Posts Tagged ‘Poetry Sunday’

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Poetry Sunday, Not All Happy and Sunny

June 29, 2014

Poetry Sunday

Poetry has its darker side to say the least.  After all, poetry is about emotion and we know our emotional house is a briar patch even Brer Rabbit would avoid. Still, as thorny as it may be, it is a rich inspiration to  the poet.  For it is upon the highest peaks or in the lowest valleys of emotion a poet’s best work pours out.

For me, I see the darkness of the valleys as a vital element in the value placed upon the brightness of the peaks.  Without such contrast, would we hold the highs with such esteem?  Moreover, poetry is the vehicle I use to excise the bitter malaise my mind retreats to now and then.  Poetry keeps me yoked to normal; otherwise, I truly would be a madman.

For example, my mind does not rest when I sleep.  It takes me to faraway lands and magical worlds but I have no control of any particular destination. Often, I awake with an overwhelming desire to express my experience.  It is where a good bit of my poetry is born.  When that place is dark, I write poems like this one:

 

My Nightly Prayer

It’s madding angst in the dark
that infuriates my soul
yellow eyes, light’s only spark
from demons beyond control

It’s no good to hear the lies
from these orbs my mind creates
against the truth each decries
as daybreak my soul awaits

I know the truth when awake
no power do orbs then keep
to steal my soul is their stake
Hell’s reason for them to creep

So each night I take this test
lead by ghouls that haunt me so
I pray for strength and some rest
but mostly for them to go

No more dark with yellow eyes
to destroy my solemn sleep
No more fear of nighttime lies
or reasons to wake and weep

 

To say expressing darker emotions helps me is not exactly right but it is on point.  Expressing them is a relief valve, yoking me to normal.  The real questions, for me, is not if I write them, but if I dare share them with the world.  I mean who among us wishes to be so vulnerable?  Answer, I must share them.  I must cast them out, otherwise they never leave me and writing about them serves no point.

It is my hope that, for some, reading them does the same thing.  It gives a release. Perhaps someone is helped knowing others have such feelings too.  I wish I could say that was my motive and I was not so selfish but darker poems are, in the end, honest.  It would not do to wrap them with dishonest motives.

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Poetry Sunday: Memorial Day

May 27, 2012

I’ve written about Memorial Day before but it is a subject dear to my heart having learned while I served in the military just what sacrifice truly means.  Oddly, this important day’s history is uncertain and it did not become a national day of remembrance until 1966.  While other countries certainly honor their men and women that die in combat, we in the United States have a civic and moral duty to recognize the sacrifice that made us who we are.

No one knows just how Memorial Day started.  There are many stories and over a dozen localities lay claim to being its birthplace.  Here is what we do know:  Towards the end of the US Civil War, around 1864, organized women’s groups in the South (the Confederate side) began decorating the graves of soldiers killed in the war.  Soon, the practice migrated north (the Union side) and the US Army officially recognized the practice in 1867 with General John Logan’s General Order # 11[i].

New York was the first state to officially recognize a Memorial Day with virtually every other state following suit, but Memorial Day did not become a federally recognized holiday until 1967 when President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation into law.  Sadly, it took the federal government 99 years to get with the program.  If it took that long to establish something like honoring our war dead, is it any wonder why they can’t get anything done on difficult issues?

Perhaps the worst change to Memorial Day happened in 1968.  The federal government saw fit to pass the Uniform Monday Holiday Act[ii](it did not take effect until 1971).  The act changed the day to the last Monday in May, giving us the three-day weekend.  As nice

Gen John Logan

as a three-day weekend is, it makes the day more about romping on the beach rather than honoring our lost heroes.  I guess in the United States we have to invent a reason to take a holiday, I prefer the way the United Kingdom handles it by declaring a “bank holiday” and everyone just takes the day off.  That way, we keep our special days special and get a break from work too.

