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With reason, poetry also needs to rhyme
VITAL TRIFLE, BY LAURI GROSS
With reason, poetry also needs to rhyme
When I listen to the radio in the car when my kids are with me, they take control and play their music, but when I am alone, I always tune to 90.3 FM, National Public Radio. I really like their mix of news and talk.
Sometimes the talk show hosts will invite authors on as guests, and I've discovered many good books that way.
But when the author is a poet, I have to turn off the radio. I just don't understand poetry. It makes me feel like I am the only one who has no clue what the author is talking about. It seems to me that poets take way too long to say whatever it is they are saying. Why not just come out and say what they mean? Others love the imagery of a good poem. The only images that form in my mind while hearing or reading a poem is an image of me telling the poet to shut up.
When I read a good novel or a good book of historical fiction or even a good newspaper or magazine article, I do indeed enjoy clear mental images, but, from poetry, my mental images are fuzzy, cloudy, annoying things.
Why use farfetched symbols to say what you mean? Why use subtle references? And why do poets use a dreamy, ethereal voice when reading their poems aloud on the radio? For me, it doesn't set the mood. It doesn't deepen the symbolism. It doesn't increase my understanding. It just ticks me off.
As a kid, I enjoyed poems. I remember that the books of poetry were in the 800-section of my elementary school library, back when we actually used the Dewey Decimal System to find books on shelves. I spent a lot of time in those 800-section shelves. Those poems were fun, silly children's poems. They made sense, even the nonsense poems of fantasy. They said what they meant. They were full of tricks and funny characters and adventures.
Nobody read them in a dreamy voice. Nobody asked me to interpret layers of meaning. If a boy was riding an elephant, he was just riding an elephant. If a clown was juggling birthday cakes, that's exactly what he was doing. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I remember my big book of Robert Louis Stevenson's poems. It was called, "A Child's Garden of Verses." Each was a little story or a little funny tale, and they made me happy to read them. Recently, I found this one online, which I still remember. It's called, "Bed in Summer," and it begins: "In winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candle light. In summer, quite the other way, I have to go to bed by day."
To my own kids, I loved to read books that rhymed. The repetitive refrains, they say, are good for young children's developing brains. And they were just plain fun. From "Green Eggs and Ham" to one of our other favorites, "Dinner at the Panda Palace," by Stephanie Calmenson, books of kids' poetry are a delight.
Starting in my early childhood and continuing on sometimes even today, I enjoy writing silly, simple poems to celebrate a friend's or family member's birthday, anniversary or other happy occasion. These are either the every-other-line-rhymes variety (I forget the official name for such a poem) or a limerick, trickier to write but often more fun if done right. There is never anything deep about these poems.
"There once was a guy named Dave who rarely crawled out of his cave." I never intended any meaning other than the actual meaning that stared back at you from the page. "Happy Birthday to our friend Ray. We hope you enjoy yourself today." They might have caused a giggle or two but required no concentration or reflection on the part of the reader.
Poems written by and for adults usually don't even rhyme. Where's the fun in that? It's all about rhythm and meter and flow and those darned hidden meanings. I just don't see the attraction.
Other writers keep your attention with a good story well told, with characters you care about or with action that you can't resist. Poems leave me wondering about all that stuff: Just what is the story here? Are these actual characters or symbols of emotions or other stuff that only exists between the ears?
Sometimes I hear a non-rhyming poem that does tell a clear and compelling story, but, to me, it should not be considered a poem at all. It's prose and should be written in actual paragraphs, instead of just a few words on a line. Why would perfectly good prose want to masquerade as a dopey poem?
I wonder how many people actually enjoy poetry and how many pretend to sort of not hate it, for fear of declaring the emperor naked? How many people nod their head in earnest appreciation of a poem while assuming a far-off thoughtful glance as if considering the true meaning of the symbolic language before them?
How many of these people are actually thinking, "I need to buy some milk on the way home," or, "The Tribe better win today," while trying to look like they are taking in the true impact of a poem? How many people are thinking, "What was the poet smoking when he wrote that?" Hopefully I am not the only one.
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