{National Poetry Month} On Timelines

On Timelines by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

I’d set out to make a timeline and ended up with reactionary patterns and a map. What interests me so much about history and the differing cultural responses to poetry is that it is perhaps proof of poetry’s impact. It is shifting and flourishing in different ways– with different principles.

I began to look for perhaps the most fundamental of movements and time periods within poetry: Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism, and such, even broad terms applied such as the Bronze, Silver and Golden ages of poetry. Then I sought out the most interesting-sounding– the Martian Poets, the Angry Penguins, The Jindyworobak Movement. It eventually occurred to me that each group has its own unique story, and that poetry has followed similar territory yet all over the world. Thus here is a map. Maybe a list tailored to my interests that might interest you as well. A brief history, the pattern of poetry’s metamorphosis (to be structured, to be loose, to be emotion, to be realistic, then fragmented, then returned to tradition, as a revolution, to be broken free from revolution– art for art’s sake, and so on). Things you may or may not heard of– I encourage you to look farther into it and reply with your own favourite group of writers and their pursuit of poetry. There’s also that puzzle– what writing revolution is sweeping the nation today? Will we not know of it until after the century has passed and we are written up in history books? There is something glamorous and exciting about this.

Here are the movements that stand out to me, and a short summary.

The Jindyworobak movement— Started in 1937 in Australia; started by Rex Imagells, and ended by the 1950s. The word Jindyworobak means “to join” or “to annex” in Woiwurrung, and the poetry group attended to a nativist Australian agenda, with the belief that the writing should be in connection to the land and aboriginals of Australia. They often borrowed concepts such as dreamtime and the Aboriginal spiritual beliefs, and revolted against the feeling of the lost land, the lack of true identity on the landscape.

Dertigers— A group of South African poets in the 1930s creating an independent literature in Afrikaans, whose main members were N. P. Van Wyck Louw, W.E.G. Louw, Uys Krige, and Elisabeth Eybers.  They believed in the emotional honesty and intensity of poetry, and ignored the local political factors in favor of a more universal experience. They believe poetry is, as Van Wyck Louw states it, “A form of life itself without which we as humans and we as Afrikaans people could not as a people have a full human and national existence.”

The Beat Generation— An American movement of post-WWII, coming from the idea of beat, “exhausted, at the bottom of the world, looking up or out, sleepless, wide-eyed, perceptive, rejected by society, on your own, streetwise” (Anne Waldman, The Beat Book). A small group of East Coast Writers: Ginsberg, Carr, William Burroughs, and Kerouac, formed their own community yet also joined the movement of a separate phenomenon, the San Francisco Renaissance. Most notably was the famous reading event– the “Six Poets at the Six Gallery”.

The Misty poets, or The Obscures— from 1979 to 1989, a new generation of Chinese Poets challenged the current tradition of social realism and rebelled against the cultural revolution, using metaphors and obscure images to make a social commentary. The four main poets: Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Duo Duo, and Yang Lian were exiled.


Young Vilna (Yung Vilne)— A group of progressive Yiddish Poets in the early 1930’s living in Vilna, Lithuania. They lived (and died) through the Holocaust, and during times of persecution acted as both soldiers and poets, their work spreading through the community. Chaim Grade, and Abraham Sutzkever would both grow to fame after these events, as well as their poems about the time. Within the movement is a disparity in the writing, yet they wrote inspired by the same events and in the same community.

Sturm und Drang— meaning “storm and stress,” a phrase referring to a group of German writers of the 1770s who rebelled against the current ideals of objectivity and rationalism, and believed that passion and creative confusion was better than orderliness. Through emotion and the yearn to return to nature, and folk styles in order to convey these things, writers such as Johann Heinrich Merck, Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, and Friedrich Maximilian Klinger published quite a lot of pieces voicing their opinions.

The Society of Fireflies, also known as the Sosyete Koukouy–is a Haitian group of writers writing in Creole. It was founded in 1965 by Pye Banbou (Ernst Mirville), Togiram (Emile Celestin-Megie), Jan Mapou (Jean-Marie  Willer-Denis), who were persecuted, jailed, and exiled by the Duvalier Dictatorship. They extended their influence to friends in the United States and published there.