Ok, so now you know just a bit about the history of the day.  It is the history that inspired me to write my tribute poem to Memorial Day and the men and women it honors.  Regardless of what you do tomorrow, take a few moments and give thanks to your fellow citizens that gave everything for you to have such a day.

Memorial Day

Be it Southern widow’s pride
or the stroke of Logan’s pen –
the truth of it matters naught
the deeds – the fight – the daring
all sacrifice remembered

Lincoln’s “last full measure” paid
they are “the better angels”
no justice paid them with words
The price always understood.
Remember what this day’s for.

The brave, sacred few who gave,
their very bones are our brick –
their precious blood our mortar,
binding this nation as one.
They gave to us and gave all.

With bowed head I pray for them
to forever gently rest
and know we hold to the gift.
This land’s free by lives spent so
forget that not, not this day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

 

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

 

[ii] “Uniform Monday Holiday Act.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 May 2012. Web. 27 May 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniform_Monday_Holiday_Act>.

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Poetry Sunday: Short Poems

May 20, 2012

Poems come in all shapes and sizes and most certainly cover every imaginable topic.  There are the lengthy epic poems like Milton’s Paradise Lost, decreasing in size like Rumi’s quatrains, until we arrive at the short haiku masters like Bashō.

The long epic poems read like novels.  They have room for plots and changes in mood and character.  Length dictates shorter works to be more singularly focused.  In fact, singularity is what makes them work.  You might think a short poem takes but a moment to compose.  Sometimes they do, but more often short poems take as much, if not more, time to construct as poems with lengthier word heft.  There are styles, like the Shakespearian Sonnet, that dictate length, but many works of metered and free verse employ the brevity short poems.

I consider a short poem to be any that fits on a single page, and that means one column.  We all know there are people out there that can cram War and Peace onto a grain of rice, I mean reading poetry under normal conditions.  Others arbitrarily define short poems as having six quatrains of less, or twenty-four lines.  With my definition in mind, most poems are short poems.

For me, short poems are more about that singularity than a specific length limit.  A true master of the short poem is Emily Dickenson, one of my

Emily Dickinson Daguerreotype

two favorite poets by the way.  She used a delicate turn of phrase to draw the reader to a single thought.  Here is a nice poem of hers that illustrates the point:

Hope

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

This poem obviously focuses on hope but expands out to show the impact hope has as well as the effect the world has upon hope.  With only eighty-two words, Emily explains one of life’s trickier subjects to grasp.  Yes, there is much more to hope than any one poem can encompass, but this is a complete view of one way to see it.  It is powerful and has a depth that goes beyond its few lines.  At the same time is shows strength, it also shows frailty.  That juxtaposition is common in shorter poems.

Not all short poems use comparison directly.  Here is a poem of mine that uses both simile and metaphor to explain what I mean by beauty.  It is markedly different from Emily’s example, and I do not mean to suggest I am as fine a poet as she is by the comparison.  While she employs direct metaphors (“Hope” is a thing with feathers) to open her poem, I use the poem as a whole to compare beauty to grace.  What the poems have in common is to explain a single thought.

The Beauty of Every Woman

The beauty of every woman
is not about the look
and to think it so would be the same
as the drop to sum the brook

Her soul’s the place where beauty writes
each volume of her tome
Then soon the essence of every book
finds her heart and calls it home

From her heart-page each measure is read
to discover her gentle ways
providing to all life’s caring love
and guide us throughout our days

The beauty of every woman
is all about the soul
Her spirit being life’s precious scribe
etching upon our scrolls

You see, true beauty is a woman
no matter what her face
for beauty is seen by special eyes
put simply, ‘tis godly grace

 

