Friday, February 8, 2008


Poetry has always been part of my life. When I was very small, my father used to read terrible poetry to me in a sing-song voice. If I paid attention long enough to the words I didn't like them. But it was usually late in the evening, and I was a sleepy child, and the rhythm of his voice was pleasant. That's what I heard - the rhythm. As I grew older I listened harder and lost interest in the trite verses he read; but the idea of poetry, the feel of it, the fascination, was there. To be fair, he did sometimes read me good poetry. To him it was all the same I think, but I learned the distinction early on. At that time I did love A Child's Garden of Verses. Thank you Mr. Stevenson. Later my sister read to me, things like Alice in Wonderland. The Jaberwok and Father William delighted me and I learned that other types of poetry existed.

From there, I took off on my own, exploring a world my parents found puzzling. Why would a child want to sit and read books? Why would she want to spend Saturday afternoons in the library? I found A. A. Milne quite by accident at a friend's home and promptly fell in love. What a lucky child, Christopher Robin! (How sad for future generations of children that Mr. Disney robbed them of knowing the original version.)

I will be ever grateful to the librarian of our elementary school. I don't remember her name or even her face, but I am aware of the social stmosphere of the time and place, and am reasonably sure that she might have lost her job and books would have been burned if the Board of Education had been aware of how she stocked those shelves. In the fourth grade I discovered the poetry shelf. I found poets like Countee Cullen and James Weldon Johnson. I saved my allowance and bought myself On These I Stand and God's Trombones. My parents looked puzzled and shook their heads.

Of course I had to try my hand. In the fifth grade we were assigned the reading of Evangeline. I won't even try to describe the way in which my prissy, old-maid teacher presented it. But, too late! I'd already read ahead!. And immediately I sat myself down to pen an epic poem of my own. (It was pretty horrendous.) In the sixth grade our assignment was an ode for Memorial Day. I was rather proud of that one. I entitled it An Ode for Memorial Day. How clever was that? But it was printed in the school paper, and I was forced to read it in assembly for the whole school. I was pretty full of myself. I do believe that was the only time I was ever published, but I could have filled many tomes with my efforts. Still do it, occasionally. No more romantic epics, I assure you. Perhaps more an attempt at the style of Carl Sandburg.

My brother fancied himself a poet. When he returned from Europe at the end of World War II his duffle bag was full of his efforts. After his death some years ago, his daughter sent me some of his later work. He tried hard, bless him, but in my opinion his poetry was pretty bad - even worse than mine.

My youngest child makes my heart sing! She is, indeed, a poet.

Because it is Black History Month, I believe it might be appropriate to end with a favorite from
Countee Cullen:


"Locked arm in arm, they cross the way,
The black boy and the white.
The golden splendor of the day,
The sable pride of night.

From lowered blinds the dark folk stare,
And here the fair folks talk,
Indignant that these two should dare
In unison to walk.

Oblivious to look and word
They pass, and see no wonder
That lightning brilliant as a sword
Should blaze the path of thunder."

Remembering that this was written back in the 20's, please, God, don't let these words describe attitudes today nor in our future.


kenju said...

I always enjoyed reading poetry when I was in school, Bobbie, but I have not done much of it in the past few years. I only attempted to write a little, when I had to. A small poem of mine was once published in a book of high school student's poems, but it was awful.

Shelly said...

Bobbie, the poem is beautiful...but heartbreaking. And your reminder of Evangeline,
7th grade for me ...Mrs. VanBalen..I can still hear her voice, I remember so clearly how she embraced the kids that "got it", sadly I wasn't one of those kids...but I wanted to be.

Dianne said...

thank you for putting that poem out there. how beautiful it is.

Minnesotablue said...

A beautiful poem. I only remember one poem: Trees.

pink dogwood said...

beautiful poem - thanks for sharing, brought tears to my eyes.

My yoga teacher starts and end our practice every Saturday with a poem - she picked this one the Saturday after Martin Luther King's day:

"We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fish, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers."

And this is so evident with the current elections. I cannot believe that in this day and age we even consider the race and the gender of the candidates, instead of focusing on them as a person.

Thanks for sharing a great post and do share some of your own poetry - I cannot imagine it being bad when it comes from such kind, beautiful heart :)

bobbie said...

Thank you, pink dogwood, for the lovely verse. Do you know the author?

No, you wouldn't want to read my attempts at poetry any more. My daughter's is beautiful, but I don't want to print it here, in case she is looking for publication elsewhere.

pink dogwood said...

The author for the verse is Dr. King himself.

I wish your daughter luck - hope she publishes it sometime.

nina at Nature Remains. said...


Have you read Anne Morrow Lindberg's, "A Gift From the Sea".

It's a small book, wonderful reading, often forgotten between others on our library shelves.

bobbie said...

Thank you, Nina. I am re-reading it now. A wonderful little book.