 

These are only some of many fascinating historical movements in poetry, and there are many others inspired by or in reaction to the previous revolution. Each group has an ideal and a community, a vision and the style and words to carry it out. That is essential to poetry, and even now poetry is undergoing some new direction. It is important to look into the past and identify these perhaps unsung heroes or figures. It has exposed me to so much more of the world, and many more poems, things expressed at the time and culture in a different turn of speech and values. I encourage you to continue searching, reader. Perhaps you already know of a generation of writers that you identify with or with whom you are fascinated. Maybe this has helped you discover more. I sincerely hope that you look farther into the matter– this is only the surface of a rich history– only part of a map– only fragments of a timeline. There is so much to explore.

 


{National Poetry Month} On Form/Space

On Form/Space by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Line Breaks are a godsend.

 

I propose the reason why poets seem so lazy with proper punctuation is that line breaks are a punctuation of themselves. They immediately express that the writing is a poem, and that sliver of blank space breaks thoughts apart like paragraphs in an essay do– makes the reader breathe.

Some poets make line breaks subconsciously. I try my best to consider and do it intentionally. They can be subtle or just as obvious to the reader.

 

What about an even more aggressive approach to poetry. That visual challenge– that visual punch to the gut, where you gasp as if amazed by the beauty of it. Concrete poetry.

For me, this entails an enthusiastic relationship with e. e. cummings, master of the form. It also led me into the fantastic world of using Adobe Indesign to mess with my writing (moving text boxes around Microsoft Word gets tedious and terribly annoying). Just as one line changed can change the entire poem, you can use the very placement of the exact same words to create different meaning. This can be as simple as choosing to break apart an idea into two stanzas, or as avant-garde as e. e. cummings by smashing them together with no spaces at all like claustrophobias best friend.

 

Shape can be as simple as writing a poem about a shark, and shaping the poem into a literal

shark. It can capture the energy of the subject of a poem, just like e. e. cummings’ “Grasshopper

or give the reader a choice in how to read it. It can be clever and give messages within messages via (parentheses) all sorts of (glorious) contraptions prompting (interruptions) side-tracking and even interruptin (thewordallsmashedto) g(ether).

It can float, or sink, or startlingly center–

shout

out

as

the

words

all

drift

apart

but the meaning becomes all too clear.

Hard to read perhaps, but clear nonetheless. This is both an elegant solution to the subtext of poetry, and also the poet having way too much fun.

It can go overboard, but it can also be wildly successful. Many a poem I’ve written have become so much less boring and flat when I messed with the layout. It also gives the reader either a puzzle to entertain themselves with, or something nice to hang on the wall (now I’m really wanting that shark poem).

 

I also absolutely adore Designer and Poet, Sara Michas-Martin, who recently published Gray Matter, and just as beautiful as her dissection of the human body in human spaces is the design of the book. Her BFA really stands out, as apparently she designed the whole thing herself.

What comes across as simply a pattern of indenting gives a whole new breath to her poems, or whether they are single spaced or broken up into gaping two-line stanzas. For sheer aesthetic quality, they are amazing even before you read them, which you are then touched by to be flabbergasted further. To quote a line from her poem “Vision,”

The street vendor craves often

an aerial view.

 

This line summarizes some of what I am attempting to describe. We crave an aerial view. We are startled, challenged, and invigorated by the difference each poet chooses to interweave with their work, and although the drastic concrete poems may not be your preference, each poem has a careful choice that leads you when to breathe, when to leave you moving to the next idea and/or stanza, and what is grouped together. Maybe I prefer this type of form more than the form determined by syllables and rhyme scheme.

 

Seek out the echoes of meaning to the way it looks on a page. The next poem you read, pay more attention to what choices the poet made, and maybe how the meaning or impression you got would have changed if the stanza or line break had been in a different place instead. Be intentionally observant in your interpretation of the poem. It is not every day (nor month) that people are willing to sit down and get to know a piece of poetry, and it is days (and months) like this that call for us not just to read, or write, but to explore all parts of this world.

 

So, yes, spacing may be the last thing on your mind on every given day. But it is there. For example, I could have easily clumped this entire piece into one paragraph. Or separated it into a million different lines. I am calling you to this detail.  This could be a poem

in and

of itself.

