Enjoying poetry

July 7, 2011

I’ve never enjoyed poetry a great deal, though there are individual poems I like very much. It’s something I can enjoy in small doses, but I have rarely sat and read poetry the way I sit and read a novel or a non-fiction book. Even a single poem that is too long to fit on one page rarely draws my interest.

There are narrative poems that are an exception to that. I enjoyed reading “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” when I was in ninth grade, and Macbeth when I was in eleventh grade. But I think of those more as stories told in verse than as poems – I read primarily to enjoy the story, and to a lesser extent the rhythm and sound. I didn’t have to spend much time trying to decipher meaning wrapped up in mysterious metaphors.

On a recent trip to the library, I decided to try again to find something both interesting and educational in the non-fiction section. This time I ended up looking at books of poetry, and remembered that there are a couple of poems I particularly like by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I looked in the catalog to see if I could find more of his poetry, but the anthologies referenced only contained the poems I already knew.

One of these, however, intrigued me for another reason. There are two volumes entitled Chapter into Verse, which consist of poetry based on Scripture. (Some poems are based wholly on a passage of Scripture, others merely make a reference to it somewhere.) As one volume was for the Old Testament and one for the New, I decided to start with the Old Testament.

I had expected that I would just read a bit here and there as I do with most poetry anthologies, but instead I have now finished nearly half the volume. It helps, of course, that I have a good idea of the content of the Old Testament. I don’t know what poets I will be reading, or what direction they will take with any particular passage, but I feel like I am in more or less familiar territory.

One surprise is that I am particularly enjoying the poetry of George Herbert. I vaguely recognized the name as a poet from centuries ago, which are usually not among those I enjoy most. The older poems often seem to be rather long, and when they are published using the original spelling (which was not standardized until a couple hundred years ago), I find that rather distracting.

Fortunately, the editors of Chapters into Verse chose to modernize the spelling. As a result, I wasn’t even sure, initially, whether I correctly remembered George Herbert as an “old” poet. So far my favorites have been “Aaron” and “The Bunch of Grapes.” (The links I found, unfortunately, do not modernize the spelling.) If you are not familiar with his poetry, I hope you enjoy these as an introduction to his work.

Box poem

April 22, 2010

A “square poem” is definitely a challenge to write. I like a challenge, however, so I squared my shoulders and squared off against it. Several times I decided my efforts were going nowhere, I deleted everything I had written and went back to square one. (My first attempt was to write about squares.) Today I started over again, thinking about boxes (which are often square).

Think outside the box. Think inside it too.
Outside the lines, inspiration runs free.
The boundless space allows the mind,
Box-unfettered, to wonder, be,
Think, without constraints – for good or ill.
Inside is found tradition’s legacy.
It guides, corrects, clarifies, helps.
Too free, mind be ill. Legacy helps see.

Toenail poems and more

April 20, 2010

Since this is National Poetry Month, it seemed only right that I include at least one post devoted to poetry. From a web page about National Poetry Month I linked to a page where I could look up poems on all sorts of subjects. Many are typical: love, death, seasons, family. Some are more surprising – how often have you wanted to find a poem about sharks?

I decided to look for poems on really offbeat topics. I thought of a few words that seemed unlikely interests of the Muse, and googled “poems” along with words such as “toenail,” “voice mail,” and “bifocals.” I suppose in this internet age of just about anything and everything available with a few keystrokes in a search engine, I shouldn’t have been surprised to get results. But I was.

Here is a toenail poem. It also is an example of a “square poem” (look there for the explanation). So I decided to try my own hand at a square poem. Trying to find a topic at random to write about, I found an interesting site that generates a random word, along with a definition of the word and the first image found that relates to the word. But with or without a random word to get me started, I found the square poem structure very challenging. If I succeed, I’ll make that my next post.

Perhaps I should have realized there would be plenty poems about voicemail. After all, it’s so common in our society that it makes an excellent metaphor for our replacing interpersonal connections with impersonal technology. It also offers lots of opportunities for humor (one could do a whole blog post on funny voicemail/answering machine greetings). Here is one about a teacher’s voicemail greeting.

I thought when I got bifocals I wouldn’t have to keep switching pairs of glasses, as my mother did, but after months of finding myself sitting at the computer with my neck tilted back so I could read the screen through the lower section of my bifocals, I gave in and started switching to a cheap pair of reading glasses. It is much more comfortable – but of course a nuisance every time I get up to leave my desk, or even to look at someone who approaches my desk. I don’t know how good this poem about bifocals is, but I very much like the title: Seeing Is Relieving.

I tried looking around my desk for an object that would not inspire poetry. The stapler? No, here are stapler poems. Hand sanitizer – who could ever write a poem about that? Teachers who want their students to remember to use it. An opened package of copy paper – now that’s really prosaic. No, blank paper is where poems start. How about a calculator? There’s one of those poems too.

I’m guessing that if there are poems about toenails, there must be some about earwax. Of course. And bellybutton lint (you’ll need to scroll down a bit to see the first one). I won’t even try looking for dog poop – I suspect the grosser the subject, the more it appeals to some people. It took me longer to find one a poem that mentions dandruff, but I found one by Robert William Service (author of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”).

