Thursday, November 12, 2015

Baby Shower Poem

My wife Claire and I are expecting our first child in early 2016, so Claire's mom threw us a baby shower at the beginning of November.  As thank-you gifts, Claire's mom got everyone daffodil bulbs.  Claire made an illustration for little cards that were going to be attached to the bulbs (see below).



On the inside of the cards Claire had printed directions for how to plant the bulbs.  At the last minute, I asked if I could instead write a little poem to go inside.  I sat down for about fifteen minutes and came up with this:

Daffodils

Thank you for coming to our baby shower.
To show you our thanks, we got you this flower!
Right now it's in bulb form, still packed up inside,
Like the baby in Claire, who's going to hid
Until the new year, when her cries fill our room.
Follow these steps to have a quieter bloom!

Take the height of the bulb and times it by two,
or three, or four, or five; it's all up to you.
Bury it that far underneath fertile soil,
And if you would like a small tip for less toil,
Make sure the ground's freezing is one month away.
Be patient and wait, and on one special day
Your flower will arrive in its flower form,
Just like our daughter will be happily born!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My 2013-2014 Poetry Activity

It's been more than a year since I updated this blog, but believe it or not, I am still reading and thinking about poetry every day.  Here's what I have been reading in the last year or so:

It took me months and months, but I finally read every poem in the Faber Book of Children's Verse.  On the whole I would classify this anthology as "a stinker."  Any poems in here that I did enjoy (Lewis Carroll, etc.), I had already read in other collections.  The rest was hard to penetrate, either because it was referencing ancient British historical events which were very boring to this American reader, or because of the use of antiquated language (olde english? Gaelic?) that went over my head.

I'm not sure how an anthology with chapter headings such as "Kings, Queens and Heroes", "Magic", "Witches, Charms and Spells" and "Marvels and Riddles" could be so dull, but it was.  I feel sorry for any child who had this collection as their only introduction to poetry growing up.  Zzzzz.  I am not keeping this book!

The one exception was a great poem called "Etiquette" by Sir W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame).  In the poem, two gentlemen are stranded on a desert island, but they have not been introduced, so they refuse to talk to each other.  A bit of digging revealed that Sir Gilbert has a book of verse called "The Bab Ballads" which sounds so up my alley that I just ordered a copy.  If the rest of that collection is as enjoyable as "Etiquette" than I believe my reading of The Faber Book of Children's Verse will not have been in vain.

Last May, Greg took Claire and I to the Goodwill "Bins" in Portland, OR.  Claire bought a stack of VHS tapes and I bought a few books, including The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, which was going for $1.00 if I remember correctly.  

When Maurice Sendak died a few years ago, I remember reading a bunch of interviews with him, and in one he mentioned that he loved Emily Dickinson's work.  A few months ago I finally pulled this book out of my "READ ME" box and started reading a few of her poems each morning, before I write.

I would say about 1 in 50 really connects with me, and makes me actually feel something.  I suspect that ratio is more due to my own lack of sophistication and intelligence, rather than Ms. Dickinson's.  Anyway, I read her poetry on the toilet, so I'm pretty sure that's exactly how she wanted her work to be experienced.  :P

Three years after discovering his work, I still think that Ogden Nash is the greatest poet that ever lived.   I have dutifully been keeping an eye out for any of his collections at used book stores, flea markets, etc.  In the last year or so, I have come across three:



1) Bed Riddance: A Posy for the Indisposed with illustrations by Milton Glaser, published in 1969.  This is a collection of his poems all about health problems, going to the doctor, insomnia, etc. etc. etc.

AUGH, this book is so great it makes me want to tear my hair out!  Why doesn't stuff like this exist anymore???  You have a whole book of hilarious rhyming poetry, loaded with wit and wordplay.  Then you get Milton Glaser at the height of his Push-Pin fame to make wonderful, thoughtful illustrations which are interspersed every ten pages or so.  



And this wasn't some highfalutin, snobby poetry book.  It was meant for mass consumption.  You'd buy this book for your friend who was recuperating from surgery.  Something to lighten his mood.

It's so frustrating to me that poetry took the same path of "fine art" in the 1950s and became more abstract and inaccessible.  If you try to talk about poetry with most people now, in 2014, they're like "Poetry? Ugh!" because their only frame of reference is non-ryhming, formless dribble that is only decipherable by the poet who wrote it.  I read a Best American Poetry collection from within the last ten years, and if that's literally the best poetry has to offer these days, then I may just never read another poem written after 1971, the year Ogden Nash died.

