Opinion Column

There once was an old woman who wrote it,...

Patricia Anne Elford

...so she said to herself, "I'm a poet."

Her lines didn't scan and her words didn't sing,

but the poor benighted soul didn't know it.

© A. Limerick

Who doesn't remember at least some of the nursery rhymes and rhyming games of childhood?

Memory Test: What comes next in these English rhymes? "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary"¦" "Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie"¦" "Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle "¦" I emphasize English because when I taught French Canadians, assuming a common background, though written in a different language, I was startled to discover that popular childhood fairy tales and rhymes tended to be quite different.

Most poetry of any significance is not unlike a semi-abstract painting; the majority of words represent more than the words themselves say. There is further meaning in the word order and choice; "em dash" (--) and pauses. Even childhood rhymes demonstrate that there's more than meets the eye. Appreciated by children for their rhymes and rhythms, many nursery rhymes provided deeper meanings for adults. For variations and the background of some of these rhymes, see the parents' pages of http://www.mothergooseclub.com/rhyme_list.php.

Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was a U.S. writer and cartoonist. Such fun in playing around with sounds--one of the pleasures of reading (and writing) poetry. His You're Only Old Once: A Book for Obsolete Children (2012), continued this tradition. If you check out the following, you're in for some good memories and a few surprises. https://www.google.ca/?gws_rd=ssl#q=dr.+seuss+books.

Remember Canadian Dennis Lee's "Alligator Pie"? (1974) Over and over and over and over, we read or listened to it. Children never seemed to tire of it. Although most of his work has been for adults, Dennis Lee also wrote the words for Fraggle Rock songs.

At http://canpoetry.library.utoronto.ca/lee/write.htm, Lee outlined his writing philosophy. It is a long piece, but his concluding lines resonate for me as a writer/poet of considerably lesser stature.

"A poem enacts in words the presence of what we live among. It arises from the tough, delicate, heartbreaking rooting of what is in its own nonbeing. From that rooting, there arise elemental movements of being: of hunger, of play, of rage, of celebration, of dying. Such movements are always particular, speaking the things which are. A poem enacts those living movements in words. Quick in its own silence, cadence seeks to issue in the articulate gestures of being."

Can poetry be poetry if it doesn't rhyme? Short answer: "Yes." Today, most publishers of poetry actually prefer to receive non-rhyming or only partially rhyming poetry. I suspect one reason is as follows: many persons, in attempting to make lines rhyme at the end, destroy the metre and/or meaning of the piece. Like a stepsister's foot being forced into Cinderella's slipper, the content is distorted in the attempt to fit its framework. The poem's shape should support its message, not skew it.

Speaking of feet, in poetry, the number and emphasis of feet in each line must be carefully considered. That doesn't mean each line will be the same, producing a predictable, sing-song approach that flattens the poem's impact. It does mean that, after the free flow of the first creative writing, the real work begins. Counting of feet and paying attention to emphasis are very important. Attention must also be paid to repetition of words, unless they are intentionally repeated for a particular effect. A thesaurus can been a poet's best friend, if the alternatives chosen are natural ones for the writer. Sensate words are needed unless their absence is intended to provide a barrier to involvement when reading the poem.

For me, writing poetry is a better outlet for feelings and thoughts than can be addressed when written as prose. When I've experienced the deepest emotions--pain, passion, anger, gratitude, adoration, joy, betrayal, resentment, love, ecstasy, fear--I have, like many others, became aware of the need to write poetry. In some cases, what began as deeply felt prose, gained its own life as poetry while I wrote. Not infrequently, it took on a psalmodic form. Sometimes, my poetry or prose includes wry humour, perhaps when the piece is most serious.

Effective poetry, regardless of type, interacts with something in the reader. "Yes, that's what it's like", or, if that specific occurrence hasn't been shared, then, "Yes, that's what it must be like." The poem's message is experienced as authentic, and therefore, meaningful, even if written in a light manner. Sometimes, I write lightly about murder.

Many of my own poems deal with contrasts, such as those between a specific man's and woman's perspectives, between generations, between organizational statements and actions, between self-image and reality, comparative understandings of what constitutes wealth vs poverty, between faith as claimed and faith as lived.

If you've never tried reading, listening to, or writing poems, I invite you to dip your heart and mind into it. If you've tried but didn't continue, I recommend you revisit it. From rich experience, I can tell you this--emotional and intellectual rewards can await you.

Most writing is meant to be read, to be heard. Janna's Gallery Café, 20 Pembroke St. W, Pembroke, Ont., already a supporter of music and visual arts, will be the site of Poetry and Prose Potpourri, a lively poetry and prose reading time. On Wednesday, August 26th, from 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m., Heather Campbell, popular area prose writer, columnist and author of five books, and I are to be among the readers. We also hope to include a man in his thirties, writer of poetry and prose, who was only eight when one of his first poems was sold to a national periodical. See you at Poetry and Prose Potpourri?

Next week: Bill Halkett

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