Bashō Statue

As a quasi-rule, the shorter the poem, the more it counts on comparison as a device.  As the length shortens, each word takes on greater importance in conveying the poet’s message.  On the extreme end are the shorter Japanese styles we in the West lump into the term haiku.  Traditionally, not only are haiku short, they also need to have a subject dealing with a season of the year or nature in some way.  Modern haiku are less restrictive on that point.  What all properly formed haiku have in common is juxtaposition and a cutting work known as “kireji.”  It is not always easy to pick out the kireji in haiku translated from Japanese; it is true that something is lost.  The most famous haiku is Bashō’s Old Pond:

old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

To really get haiku, the reader must take each line separately.  Read them with a pause, for a thought, and then read the next line.  Look at it this way, if we read “old pond a frog leaps in water’s sound, it is sort of flat.  If we read it with pause and use “in” as the kireji, it takes on depth: “old pond… | a frog leaps in | in water’s sound.”  It causes us to consider the thought of each line as well as the overall thought of the poem.  Read properly, a few little words can be very powerful.

I have not written many haiku.  Here is one that came to mind while watching a military funeral at Beaufort National Cemetery, in Beaufort, SC:

Sacred Stones

volley chases air
gathered loved ones flinch and weep
a lone bugle cries

It would have to be considered “westernized” as I did not employ a kireji directly but I do tie the lines together with the juxtaposition of “weep” and “cries.”  Still, it holds a powerful thought.  If you have ever witnessed a military funeral with full honors, this haiku will stir your soul, if not, it will give you an idea of it.

In the end, short poems are like a punch to the gut, they knock the wind out of you.  Each line has to get right down to business and move the poem along.  Part of the appeal is the space this leaves for the reader to fill in the gaps with their own personal feeling and experiences.  Maybe that is the appeal of short poems in the first place.

I will end with a free verse example that speaks for itself and has no need for an explanation as to my meaning.  It truly illustrates the emotional power a short poem can have.

Heartbeats

If all you wanted was my heartbeat,
you only had to ask.
Each beat, each pulse of it
is there only for you.
There is no need for deception,
though easy a mark am I.
I believe all you tell me, each lie,
I do not question them.
I cannot – I will not!
For I am lost in the promise of what might be,
what never was.

Take them all…
I have no further use for heartbeats.

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Poetry Sunday: Personal Poems

May 13, 2012

It is one thing to find a poem that fits a situation perfectly for you.  Imagine writing a poem for that occasion.  That is one of the best things about being a poet, the ability to express emotions in a way that reach others.  Of course, that assumes the poet is willing to share their poems.  In reality, sometimes you are and sometimes you are not.  For me, I am willing to publish most every poem unless to do so would cause some sort of indiscretion for another.

Now, personal poems are about much more than just romance.  While romance does fall into this category, it includes things like feeling a specific emotion, seeing something special, or having an epiphany of some sort.  The point is the feeling behind a personal poem is just that, personal to the poet.  Sometimes it is not easy to tell if a poem is personal or just the poet waxing on.  For me, any poem that makes someone wonder about it will have a personal connection.  It is how I write.

Even famous poets create personal poems.  Take Edgar Allan Poe, many of his poems are personal in nature.   Annabel Lee comes to mind.  We can speculate just who Annabel Lee was but we will never really know.  The best candidate is Poe’s wife, Virginia.  Here are the first two stanzas of Poe’s masterpiece:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

Just reading these two stanzas fills my mind with wonder.  Of course, I wonder about Annabel but also about the kingdom by the sea.  It is the magic of personal poems, we know there is some truth there, but we get to fill-in the blanks for ourselves.

In this next poem, it is personal but in a light-hearted way.  I was thinking about the duality of the situations life put before me.  I often tell people “if you get this poem, you get me.”  Of course, I do not know if that clears things up for them or makes it worse.  In the end, the poem is not so much about the choices presented to you, as it is about the choice you make.  Nothing says you have to accept things as they are, and I seldom do.

Life can be a turnip or a rose

Life can be a turnip or a rose –
One can give sustenance or beauty.
Life can be a feather or a brick –
One can go gently or break a window.
Life can be red or blue –
One can have passion or compassion.
Life can be a fox or a rabbit –
One can hunt or be hunted.
Life can be phone call or a letter –
One is right away, but then what have you got?

Life can be…
All things being equal, I’d rather be an apple.