2) Every One But Thee And Me with illustrations by John Alcorn, published in 1962.  These little books, with their charming illustrations awaken something deep inside me.  It's a feeling that says "This is exactly the kind of work I want to produce."  If I wasn't already 1400 pages down my cartooning path, I might seriously consider spending all of my creative time trying to master this art form.  I'm still working at it in my spare time (very... slowly...) but I am spending a lot of time these days thinking about ways to incorporate my love of (THIS) poetry into my comics work.  I need to believe that poetry could be made relevant and accessible to the general public again.  

Anyway, I'll get off my soap box, but Alcorn's illustrations are extremely charming and the poems couldn't be better.  My head spins when I start imagining a volume like this produced today.  There are so many great illustrators I would love to see approach work like this.  If only there were more top-notch poets!


3) Ogden Nash's Zoo with illustrations by Etienne Delessert, published in 1986.  This one is inferior, mostly because of Delessert's illustrations which feel much too stiff and serious for such light whimsical verse.  I still bought it just so I could have all of Nash's animal poems under one spine, but it's almost painful to read with these illustrations.


The shark poem on the right reads:
How many Scientists have written
The shark is gentle as a kitten?
Yet this I know about the shark:
His bite is worser than his bark.
Really???  That's the illustration you'd draw for that poem???  Or the illustrator you'd hire???  Ugh.

Anyway, as I have pointed out on this blog, I knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about poetry when I started reading and writing it in 2008.  (Which is another thing: why don't schools teach poetry any more???)  I am having a lot of fun exploring this uncharted creative territory and each time I find a new poet whose work I admire, it feels like discovering buried treasure.  Onwards!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Downstairs

Here's a limerick I wrote in May 2012.  I don't believe I've posted it yet....

To get downstairs I must pick
The ladder or stairs, one's more quick!
To avoid getting fatter
I'd best use the latter
I hope that the steps aren't too slick!

The idea to play with the words "ladder" and "latter" has been kicking around in my head for a long time.  I feel like this poem would be more successful with an illustration of someone at the top of some spiral steps, with a ladder going down the middle.

Someday I'd love to do an issue of Phase 7 with poems on the right-facing pages and illustrations on the left facing pages - like old humor books from the 50s.  That's why I write so many horrible limericks on this blog, to keep trying to get to a few good ones that can make the cut!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ogden Nash

I felt like writing a limerick this morning, so I did!  The subject is my favorite poet, who I tried my best to pay homage to in these five lines:

There once was a poet named Nash
Who traded in light verse for cash
A few in the Post
The New Yorker, most
For humor he had not a mash

Ha ha!  See what I did there?  I'm sure Mr. Nash is rolling over in his grave... oh well, it was fun!  I'm digging through my poetry notebook, I'll try to find some other stuff that I have yet to post.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

My 2012 Poetry Activity

It's funny to me that this is only my second post of 2012 on this blog, because I read poetry every single night before falling asleep and I think about poetry quite a bit!  I'm catching up on some blogging this weekend, so I thought I would talk about the poetry I have read this year.

20** Best American Poetry - I was given this poetry anthology as a gift, and dutifully plowed my way through it.  I am not listing which year it is, because I read every single poem, and did not enjoy a single one.  Sorry famous poets!  I'm sure this is my own shortcoming and not theirs...

I'm so new to poetry as an art form, that each book of poetry I pick up is an exploration of new territory.  I'm slowly figuring out what I do and do not like, and so far, I'm pretty big on meter and rhyme.  I can conceptually understand why many (most?) modern poets no longer use meter and rhyme, in the same way that many (most?) modern painters no longer feel the need to paint representationally.  In both art forms my taste tends towards the traditional.  

I love marveling at the technique and craft of a realistically rendered painting of a tree or person or scene.  I can even handle impressionist tweaking of reality, exaggerating the colors to bring a heightened sense of emotion to a painting, but as soon as it looses representation, I lose interest.  I'm sure a bunch of splattered paint on a canvas was very clever, and I can see where it fits into the continuum of art history, but I find it extremely boring.

For me the whole fun of poetry is that you are trying to express something, but there are constraints you must work within.  When someone can express something beautifully but still maintain a consistent meter and rhyme scheme, I marvel at it, the same way I do with a beautifully rendered painting.  The craft of it overwhelms me.  And this doesn't mean it has to be straightforward - I appreciate a strange turn of phrase, or things that are less tangible than just pure description, but as soon as it's just random words thrown together with no structure, I am bored and lose interest.

So I absolutely hated this collection of poetry, but I think it was a good expedition into unknown territory.  By reading a lot of poetry that I disliked, I took one step closer to learning what kind of poetry I do like!


The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse - The two books of poetry I have enjoyed the most so far have been The Penguin Book of Nonsense Verse and The Best of Ogden Nash. Both of these fall firmly under the umbrella of "Light Verse" so I thought this anthology would be right up my alley.  

