|Give Poetry a Chance: Write It, Read It|
Writing poetry is hardly the way to achieve fame and fortune, but it’s worth a try. Why? It provides ways to express ideas profound and not so profound in short but interesting and often original ways. Reading poetry can be a pleasure, too. Read a poem or two at bedtime or during any spare moment. You’ll probably be glad you did.
First, forget most of the myths about poetry. No, it does not have to rhyme (although it certainly may). No, it doesn’t have to be exclusively about love or beauty or other lofty, “flowery” subjects. Any topic is fair game. No, it does not have to be difficult to interpret; it may make you think, but that’s a good thing.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a poem as “A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions, characterized by the use of condensed language chosen for its sound and suggestive power, and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.” My own simplified definition is “A fairly brief piece of writing using words in new and/or unusual ways, provoking a reaction such as ‘That’s so true’ and causing the reader to think.” Poetry may be serious, humorous, poignant, inspiring: it can encourage the sharing of all types of thoughts and experiences.
I wrote earlier about the possibility of telling your life story through poetry, as Donna G. Humphrey did in I Speak of Simple Things (Ampersand, 2007). See http://egenerations.com/article-965-6-tell-your-life-story-through-poetry. Since I wrote that column, I’ve tried writing more poetry myself, and I’ve examined several other books by seniors that express the authors’ thoughts and experiences in poetry. Here is a brief tour of senior poetry.
1. Donna Humphrey’s poems still impress me. They were put together and published by her daughters after her tragic death, and they create an excellent legacy. One of my favorites is her “Old Woman,” in which she sees herself as an abandoned house:
I don’t agree, but I like his poems. “Growing Old” begins, “It’s the fear of growing old and small / that seniors make such fuss; / But it’s only when we stop growing at all / that old catches up with us.”
Neither Humphrey nor Dorsey writes exclusively about aging or senior life. Both books provide variety; both manage to reflect the lives of their authors.
3. Another poetry book that I’ve encountered recently is Poetic Musings of an Old, Fat Man (Lulu, 2008), by Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. The book is divided into “Rhyming Poems and Storoems (Story-Poems)”, “Two Limericks,” “Acrostic Poems,” and “Free-Verse Poems.” Gilleland’s subject matter ranges far and wide, from tributes to his wife to holidays to pets to the Darfur tragedy.
Some have a touch of (chauvinistic) humor: “Women and Their Hair” ends with these stanzas:
“When interested in attracting men into their lair,
“A woman wanting men to take her lure seems unaware
On the serious side, Gilleland writes in “What War Is,”
“War is the failure of reason.
4. My own little book of poetry, Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters (Lulu, 2008), grew from my strange liking for the unusual rictameter form and my efforts to find something to do during the dreary month of March, 2008. The book contains my 31 poems from that month, plus some others. Since then, I’ve written a rictameter beginning with each letter of the alphabet: 26 poems you can find on my “Write Your Life!” blog (www.seniormemoirs.blogspot.com).
My book’s preface begins, “T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons. I’ve measured mine, or at least part of it, with rictameters.” My subject matter includes aging, writing and reading, months and weeks, weather and the seasons, duties and routines, activities and pastimes, and observations and reflections. Profound? No. Fun? Yes.
I do not claim that any of these little books of poems represent great art or high literary achievement. My point is that writing poetry can be interesting, therapeutic, and just plain fun. Give it a try. And don’t hesitate to read a few poems from time to time for pleasure and/or inspiration. You may be surprised by what you discover.
(All four of the books mentioned here may be ordered from www.amazon.com. They are not likely to appear in bookstores or libraries.)