So see space. structure space. space is what surrounds the earth and fills the world, what allows you to stand so far away from the highway. It is no less important in writing.


{National Poetry Month} On Matters of Survival

On Matters of Survival by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

What if poetry was a matter of survival?

I admit to asking this now only because I recently picked up one of my favorite most ridiculous books as I was reorganizing: The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks.

Let’s pose this hypothetical exercise, because life-or-death situations really make a point:

The survival in communication. Usually people read Shakespeare and a common misconception is that people of the Elizabethan era actually speak in poetic verse–which is not the case. But what if it was? What if it is? Oral tradition and the common use of poetry has all but gone out the window, but what if you could only speak in poetry?

Maybe this is less about surviving an apocalypse with poetry, but rather,  all about prioritizing. I am sure the majority of the reason why we do not read or appreciate much poetry is that it is fairly unobtrusive in day-to-day life. The poetry section of the bookstore is either hidden in the corner of the store, or mixed in with the eclectic and often-ignored mythology section. But how important would reading poetry become if it were crucial in either something culturally important to us (like the password to the wifi) or something survival-oriented (like some sort of food)? How present in our lives would it be if it was something like the zombie apocalypse?

Why is poetry important anyhow? Why is it crucial? Perhaps it uses the words we cannot express in any other way. In the hard times, in the lovely eras, in the inbetweens we exist in. I am already starting to capture the dimension of poetry that makes it so startlingly potent.

 

Currently poetry is one of those subcultures that emerges occasionally to breathe. Some standout voice may make it into a history lesson or force of protest. Maybe poetry is one of those city workers who mow the lawns of the median, and everything would be chaos without it, but nobody is going to appreciate it until then. I should have posted this on day 1 or 2 to really give a pep talk about the importance of poetry, but I didn’t even think of writing about this until now (thank Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide). I am already part of a community, and once you begin connecting with poets and the world they live in, you can be immersed in a hidden world of poetry organizations, awards and journals, and readings.

There is no sports team for us to become hooked on. But if there was, National Poetry Month 2015 could be a madness. In fact, it could grow enough for there to be a poetry season.

Maybe it’s not because of the lack of exposure that people aren’t reading poetry. But if it is, then we need to work harder to make a bigger presence. Expand the poetry section in the book store. Organize and publicize more events. Introduce poetry to people you know, with the handy phrase, “Oh, did you know it’s National Poetry Month? I’ve been following this really awesome blog talking about it– you should check it out…”

If you feel awkward starting conversations with people about poetry, just remember that at some point, the ability to know and create poetry could save lives, and indeed– be the only form of survival left.

—–

An anthology for you…. Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End Days (2013) Edited by Alexander Lumans and Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum.

Brian Barker’s poems: “In the City of Fallen Rebels” and “The Last Songbird


{National Poetry Month} On Exquisite Corpses

On Exquisite Corpses by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Poetry is not usually a team sport. There is a beautiful community of poets, and we are drawn to each other and discuss our work and the condition of the world. But Poetry itself has always felt predominately individual.

To prove this assumption wrong, I sat down this afternoon with the poets I attend school with and we began our poems, then relinquished them to each other. To fate. Like giving your baby to a friend you’re somewhat in contact with for a few years to see how they raise it. And then your friend gives away your baby to someone you have no contact with. And then that person gives it to another.

Let me explain.

Exquisite Corpse is a sort of ‘game’ of poetry. An icebreaker at parties. A way to change it up, I suppose. What you do is you begin with writing one or a few lines (sometimes a stanza) of a poem. Then you give it to the person next to you, they read what you have, and write a few lines based off of that to continue the poem. This is where things get interesting, because they then fold the paper and give it to the person next to them that can now only see what they wrote, not your original piece. Repeat. Each person is only writing based off of the line they read of the person before them.

Thus, giving your baby away, and it being raised in a potentially completely different way than you planned. It may end up a serial killer when you wanted it to be an artist sans psychopathic tendencies. What a shame. But how exciting to see how it turned out! You can, of course, blame the person in front of you for giving you skewed information if one part doesn’t make sense with the rest of the poem, but more often than not when you read the whole poem aloud, it has morphed into a surprisingly cohesive and most definitely diverse piece.

