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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Blogger Minnesota Matron said...

My favorite poem -- the first one I ever loved, loved, loved!

The Five-Day Rain
by Denise Levertov

The washing hanging from the lemon tree
in the rain
and the grass long and coarse.

Sequence broken, tension
of sunlight broken.
So light a rain

fine shreds
pending above the rigid leaves.

Wear scarlet! Tear the green lemons
off the tree! I don't want
to forget who I am, what has burned in me
and hang limp and clean, an empty dress ---

May 14, 2012 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Karen Jensen said...

Mary, that is gorgeous. I wonder if I have any scarlet in my closet. If so, I'm wearing it today!

May 14, 2012 at 9:34 AM  
Anonymous Leslie N. Todd said...

I'm wearing a scarlet top today :-)

May 14, 2012 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger RobinEB said...

I took your challenge Karen. I wish I had a great poem from my early years, but I instead pondered the first poem that made a major impact on my life as a poet (which a teacher gave me to read in 7th grade).

This is my post at Vitis Poema:

May 14, 2012 at 11:19 AM  
Blogger smalltownme said...

I had a Golden Book of Poetry, too, and Loved The Owl and the Pussycat.

May 14, 2012 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Karen Jensen said...

Robin, It's great to have you along! Any significant poem will do! And Heidi, I love that poem. I have an even greater fondness for it because my mom once did a print of the Owl and the Pussycat in their beautiful sea-green boat.

May 14, 2012 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger Bluebirdblvd said...

I'm so glad you came up with this idea. It's so potent! And your specific memory of Ogden Nash gives me the best case of the warm fuzzies.

In my imagination, Nash gave you two gifts— poetry and dogs. I think the two are inextricably linked and full of smiling mysteries.

What a beautiful meditation you've written, K—!

May 14, 2012 at 3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Morning K-I am a visitor from Miss BB''s site. I've just perused a lil 'cause I have to go to work. But jes wanted to say that Ogden Nash was also the first poet I memorized and recited (if my [hit and miss] memory serves correctly it was "the octopus"). So yea very nice site will be sure to come back and look around some more...thanks

May 15, 2012 at 8:16 AM  
Blogger Karen Jensen said...

Thanks for coming by, Disfunctional Unit! I read your comment on Bluebird's post and see you are a poet. I'll be stopping by to read your blog, as well!

May 15, 2012 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger shrink on the couch said...

I remember memorizing and reciting in front of my 1st grade class, RLS's "I have a little shadow that goes everywhere with me." I don't remember much but the first two lines (and how long it took me to memorize).

More recently, I love to listen to The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. The selected poems he reads make me wish I was more of a poem appreciator. It's what I need - someone to sift through and read favorites to me. Because if I pick up a book of poems I lose interest so quickly, reading one after the other.

June 24, 2012 at 2:13 AM  
Blogger Karen Jensen said...

Oh, yes. What you need is a lovely man or woman to lie beside you in bed and read to you while you sip tea or wine or something relaxing and close your eyes. THAT is how poetry should be heard. (That or a loud coffee house with someone shouting in a mic--depends upon the type of poetry).

June 24, 2012 at 8:07 PM  

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