That is an example of a poem that has a less than obvious personal connection.  Others are extremely obvious.  For example, you can pen a poem about something personal but it is personal in the same way to all of us.  We might use different words or choose to express a thought somewhat differently but we all understand the emotion as well as understand the poet was writing from personal feeling.  Given that today is Mother’s Day, here is a poem I wrote for my mom a few years back to which everyone can relate.

To Mom:

You are a lady,
that, you will always be.
You are sunshine,
there to brighten my day.
You are happiness,
to make sadness fade away.
You are wisdom,
to show me – when I stray.
You are my teacher,
to follow along the way.
You are my mother,
for that, I thank God each day.

 

While it is wrong to speak in generalities, I think in this case it is pretty safe to say everyone gets it.  It is an example of a personal poem everyone could use as their own, not that you want to, but you could.

That leaves the personal poems poets write for a singular occasion or person.  While we may recognize it is personal, we do not understand the context of the poem.  Still, it makes us wonder and that in itself make them worth reading.  We can imagine the circumstance and ponder at a name or other hint as to the identity of some unnamed person.

The Day I Found You

We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown

For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run

I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love made whole

I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door

In this example for instance, you may wonder just who I wrote this for?  Where was the swing?  Whatever became of the relationship?  I could answer the questions but what fun would that be?

So, you see personal poems hold a special magic with poets.  You get to peek into our lives, to share our feelings and emotions.  While you may not know the who, what, or where, you will understand the personal nature of the emotions involved.

 

 

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Poetry Sunday: The Moon and Stars

May 6, 2012

Even poet has themes they return to often.  For me, it is nature, in generally and the ocean and skies specifically.  It is the latter I wish to discuss here, the heavens.  Since our ancestors first looked up in amazement as the little lights painted against the night’s black, out nightly view has captivated us.  Science has removed some of the mystical aspects from it but replaced it with questions even more profound, like whom we really are, and what is our role in our vast universe.

Of course, there are very famous poems regarding the night sky, one of the most famous by English poet Jane Taylor.  The Star first appeared the book Rhymes for the Nursery she co-authored with her sister Ann in 1806; I could only find the first US printing[i].  Now, at this point you might be saying to yourself I’ve never heard of a poem called “The Star,” and you would be wrong, you just know it by its informal name.   I will leave it for you to discover as you read.

The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveler[sic] in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveler[sic] in the dark.
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
How I wonder what you are.

The opening stanza is so ubiquitous we hardly give a thought to its authorship, which is sad, as it is one of the few nursery rhyme poems where the origin is not in dispute.  When we move beyond that first stanza, we see the poem has more to offer the reader than the simplicity of its opening.  Each stanza consists of two rhymed couplets, except for the last stanza that is constructed to end the song. Of course, we know it with its tune too.  That was taken from the French folk song  “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman.” 

The rhymed couplets and evenly metered lines give the poem its whimsically singing quality as you read it.  The choice of meter is not serendipitous; the poet bases it on how they wish the poem to feel and pick the appropriate meter to achieve that feeling.

As for me, I tend to use a staggered meter when I write, either a 4/3 or a 5/4.  That is not to say I use them exclusively, just they are a natural choice for me.  In my poem Shooting Star, I use a 5/3 meter.  I like using staggered metering as it provides a natural pause known as a caesura.  See if you can pick it up:

Shooting Star

On a cold clear night with a million stars
I watched one streak the sky
A flickering sprite shooting straight past Mars
grew bold to catch my eye

For a moment of time this life burned bright
and held my solemn gaze
It was soon devoured with no trail in sight
and left me in a haze

Then this impatient star that streaked the night –
gave thought along my way
Some orbs shine still while yet others take flight
each, with its role to play

We live out our lives much like a star
moving throughout the day

Pulled by hidden forces both near and far
we’re changed along the way

Some will stay put and give a guiding light
for everyone to see
Others will shoot out far and blaze from sight
being burned by breaking free

So, here are two examples of poems dealing with stars.  The meter of one lends itself to a nursery rhyme and the meter of the other lends itself to give us pause to think.  The variations are almost limitless, and it all depends on the emotion or feeling the poet wishes to instill.  In this next poem, I picked a middle ground, not quite whimsical and not quite serious.  See if you can pick out the device used that makes the difference:

Venus and the Crescent Moon

A cool waxen peel of light,
kissed gently upon the sky,
A greenish nymph calls from night,
and waits for the moon’s reply.