The form was pioneered by Andre Breton while he was exploring the possibilities of chance. It was coined ‘Exquisite corpse’ for the first line ever produced by this method: “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”

Surrealists loved to play word games, and both they and Dadaists “courted the mistique of accident” (according to Hirsch’s Poet’s Glossary) in what are called Aleatory Techniques. Aleatory comes from the latin Alea, a dice game.

For example, I set out and sent around and gathered up this poem to make a bouquet of flowers from the fields of different minds:

The brighter days slow into eternal dusk,

and we are living in sunsets that bring an

eternal contemplation: I am not one to have revelations,

but the stars beg me to differ;

I loved the moon once,

 

the sun and moon have their mouths full, arms

wrapped around in a sort of eclipse

that decorates, dominates the sky and

shifts my eyes out of focus,

 

there’s an unearthly tension as the sun is tugging on the sky

There’s a strange fascination in watching our world become bathed in the vespers of prolific light

But I’ve always longed for nightime breaths that swallow more sleep than I’m used to.

Light is never still, it seems.

 

Collecting soft and still

like dust on the sleeves of travelers, this heavenly light becomes so commonplace.

 

So spit your hate, put it out with the heel of your shoe.

The cops won’t catch you if you sweep the ashes under the rug.

 

I am choosing to leave a trail of sunlight as my evidence,

disembodied forensics and fragmented truth.

 

This evening stroll,

cigarette discarded and casting embers of its own,

has become something otherworldly and

somehow dangerous.

 

You’ll notice that the part about cops and spitting hate is the divergent piece, that sort of dice roll incongruent with the rest of the results, which delights me more than actually disturbs me, because these are the sorts of things that no writer in their right mind would purposefully choose to include for the sake of preserving continuity. I, of course, save the last few lines for myself for a recovery period, but I did not feel the need to do too much. This exercise spurred quite a few more poems among all of us, and we started each of our own poems and began passing them around, while listening to an interesting choice of classical music in one end of the room and rap dubstep beats on the other end. I’d like to list some below, and read as many as you choose.

Sometimes I feel like National Poetry Month leaves a bunch of people struggling as to what to do for it. So few places offer concrete creative options, asking/inspiring beyond reading poetry. Well, I’m not much better, but not out of spite– it’s just that so many poet’s have their unique and quirky process, and there is not many things that are concrete. But I enjoy playing a good round of “Exquisite Corpse”, and I encourage everyone else to do the same. It allows for a group of people to laugh and experiment and ultimately create a piece to share and wonder over the results. The different approach disallows poets used to having complete control from having it, leaving it up to some fortune.

And as Surrrealists say, “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” or “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”

Before signing off for today and leaving all you guys to it, I’d like to thank the following poets and associates of mine [Mikayla, Rosie, Addie, Claire, Nadia, Marah, Jackson, Jayden, and Maddie] who I trust as the phenomenal writers they are for contributing to these poems and jumping onboard with this project: I do not know what I would do without you guys!

 

You decay with such alarming delicacy

a skeleton springtime

set in reverse.

You were never really alive enough

to expire with the grace you deserved.

Like a frost come too early

for all beauty to perservere.

 

But you always were a fighter–

what contradiction be found in your resistance

and you simultaneously slip into ruin

(death) we whisper and ignore parentheses.

we picked funeral flowers

for you.

 

Because everything shall cease to exist,

we scattered the petals.

 

Your wall is permanent,

unbreakable,

silent stone eyes of angels on your gravestone;

security cameras?

Eyes of god, maybe?

What’s there left to watch?

 

———————————————————————————-

I wouldn’t have to deal with the heat of your hands in mine

if my apartment caught on fire.

After all, fire’s the clean type of disaster,

and it couldn’t do you justice for this to end like that.

You, after all, were made to stitch wounds without tying threads,

leave me to fester

without a second thought.

Unsterile needles and shattered issues

are scattered among my memories of you,

and all I have are memories–

you are not around to make my own wounds fixed,

though even living, I think you preferred to see me bleed.

So I’ve stitched my scraped knees

with thread I stole

from the hems in your jeans.