It is organized chronologically by the birthdates of the various poets, and I found that the further I got into the book, the more I enjoyed it. When I broke into the 20th century, I really started enjoying the poems.  I think for the most part, the older work was a bit hard to penetrate because of either antiquated language, or topics which I simply did not understand (British politics, wars, etc.)

There were a few exceptions, such as "An Austrian Army" by Alaric Watts (1797-1864) which has twenty six lines, one for each letter of the alphabet.  The meter, rhymes, wordplay and alliteration were just mind bending.  And every so often a poet's writing style would be straightforward enough that I could enjoy the humor of the poem.

So again, this wasn't a home run, but I felt like this book helped me hone in on an era of poetry that I could fully explore and enjoy before trying to expand my tastes.


Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Laureate of Light Verse - Claire and I went to a movie at our local theatre on a Saturday night, and they had a raffle, in which they call a few numbers from the movie tickets that were issued.  I won a $10 gift certificate to the second-hand bookstore across the street!  I went in a few days later and found this biography of Ogden Nash.  Since he is my favorite poet, I thought it would be quite enjoyable, and I was not wrong.

It was sprinkled throughout with his delightful verse, but it also went into Nash's long career and the many different venues he found for his skills.  He wrote greeting cards, wrote lyrics for musicals, published hundreds a poems a year in The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post and many others, and also toured the country doing readings and promoting the many collections of his poetry which were published over the years.  

The guy at the book store seemed very surprised that I was interested in Ogden Nash.  I told him that Nash was my favorite poet and he seemed very confused by that, a reaction which was repeated upon my next poetry purchase...


The Life and Times of Archy & Mehitabel - I went to the other used bookstore in our neighborhood, and saw some beautiful hand lettering on the spine of a book in the poetry section.  I plucked it off the shelf and flipped through the book only to find dozens of beautiful spot illustrations by George Herriman (of Krazy Kat fame).  I was tempted to buy it just based on those, but to sweeten the deal there was a great introduction by E.B. White.  After reading the introduction, I bought the book, which again, the bookseller seemed to think was very atypical.  I'm not sure why...

I'm still reading this book (currently on page 229 of 447) and it is one of the most unique, enjoyable bodies of work I have ever come across.  It was originally a newspaper column for the New York Sun starting in 1914.  The premise is that a free verse poet is reincarnated as a cockroach (ha!) who sneaks into the New York Sun offices each night and then jumps from key to key on a typewriter to leave messages for Don Marquis.  There is no punctuation or capital letters (because he can't push the shift key!) so his dispatches are presented in a faux-free verse which makes fun of the form (which must have been somewhat new at the time).  Here is a small snippet, with line-breaks preserved so you can see the unique writing style:
boss i am disappointed in
some of your readers they
are always asking how does
archy work the shift so as to get a
new line or how does archy do
this or do that they
are always interested in technical
details when the main question is
whether the stuff is literature or not
Mehitabel used to be an Egyptian princess, but has now transmigrated into the body of a cat.  She's friends with Archy and he reports on her various activities.  It is such a unique idea and there is so much energy in the writing, it is a real joy to read.  I especially like it when Archy breaks into proper rhymes.  Here is my favorite such example that I have come across so far, "archy s autobiography":
if all the verse what i have wrote
were boiled together in a kettle
twould make a meal for every goat
from nome to popocatapetl
mexico 
and all the prose what i have penned
if laid together end to end
would reach from russia to south bend
indiana 
but all the money what i saved
from all them works at which i slaved
is not enough to get me shaved
every morning 
and all the dams which i care
if heaped together in the air
would not reach much of anywhere
they wouldnt 
because i dont shave every day
and i write for arts sake anyway
and always hate to take my pay
i loathe it 
and all of you who credit that
could sit down on an opera hat
and never crush the darn thing flat
you skeptics 
archy
Oh man, that stuff makes my brain do back-flips of joy.  Anyway, the Herriman drawings are also incredible, so I highly recommend checking out this great book.


On that same trip I also picked up The Faber Book of Children's Verse, which I have not yet begun to read.  Based on my other experiences though, I think Children's verse might be a good area for me to explore.  I tend to lean more towards children's books, or YA stuff than "adult" novels in my regular reading, so maybe I'll enjoy this collection more than "adult" poetry.

I haven't written any poetry since March, and the way my schedule is shaping up, I don't think I'll have much time for it in the immediate future either.  I'm not giving up on the idea however, I just need to find the time.

For now I am enjoying reading as much poetry as possible and trying to figure out which poetry I enjoy the most.  If any readers out there who are more well-versed in poetry (pun intended!) have any recommendations for me based on this blog entry, I welcome them in the comments section!