Earthshine gives her ghostly glow,
to the crescent moon’s remains;
night permits the sprite to show,
a bright dot of cottoned grain.

Play the night the bodies do,
each chasing the Milky Way,
joy and hope they do imbue,
armor for our coming day.

Venus goes fast through the night,
while asking the moon to stay;
She knows their place in our sight,
and winks as she fades away.

Things in the sky have a life,
and great guidance to bestow,
a flash reprieve from our strife,
’tis a better path they show.

Watch the night on special eves,
and see this for yourself,
beyond the boughs full of leaves,
moon slice awaits impish elf.

I’m thankful that we have stars that seem unchanging.  It gives me a since of being connected to know the Jane may have been looking at the same stars as me, some 200 years later, as we both crafted our poems.  That is one of the most intriguing points about using the night sky as your inspiration, it is one of the few unchanging things we have.

 


[i] Taylor, Ann, and Jane Taylor. Rhymes for the Nursery. Utica [N.Y.: Printed and Sold by Camp, Merrell & Camp, 1815. Print.

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Poetry Sunday: Metaphor and Simile, Tools of the Trade

April 29, 2012

Poetry can serve many purposes with the emotions and meanings it conveys.  Some are sad, while others are happy.  Some take us deep into thought while others make us smile at some little point we’ve overlooked.  The point is poetry has a story to tell.  It is the poet’s task to tell the story in a way the reader understands.  This is where metaphor and simile lend a hand.

Though often confused, the two are quite different.  For example, to explain it with a metaphor, one might say, “simile is metaphor with an attitude,” while stating it as a simile, it might read, “Metaphor is like simile.”  In the first case, it states the two things are the same, in a point of view, in the second case, it states they are similar in general.

Of course neither is limited to poetry, though that is where they take up residence most of the time.  One of the most famous metaphors of all time comes from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It[i],

“All the world’s a stage.”

We know the world is not literally a stage but we treat it as if it were by our actions.  In this case, metaphor’s exaggeration helps us understand the

William Shakespeare

point.  Sometimes, such exaggeration gets in the way of understanding.  It makes no sense to say, “He found his way through the maze, after all, all mice are elephants.”  Showing the elephants and mice are the same is just too large a leap.  This is where simile takes over.

Using a simile to compare, you could write the prior statement as “Elephant like, the mouse remembered his way through the maze.”  The simile counts on us knowing elephants have good memories.  It shows mice are similar to elephants in that way.  However, without knowing the point about elephants, the simile has no meaning to the reader.  Simile counts on prior knowledge, metaphor tends to explain itself.  Returning to the Shakespeare quote, it goes on to tell us just how the world is a stage:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances.”

In his metaphor, Shakespeare explains what he means by his statement about the world being a stage.  Even without knowledge of what the stage actually refers too, we understand his meaning.    We can see his point and accept the whole of the world as a stage.  To state the same thing in a simile, you could write:

“Like actors on a stage, people come and go from our lives.”

Somehow, it just does not have the same impact.  In this case, to understand it, we need to know actors enter and leave the stage.  Shakespeare’s metaphor shows us, without knowing anything about actors or stages.  It is up to the poet to know when to use which form of allegory, it is up the reader to judge the poet’s success.

In poetry, similes are somewhat limited to a direct statement in a stanza within a line or two.  Metaphors can do the same but the poem as a whole can act as a metaphor.  In my poem Kite, I use metaphors throughout to describe the attachments in a relationship but the poem as a whole serves as a metaphor on relationships.