I assumed you didn’t need anything else sewn.


goodbye.


{National Poetry Month} On Commemoration

On Commemoration by Natalya Lawren{guest writer}

I never thought I could write a poem about a person– I’d read plenty, but there seemed to be no honest way to approach it. One day I was overcome by perhaps some overwhelming love, or tidal wave of some such emotion, and every once in a while I get the urge to write more specific-people-centric poems. I wouldn’t say I’m the most successful person to do such a thing, but the poems of people I write, I spend hours on the creation and editing. I lay out a careful schematic to express their spirit, and an earnestness to convey my love, and the honesty that draws out flaws like poison to my own lips, cherished as well. Maybe it is not flattering nor beautiful. I do not find strength to write poetry about a sole person that I hate, but there has been incisions of conflict, and my own insecurities, and poems I did not realize were even about a person until recently.

The following poem is going to be published in Literary & Arts magazine Calling Upon Calliope, 2015 as “A Portrait of Sparrow and Poppies.” It has since been further edited and retitled:

A Portrait of Sparrow in Field

way her shoulders

gather like a sparrows–

grace

her jubilee:

breathes soprano.

 

but be careful, see:

discerning more than

song (or) bird–

 

Love is in her sight and flung-out arms,

ferocious squawking

and limbs twitched

and silent scars

encompasses so much and for that

humanity homes in her

 

long awkward limbs

and transition from neck to chin

tilted upwards

she faces stars

I see her distant dreaming on the stage

moon skin and hair: a

shadow of elegant sway.

 

I am swayed.

I am follower,

resolute,

not for love nor muse,

but transfixed by that

lone balloon in the atmosphere,

the birds low dives across bike paths,

reaching for poetry because it is nearby

and an insatiable need to recognize the beautiful things,

 

my friend,

my steadfast metaphor

she is the flicker to the breeze,

the clean cut precision of a blade,

the balance of blustery day and sanctuary,

 

the inimitable determination of pain

each failure and argument and hate

sorrow and when there’s no grace in defeat

 

the hollow space in which we go to sleep

around us the world is unfolding mechanics

the respirator quiets–

pulse leads to poppies

 

she is among the fields

she is the bloom

 

sweet friend,

of bitter loss

and earnest dream.

Natalya Lawren, 2014.

Whether out of grief, compassion, despair, spite, or love, poets write not solely about what they love, but whom. They are not removed from meaningful relationships– indeed artists often seek more meaningful relationships that are a type of art in and of themselves. Thus comes the term of muse, a term which slowly became a reference not to gods, but an idol, a person who stands as a compulsion to write.

Whether people are depicted as vast and burning as a supernova, or the bitter brush of fingers, these characters populate poetry. Verse brings them up like angels or lays them out as fragile human bodies returned to dust. We mourn, we rejoice, we expel our anger upon the world. Sometimes it is a snapshot of a moment, and sometimes it is an amalgamation of the many different aspects of the person. Sometimes it is a direct image, and sometimes a portrait.

If you shattered poetry into it’s frequent subjects, poems about people form a prominent category. Take Shakespeare’s love sonnets for example– some of the best known people in history, even if anonymous. Another popular form is that of an elegy– a poet’s tears splattered so simply on a page to unravel into revelation and memorial.

 

Here is an excerpt of the definition of the term ‘elegy’, as defined in A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch:

elegy A poem of mortal loss and consolation. The word elegy derives from the Greek elegos, ‘funeral lament.’ It was among the first forms of the ancients, though in Greek literature it refers to a specific verse form as well as the emotions conveyed by it.

[…]

Since the sixteenth century, the elegy has designated a poem mourning the death of an individual or a solemn meditation on the passing of human life. The elegy does what Freud calls “the work of mourning.” It ritualizes grief into language and thereby makes it more bearable. The great elegy touches the unfathomable and originates in the unspeakable, in unacceptable loss. It allows us to experience mortality. It turns loss into remembrance and delivers an an inheritance. It opens a space for retrospection and drives a worldless anguish toward the consolations of verbal articulation and ceremony.

The sense of overwhelming loss that powers the poetry of lamentation exists in all languages and poetries.

