Janet Sheridan: In praise of poets
April 20, 2012
I've had a rocky relationship with poetry since my Mother Goose days.
I admired the little girl who had a little curl and who, when bad, was horrid. But, I questioned the intelligence of Little Jack Horner: with an entire Christmas pie to himself, he ate only the plum?
I enjoyed sitting with my siblings in a circle of lamplight as Mom introduced us to the highwayman "riding, riding, up to the old inn door," Paul Revere sending a "cry of alarm to every Middlesex village and farm," and the raven croaking, "Nevermore."
Then in third grade during a lesson on rhyme, Mrs. Beal had us write a couplet with the word "day" at the end of the first line. I sighed, chewed my pencil, and worried.
Then, inspiration struck: "The sun was shining bright that day/to cheer the birth of Janet Bray."
When my classmates responded to my effort with praise and amusement, I decided to be a famous poet.
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I changed my mind about my future career in sixth grade when Mr. Ralphs corrected me in front of the class for saying "poyme" rather than "pome." He made me repeat his pronunciation three times and then had the entire class chant it with me three more.
Later, my exacting high school English teacher, Mrs. Cornaby, asked my class a rhetorical question: she wondered why her students from Lake Shore said "pome" when the word was correctly pronounced "po-em."
"Is there something in Lake Shore's water?" she wondered with a smile. A few days later, when I answered a question in class and said "po-em," she winked at me.
College meant weighty discussions about the symbolism, significance, imagery and deep meaning of each assigned poem.
We students volunteered ideas until someone said what the teacher wanted to hear, then the expert lectured, and we stopped thinking.
I gave up on poetry again.
Then, during my junior year, my roommate, a literature major, rescued me with the poetry of E.E. Cummings.
I was fascinated by his unique, sometimes nonsensical phrases that danced with musicality: "Anyone lived in a pretty how town/and up so floating many bells down."
I continued to read poetry on my own, but never tried to write it. Then, three years ago, I started meeting with a group of poets whose poems make me laugh, reflect, and feel. These good people have given me the motivation to write poems of my own and the courage to share them.
So, in honor of National Poetry Month, which is celebrated in April, I've chosen to conclude this column with a poem I wrote last summer.
Don't bother looking for symbolism or deep meaning. To do so would be a waste of your time.
On a summer-dominated day
we hiked in cadenced silence
above a long-nosed jump where
in a ski-town season
winter-bright birds swoop and
soar in flashes of neon plumage.
A squared-off sniffling snout
led a pair of wide-set eyes
into and through
the path-edged undergrowth ahead
a comic mask peering both ways
like a parent-programmed child.
Sensing a lull in traffic
the bear's considered judgment
discarded us as distant-harmless
and launched its shaggy bulk
into a quick-step shamble
up our breath-held path.
Before the source of our entrancement
into the far-side cover
of inter-woven brush and tree
the creature sent its disregards
by mooning us blatantly for 30 yards.