing poetry. Iambic pentameters and other poetic terms swirled around in my head and drove me crazy! One particular poem is indelibly etched in my brain. We didn't have to memorize it but we spent so much time identifying and marking the meter that it was inevitable that I learned at least part of it. And I could hardly read it or say it without stressing every other syllable. My friend and I used to laugh as we'd read the first lines of The Man with the Hoe by Edwin Markham, emphasizing every other syllable:

Bowed BY the WEIGHT of CEN-tu-RIES he LEANS
UpON his HOE and GA-zes ON the GROUND
The EMP-ti-NESS of A-ges IN his FACE
And ON his BACK the BUR-den OF the WORLD.

I love to write poems. I'm not prolific by any means, and my poetry is generally occasion-driven. I don't just sit down and write a poem because I see a pretty sunset. I played around with writing poetry in junior high and college, but I've done it more in the past 15-20 years. THe first "major" poem I wrote was a thank-you to my doctor after my boy was born. The poem somewhat chronicled the events and issues I had in the pregnancy and the circumstances of his bith and included a tribute to his office nurses. It hung in one of the exam rooms for years. I wrote a few other poems in his first couple of years as he reached various developmental milestones.

When each of my kids finished elementary school I wrote a poem that had a verse for each year with that teacher's name and something about that year as well as a verse for "specials" (music, art, and P.E.). On the day before the last day of school, the principal called all those teachers into a "meeting" at the end of the day and I read them the poem and my boy (or girl, depending on the year) gave each teacher a copy of the poem and a flower. It was a really special time and a fun way to thank their teachers. My last week at that school, because I had been so involved in volunteering and had gotten to know so many of the teachers, I wrote a poem for the entire faculty (but only the principal got mentioned by name!) and was able to read it at their staff brunch the day after school was out as we said good-bye to that school for the last time and my girl headed to middle school.

Just for fun one year, I did our Christmas letter in poem form, and everyone liked it so much it became a tradition. It's been a bit of a challenge but it's fun, and it helps keep the letter fresh and concise and helps curb the "our kids are brilliant" tendency.

There have been serious poems, one of which was for some sweet friends who tragically lost their daughter a few years ago. Like music, sometimes poems convey feelings more eloquently than prose.

Finally, as I sat by my mom's bedside a couple of days before she died in 2008, I spontaneously wrote this poem as I looked at Her Hands and thought about all they had done through the years. I had the privilege of reading it at her funeral a week later.

Serious, inspirational, whimsical, clever - poetry is another way that words delight me.

What about you? Share your love - or disdain! - of poetry from your childhood and link up here!


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Jim said...

This was a nice topic, a fun topic. And thank goodness I had enough time to enter this week.

Your mother's poem, Her Hands, was just great! It could bring a tear to one like me. My mother died at the nursing home as we were landing in the Omaha airport. I didn't get to hold her hands.

I think you have run into Cliff Morrow in your blogging. When Mom had her 50th anniversary of teaching kindergarten Sunday school, he, a graduate long, long ago from her class, read a paper he had written about being in her class and on her teaching.

Cliff again read that story at her funeral.

Your love for poetry started early much as mine did. You remember your loves so much better though.

quilly said...

I had to memorize some of those same poems. I also had to memorize ALL of Hiawatha! Thankfully today I only remember the first few words.

I remember analyzing poems and having to write our own poems mimicking the patterns we found. Sometimes it was fun, oter times I'd have rather had my hair pulled one strand at a time!

Joyce said...

I didn't play today because I'm doing the A-Z challenge this month and its a lot of blogging!!

I love poetry though. One thing I would have mentioned if I were posting is my dad loved poetry too. He was a colonel in the Marine Corps so this surprised some people but he memorized a lot of poetry. When my niece was only 4 years old she memorized the Annabelle Lee with was so adorable to hear her say it.

Hope everyone is well at your house!

Barbara H. said...

I don't recall having to memorize poems, though I m sure we did. I remember the ones by Frost and one about the village blacksmith. I don't think we studies poetry as much as I would have liked in high school.

Susan said...

My mom also knew The Cremation of Sam McGee. My brother always liked that one. While I always send Christmas cards, the only Christmas "letter" I've ever done was a poem. Much more fun. Thanks for the fun topic!

bp said...

Your poem about your Mother's hands is so touching.

That is neat to do a Christmas letter as a poem. Reading about the poems you wrote for the teachers reminded me of how our senior English teacher wrote poems about her classes and how special those are. I'd forgotten about that.

Mama Zen said...

I love the idea of doing a poem for the teachers!

Nel said...

What a fun topic, enjoyed your post. I had forgotten about FOG we memorized that one too. I liked Sandburg, I also liked ee cummings. Love the poem about your mom, that brought tears to my eyes. Memories...
until next time... nel

Xandra@Heart-of-Service said...

I remember memorizing and reciting "The Touch of the Master's Hand" in fourth grade in (gasp!) public school! I still remember the poem, but that might have more to do with Wayne Watson than anything else!


Beverlydru said...

Hello,friend! Any discussion of poetry for me leads straight to LouLou. She started teaching poetry to each of us at birth. YOu just sent me on a hunt for my copy of "A Child's Garden of Verse." I must find it!

Zoanna said...

Like Joyce, I'm doing the A to Z Challenge and am blogging a LOT for that, but maybe I can find a way to combine a Flashback next time. I loved this topic.

So much to comment on!
1. My mom and her sister memorized The Cremation of Sam McGee as girls. They spooked each other at night by quoting parts to each other.

2. I loved Dr. Seuss as a kid. Still do.

3. For several years, I also put our family Christmas letter to verse and did a month-by-month recap. It was a fun way to remember everything from lost teeth to broken bones to home improvement projects, not the ho-hum soccer mom stuff.

4. I write poetry very rarely any more. It's either pitifully simple or angry. NOthing about pretty sunsets as you say!

5. Your poem "Her Hands" moved me to tears. I shared the link with a friend who lost her mom a couple months ago.

6. The poem my mom always quoted to me when I was a preschooler was this (because of my curls and probably my temper):
There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very, very good.
But when she was bad,
She was horrid!

It took me years to realize that "forehead" rhymes with Horrid if you say it "forrid"!