Hirsch has also written a book-long elegy for his son, eponymously titled Gabriel. A portion describes Gabriel as:

 

Like a spear hurtling through darkness

He was always in such a hurry

To find a target to stop him

 

Like a young lion trying out its roar

At the far edge of the den

The roar inside him was even louder

 

Like a bolt of lightning in the fog

Like a bolt of lightning over the sea

Like a bolt of lightning in our backyard

 

Like the time I opened the furnace

In the factory at night

And the flames came blasting out

 

I was unprepared for the intensity

Of the heat escaping

As if I’d unsheathed the sun

 

This poetry is that selfless act of describing that also lets the individual come to terms with their emotions and perceptions. Perhaps these poems– elegies, love poems, ballads, even the occasional limerick, are born out of remembrance. They are  a commemoration. Formed from camaraderie. They can be a message– an interaction, a plea, a confession. They capture an intimation of that relationship, and a breathtaking image of the person as living on the page.

 

Poetry is powerful in society, and it is not because of only what is written of the object, experience or even humanity as a whole. It is the thought of the individual, and what is more human? What is more intimate?

 

It is a relationship. In school, I’ve been told that whenever analyzing something, I should look at the author. Who is the poet, separated from me by distance and time? They must’ve loved somebody, or perhaps grieved in that they loved nobody. Maybe I love their far-off lady too, I grieve as well as they.

As I mentioned on Day 2, poetry should not be isolating. There are people behind the words, and communities of these people who write together, and people expressed by the words they weave. You are a person, reader, so let’s address that too.

This web becomes meta. The reader, the poet, the subject of each person’s different impression and whim are all on display here, so closely interconnected.

 

I encourage everyone to go out and be around one another. Describe what strikes you about them and write it all down. Read poems about and addressing people and imagine the poet and people involved.

 

Contemplation is good. It allows us to fully love and understand people.

 

Action is also good. It creates community, and drives us to participate in each other’s live. It has us communicate and share our appreciation with the people we are with.

 

This is what stands through time and space, hardships and distractions of even the best sort.

Don’t wait until Valentine’s Day to share your feelings through poetic form.

Whether it be a letter, or a limerick, or a conversation, I am attempting to bring National Poetry Month as a spur towards living life fully and looking at poetry as it truly stands. Not an obligation or assignment, but something to be cherished in the way that it cherishes and contributes to the world. Cherish words. Cherish people.

 

Suggested reading list– poems about people:

Edward Hirsch’s Gabriel  (Knopf, 2014). A book-length elegy for his son.

Larry Levis’s “Photograph: Migrant Worker, Parlier, California, 1967” from his book Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)

Li-Young Lee’s “Mnemonic” from his book Rose (BOA Editions ltd, 1993)

“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

“Marriage” by Sara Michas-Martin from Gray Matter (Fordham, 2015)

“The Word Damn and the Word God” by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum from the book Ghost Gear (Arkansas Press, 2015)

“This is the Pink” by David J. Daniels from his book Clean (Four Way Books, 2015)


{National Poetry Month} On Whimsy in Poetry

On Whimsy in Poetry by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

cover art for Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends

 

From the abandon of Doctor Seuss to the witty verse of Shel Silverstein, whimsical poetry often brightens our childhood and then somehow disappears from mention thereon. This is a bid to bring this form and style back!

The poem I’ve chosen to focus on today is a far cry from the controversial subject of “Howl”, but is just as revolutionary in another way.

So may I present to you a childhood favorite–

illustration by John Tenniel from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

“The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll from Through The Looking Glass

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

and the mome raths outgrabe.

 

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!’

 

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought-

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

 

And as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

 

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

 

‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

He chortled in his joy.

 

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

and the mome raths outgrabe.

 

Even Alice comments on the poem:

‘It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, ‘but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate –’

Yes, at any rate, we seem to understand this poem to some extent where we pick up on the cognates and overall narrative. We connect the nonsensical words to what we already know, and though the creatures are barely referenced in detail, the general gist seems to be enough to create an image, even the style and rhyme scheme of this poem accomplish this. Carroll has many chants and narrative poems of this nature scattered throughout his books. What I love about poems such as these is that they do not put any special effort to be understandable, nor any pretenses of sophistication. They bring out the inner child, and call this nostalgia, but the fond memories of reading at a young age are captured like the paper is flypaper.

