Professor J's Place

14 May, 2012

It's a blog carnival! About Poetry! It's a Poetry Carnival!

My darling friend Bluebird at Bluebird Blvd. was writing about poetry recently. It's something she often does, bless her heart. It got me thinking, as her posts are wont to do, and I wrote to her about the first poem I memorized. We decided it would be fun for both of us to write about the poems of our childhoods, so that's what we're doing today!
This is the book I grew up with. First published in 1959, The Golden Treasury of Poetry was compiled for an audience of children, but not once did it talk down to its audience. With delightful illustrations by Joan Walsh Anglund and poems that ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, this book was my introduction to the joy and music in language.

When I teach poetry, which I seldom do, I talk about how we are hard wired for poetry. What do children like to read and have read to them? Poetry!

It's the heart beat, I think. The rhythm in our blood.  

I, like most children was first attracted to poems that rhyme. It's the rhyme that makes it playful.

The rhythm and the rhyme and patterns seep into your body and your brain. Ask any child. Go on. I'll wait.

All of the first several poems I memorized came from this book. And--this may come as some surprise--they all involved dogs, either as the theme or a character. Here's the early poem I always share with my students. It is by the wonderful Ogden Nash.

An Introduction to Dogs

The dog is man's best friend.
He has a tail on on end.
Up in front he has teeth.
And four legs underneath.

Dogs like to bark.
They like it best after dark.
They not only frighten prowlers away
But also hold the sandman away.

A dog that is indoors
To be let out implores.
You let him out and what then?
He wants back in again.

Dogs display reluctance and wrath
If you try to give him a bath.
They bury bones in hideaways
And half the time they trot sideways.

They cheer up people who are frowning,
And rescue people who are drowning.
They also track mud on beds,
And chew people's clothes to shreds.

Dogs in the country are fun.
They run and run and run.
But in the city this species
Is dragged around on leashes.

Dogs are upright as a steeple
And much more loyal than people.

I recite this poem to my students for two reasons: I want them to remember that poetry is fun, and I want them to remember that it does not always involve analysis to understand a poem. And I want to rhyme leashes with species and sideways with hideaways. Just say it. Leash-ies. Side a ways. You're smiling now, aren't you? You can't help it.

What else did I learn about poetry from "An Introduction to Dogs"? It tells the universal truth: there is nothing false about this poem, every line is true, and each truth speaks to all dog lovers. It uses precise and often surprising diction. "Dogs display reluctance and wrath / If you try to give them a bath." The words may be odd (reluctance and wrath), but after you read them, you couldn't imagine another word working better.

Another reason to love poetry? It impresses other people when you recite and/or read it. My mother was my first appreciative audience, moving on to teachers, girlfriends, and now students. Poetry is meant to be spoken. Even poetry that is meant to be seen on the page, like that of e. e. Cummings, needs to be read aloud by someone who does not fear poetry.

I would share some of the other poems I learned with you, but this post is already long. Let's make it another post at another time, shall we?

Now I invite you to head on over to Bluebird Ave and read about Reading Poetry in the Big Chief Years. I just know you're going to love Bluebird!

Also stop in to see my friend Robin over at Vitis Poema. Robin likes to write about poetry and wine. She takes life one poem and one glass at a time!

And we invite you to join us in this carnival. Just write about your childhood poem(s) and reply to this post or to Bluebird's post with the address of your blog. We'll add a link to your post!

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