With the fairest of breezes,
off I go!  I take to flight.
A silken twine holds me fast
looking back, it leads to you.

You, only you hold the twine,
I rise further to the sky
until no sight of you’s left,
still, the twine holds me to you.

Drunkenly I ride the breeze
knowing that you set my course.
I reach for the high-up clouds
and then strain against your grasp.

Soon whipping winds have me caught,
and they sing upon the twine.
A song we both hear and know,
a sorrowful, wailing song.

Damage done – the string does part
and I flail within a cloud,
leaving you there, holding twine.
Stringy, stretched, useless twine.

You stand there, left wondering |
and I’m lost within the sky.
The twine floats back, back to you
and I’m numb without it there.

Away I fall lost to you
as I crash upon some tree,
leaving you with tangled twine –
the folly of flying kites.

The silken twine is the connection between two people in a relationship.  The kite serves as one person and the kite flyer serves as the other.  Wind acts as the turmoil couples encounter that pulls on the kite string.  Then the whole of kite flying serves as the whole of a failed relationship.  Unlike Shakespeare, I did not explain my metaphoric connections in the poem, as most people will see the links to their own relationships.  That is the great thing about being a poet; we get to make the choice.

Similes are more for simple comparisons.  It is an “A is like B” sort of thing.  For example, in my poem June Bug, I compare bugs getting too close to a light to Icarus.

On a starless night filled with haze
a porch light shines alone.
A yellow-pale reflects on dust
some breath of wind has blown.

And there I sit upon a swing
that moans its off-key sound.
Soon I’m joined by a million wings
that charge this light they’ve found.

They fly a path that’s drunkard-straight
imbibing on the light.
They dare to get but just so close
then escape away with fright.

The light has magic to a point
as they dart and flit around.
But, if to close they dare approach
like Icarus they find ground.

So there I sit and watch the sight
as they swarm and dance in air.
with too much fuss they chase the night
inspired by a porch light’s glare.

Of course, you need to know the mythical story of Icarus for the reference to work, so again, simile counts on prior knowledge, as explaining that myth is a poem all unto itself.  Did you see the direct metaphor I used?  There is one, but in this case, it is what I call a moronic metaphor as it directly disputes itself.  That is a hint by the way.

So both metaphor and simile have a fundamental role in poetry.  They are tools in the poet’s toolbox.  The poet needs to understand when to use which one; the reader needs to know how to connect the dots.   They both add depth to poetry specifically and all forms of communication in general.  Comparison is the way we understand things and that is exactly what they do, they compare.

 

On a side note:  Kite is an example of blank verse.  Blank verse will be the topic of next week’s post.  If you are not familiar with blank verse, read it over again knowing there is something more to it that free verse.  See if you pick up its natural cadence. 


[i] Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7.” The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The Tech, MIT. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://shakespeare.mit.edu/asyoulikeit/full.html>.

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Poetry Sunday: Love and Love Lost Poems

April 22, 2012

Love shares a special relationship with poetry, both in love found and love lost.  Perhaps it is the very nature of poetry that lends itself to the subject of love.  Love is about emotions; poetry is about emotions too.  They seem a natural fit.  Poetry is the refuge for emotion and love moved in as a permanent resident.

Poems about love are also a great equalizer.  They touch both men and women, adults and adolescents, extroverts and introverts, the silly-hearts and the serious, and even the macho and the meek.  Love poems speak to one of our basic needs, the share the love we feel.  As the character, John Keating, the main protagonist in Tom Schulman’s screenplay The Dead Poet’s Society put it when he calls on his students:

John Keating: Language was developed for one endeavor, and that is – Mr. Anderson?  Come on, are you a man or an amoeba?

[pause]

John Keating: Mr. Perry?

Neil: To communicate.

John Keating: No!  To woo women!

At the very least, we must admit that communicating our love for others is one of our primary uses of language, and by extension, poetry.

When done right, a love poem keeps time with the heart; each foot becomes a heartbeat.  Just as emotion builds within a poem as the heartbeats continue, so too emotions build within our souls as our heartbeats force us to express our love or seeming explode from its pressure.  Poetry is a natural ally.