I suppose, poetry being a near universal way to deal with the joys, sorrows, and frustrations of the human condition, it’s not surprising that just about everything ends up in a poem somewhere.

Updating my blogroll

January 4, 2010

I’ve recently added some blogs to my computer’s list of Favorites (or bookmarks, or whatever your computer calls the shortcuts you store for easy access), and I decided it’s time to add them to my Blogroll also. That way I can find them easily no matter what computer I’m using, and you can check them out also to see if they’re worth adding to your computer’s Favorites.

One evening I was doing a search regarding the Bible and inerrancy after reading a good post on the subject at Parchment and Pen. One site I landed at was Dr. Platypus, and for a while I got sidetracked from my search, exploring and enjoying Darrell Pursiful’s blog. I’m still waiting for him to fix the link to his Bible reading plan (you can read his post about it but not access the plan itself), which particularly interests me.

Another blog I found that evening was Undeception. Besides some thought-provoking posts about the Bible, I also found several interesting posts regarding evolution. Unlike most blogs I visit, this one doesn’t have – as far as I can find – anything about the person who writes it. All I can tell is that his name appears to be Steve. But I appreciate the kind of discussions that Steve’s posts fuel, as well as the content of the posts themselves.

My new favorite, though, is Bob Hostetler’s Prayer Blog. I was looking for some poem-prayers that I had found and printed over a decade ago. I’m sure I still have them somewhere, but it seemed easier to find them again on the internet than to find them in my house. Much to my delight, I found some if not all of them (I found all the ones I remembered I was looking for), plus some that are new to me, among the prayers here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Short and to the point

September 16, 2009

I never liked school assignments to write haiku poems. The results never sounded very poetic to me, and I got the impression that the purpose of the assignment was to make a way for kids who didn’t know how to write poems to write poems. It’s not that a poem has to rhyme, but just stringing words together according to a certain pattern does not make a poem.

I have discovered, however, that haiku contests produce some good stuff. I don’t know if they’re good poetry, but some of them definitely are humorous or thought-provoking. Several months ago, I read about a haiku contest in thinkgeek.com’s newsletter. I wrote my own haiku and submitted it, but it didn’t win. As I apparently didn’t save it, and I don’t remember it anymore, I can’t say how it compares with some of those that have won.

Since the haikus become the property of thinkgeek.com, I don’t know whether I can legitimately quote any here. But some of them are pretty good. If you don’t have a computer background, you may not understand a few of them. But take a look. Something there should make you smile.

I just read today about a haiku contest in conjunction with the upcoming G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. And this page has Harry Potter haiku. At first I thought it was someone’s clever creation based on characters from the book, but it turns out it actually  takes dialogue from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and writes it as haiku.

You can sample some beer haiku (even if, like me, you don’t like beer). You can even read movie reviews in haiku form. But I think I like these dog haikus the best.

Writing a haiku
Is discipline for the mind:
Short and to the point.

Nothing’s small

March 6, 2009

I noticed in wikiquote today that it is the birthday of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (born 1806). Browning has never been one of my favorite poets, but I do like some of the lines quoted in wikiquote. In particular, I’ve remembered the lines “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God” since I was in ninth grade, and they were part of an anthem we sang in the church choir.

I had sometimes seen the following two lines quoted also: “But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.” But until today I never saw the lines that come before. Here is all of it, from Aurora Leigh Bk. VII, l. 812-826

And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And, – glancing on my own thin, veined wrist, –
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

It reminds me of the idea of “finding God in all things” in St. Ignatius‘ teaching on spirituality. In warm weather when I walk outside more, it is easier to remember, as I drink in the beauty of trees and flowers and sky and clouds and birds and their songs. Lately it has been only in gazing at the starry sky when I walk the dog at night.

But it’s getting warmer! Soon perhaps I can spend more time looking for common bushes afire with God. I’m sure they’re around indoors as well, but somehow they’re harder to see.

Snow on a Sunday afternoon

January 18, 2009

Walking my dog is sometimes as much frustration as relaxation. I walk; she stops to sniff. I stroll; she gallops. Besides trying to keep her from pooping in a neighbor’s yard or dashing in front of a passing car, I have to deal with her tendency to get the leash wrapped around her legs – and when I try to free them she struggles and gets tangled even more.

But this afternoon we stepped outside and the air just felt so peaceful. After the subzero temperatures of Thursday and Friday, today felt quite comfortable, just a few degrees below freezing. The snow was falling lightly, filling the air around us and dampening sounds, but adding very little to the thin layer of snow already covering the ground from last night.

We meandered up the street, Kyra stopping to stick her muzzle in the snow here and there sniffing for who knows what. I found myself more interested in the falling snow than in getting exercise, even waxing poetic about it.

Snowflakes fall softly,
No lightning flash
Or thunder crash,
No beating drums
Or rising floods.
Only gentle
Snowflakes come.

Sometimes God’s love comes with thunder
Or dazzling flashes of light,
Sometimes in a flood of miracles,
So that scarcely can anyone wonder
If a God of love and might
Is watching over us.

But mostly
His love gently
Falls like snowflakes.
Each one tiny,
Sometimes shiny,
Barely noticed.
But together
They make up
A mighty covering.