It is arguable whether the purpose of whimsy is negligible, or whether it all serves as some conduit for deeper portent. Just as fairy tales warn children not to wander into the forest or eat/enter their neighbor’s houses, some poems do the same, implanting some subconscious rhyme to remember at the youngest age. But this poem– well, it perhaps instructs the history of Wonderland, or how to kill a Jabberwocky, or avoid the Jubjub bird and fearsome Bandersnatch. Seuss teaches us the vital lesson that we should avoid green colored eggs and ham– because, as implied by the overall poem, they must be covered in mold.

Something interesting I stumbled across as I was looking up Doctor Seuss poems on the internet to refresh my memory: there were more parody versions of mocking hateful political opinions than the actual original! And I am just as opinionated as the next person, but that was why I brought up “Howl”.

I suppose this discovery brings me back around the the previous point I had made about whether whimsy served a purpose. Demonstrated in some of these parody poems, it shows that the form and rhyme, the way we speak and see these poems, still contains the light innocence and joy, and in the case of parody only furthers the dementedness and sarcasm of these replacing words. And if ignoring this alternate use, we have something moving in its own way.

Literature does not have to be dark to make a statement, nor do they have to speak down to an audience. The rules of language and understanding have long been trodden on, and that is how we have some of the words we use in day-to-day speech, whether it be the ‘street slang’ or one of the many words Shakespeare invented. I think that just like we can understand something even from a different use of words, we can love whimsy and oddity even if we cannot yet admit it.

From what I can tell, growing up seems to mean becoming serious, and I do not think that it matters much. We are serious and righteous often anyhow, and just like some tranquil line of poetry can strike and stroke some blossoming joy, a short ditty and carefree creation brightens the day and the pages, and hopefully National Poetry Month 2015 as well.

Laugh. Revisit your childhood favorite or seek out a new childish favorite. I suggest “Hippopotamus Sandwich” by Shel Silverstein for L, who I remember has always loved it. Share these and do not be ashamed in uttering nonsense or inanity.

You can be Alice if you like. Or you can chortle in joy, and pull out your vorpal blade. There is a Jabberwock to slay and poetry to share.

Oh Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay!

 


{National Poetry Month} On 5th Grade Obsessions & Poetry

On Combining 5th Grade Obsessions and Poetry by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

nate cootie catch 1

You may call them Fortune Tellers or Cootie Catchers, but ultimately, they’re the 5th grade obsession. Recently, I and a group of students led a workshop for some elementary-students, and we made cootie catchers as prompts.

I wondered if I could do the same thing for poetry. The origami was the easy part (surprisingly). It was what to put on each flap that was difficult. Each different one I made was on a different scale– one on subject and overall imagery, another was a series of lines, one was a series of words. I did not try to break up the parts of the word, although I was tempted.

The design was a challenge because ordinarily, poetry is not mix and match. But what I did find out was that the difference a single line makes is extraordinary. Poetry is versatile enough to have so many different meanings and interpretations that change with a line is truly amazing. I am not trying to demean the poet’s craft in saying that any mix of lines creates a good poem– I struggled to find the ways it could work in insuring a good result. But I think that it is important for poetry to be something interactive, hands-on and accessible. This, as well as acknowledging how each part contributes or mutates the poem, is an often-unexplored approach. Well, at least as far as it comes to cootie catchers.

nate cootie catch 2

I asked several people to help me test them out, and people’s amusement was good. That is the appeal of choose-your-own adventure after all– you get to decide for yourself, with mixed results.

What I encourage others to do is make some of their own. You can find tutorials of how to make cootie catchers online (I used WikiHow), and from there you can put first lines on the outside, the middle lines on the inner section, and the final lines on the innermost. It is far more difficult than I expected initially, and requires a good deal of thought, but the byproduct is always amusing.

I also found this poetry generator, which isn’t as hands-on and fun, but is also an interesting experience. We’ve been talking about how poetry is part of everyday and how it questions everyday life, and this is literally putting it into your (the readers) hands.


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