Love poems can be very basic.  As children, we all learned:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

It does not get much simpler than that.  As with most things with age, this little poem’s true origins are murky.  The earliest allusion to the lines is probably Sir Edmond Spencer’s The Faerie Queene[i] with these two lines:

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.[sic]

Regardless, the poem has become ubiquitous and even lampooned over the years.  Even with its simplicity, it has the poetic quality that conveys a feeling of affection.

While love poems work to convey love in its positive aspects, there is love lost too.  Its emotions and feeling are just as strong, if not stronger.  Certainly, the rawness of them is well understood by anyone past the age of twelve.

The subject of lost love has many sources in poetry, not all are about rejection.  The source can be a death, distance, or circumstance as well as rejection.  For instance, Robert Burns’ poem A Red, Red, Ros[sic], has nothing to do with rejection:

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Though Burns is credited as the poet, he claimed it is based on a song he heard a Scottish lass sing to her lover no longer with her.  Rather than sorry for her loss, she sang of her willingness to do whatever it took to regain her love.  It speaks to love’s ability to endure.

Separation often plays a strong role in love poems.  Sometimes it is physical distance; sometimes situation creates the separation.  In either case, the poet uses poetry to express the desire for it to be otherwise.  In my sonnet Distance, I talk about how two souls are entwined regardless of the distance between them:

Care not my love, of this distance between
’tis like two hands on arms reaching full wide
though no greater space will ever be seen
I still hold you near, as if by my side

For connected we are, as parts to a whole
with emotions of love, a life blood shared
Distance does nothing to weaken the soul
keep that in mind at times you are scared

A touch on the hand is known body wide
though it’s only one hand at times involved
We are the same when our love is applied
love is our touch and distance’s problem solved

Together in life our hearts beat as one
two souls entwined, our life-course is run

It does not say if that distance is miles or some other obligation.  It simply shows love can overcome.  As sad as the distance is, the poem holds out hope.

Compare this to another my sonnet The Day I Found You, that celebrates finding love:

We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown

For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run

I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love made whole

I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door

While both talk of love found, in the first, distance stands in its way.  In the second, it speaks to the power of love and its ability to make us more than we are alone.  It celebrates love and has even greater hope for the future.

Still, there is that nagging other side to love poems – love lost.  As powerful as poems about finding love are, poems that speak to its loss have at least as much impact upon us.  Perhaps it is our knowing just what it means to lose a love that gives them the punch.  Perhaps it is our memory that makes us relate so well to them.  They often speak directly to the soul, bypassing the conscious.  I mean we hear them, for sure, but is a deeper feeling within the soul that is moved by them.  Just as poems about love found speak to love’s joyful possibilities, poems of love lost show the depths love can drive us down.  This is exactly the point of Heartbeats.  It speaks to the raw emotion I felt the day I wrote it:

If all you wanted was my heartbeat,
you only had to ask.
Each beat, each pulse of it
is there only for you.
There is no need for deception,
though easy a mark am I.
I believe all you tell me, each lie,
I do not question them.
I cannot – I will not!
For I am lost in the promise of what might be,
what never was.

Take them all…
I have no further use for heartbeats.

Poetry is about expression.  When expressing love lost, it tends to cut, not with derogatory and hateful words but more by showing vulnerability.  Often, when hurt by love, it is within the gentlest spaces in our hearts.  It makes us wish to callous them and never be hurt again, but gratefully, that is not how it works and we seem foolish enough to step back into love’s light again and again; again finding the need of joyful love poems.

In the end, perhaps Keating was right.  We developed language not so much to communicate as to communicate out emotions.  Perhaps this is exactly why love poems carry such strength within our souls.


[i]Spencer, Edmond. “The Faerie Queene.” Spencer, Edmond. The Faerie Queene. London: William Ponsonbie, 1596. Book Three, Canto 6, Stanza 6. Book.

 

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