Saturday, March 17, 2007

Where have all the poems gone? You know - like "I think that I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a tree."
Or, "Blessings on thee, little man /barefoot boy with cheeks of tan..."

The first is by WWI poet Joyce Kilmer - back when Joyce could be a man's name - from his poem "Trees".

The second is by John Greenleaf Whittier, who if I remember correctly was also responsible for the immortal lines , "Under the spreading chestnut tree/ The village smithy stands."

Back in the way, way, way olden times, we had a thing called "Poem Study" in grade school. We had to learn a poem every week and be prepared to stand up and recite it from memory. Since I went to a parochial school, our poem study book had standard poetry in it and poems from Catholic poets like Kilmer. But the poems all had classic rhythmns and they rhymed - all of them. When we got to seventh and eighth grade and were lucky enough to read some Gerard Manley Hopkins (I read him in fifth grade because I was a poetry geek), we learned that poetry that rhymed and had rhythmn could also be exciting and bizarre. We also experienced some Walt Whitman - a poet who rhymed only when he absolutely had to -"Oh Captain, my Captain".

In high school, I fell in love with free form poetry, Allen Ginsburg, and oh my heavens - one of my favorites still - e. e. cummings - Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dylan Thomas, beloved because a folksinger changed his last name to the poet's first name, T. S. Eliot - heavy intoxicating stuff, even some of the writings of Teillhard de Chardin... and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Sara Teasdale, H. D. Doolittle, Emily Dickinson.

But for recitation purposes, the poems of James Whitcomb Riley still stand firm - "Frost on the punkin", and "Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay/ to wash the cups and saucers up/ and brush the crumbs away..."

My MIL is nearing the end of her life. She asked someone to buy her a book of poems - "Best Loved Poems" But times have changed and only one or two Riley poems were in there. He wrote thousands, you know. She asked me to find "Out to Old Aunt Mary's" a couple of weeks ago - but I got busy and then I got sick and I found it only today - Thanks to the 24/7 reference "AskPA" , a 24 hour online helpline staffed by public and academic librarians from around the state and beyond. (You can access AskPA from your public library's website - if you live in Pennsylvania). Claire from New York (New York has a similar help line) found a full text version of this extremely long, maudlin poem with the tear-jerker ending that people of my MIL's generation loved. But in my search, I thought of several other poems that I loved when I was small.

Like "Out to Old Aunt Mary's", the poems are nostalgic, rhythmic and rhyming. Some told stories and others were silly and I love them all.

I have a new quest. I will hunt down and find the best of the old recitables into my personal collection.

Do you have a favorite recitable poem? Let me know.

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