Grandma Says..

Observations and views from a different set of eyes

Conquering The Poets


I heard the slam of the book as it hit the porch. Excited, I ran to the front door, lifted my newest treasure and tore the bubble wrap open with glee. My American Literature textbook had arrived and I looked forward to spending long hours reading the works of great authors like Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As I flipped through the pages, I felt a cold icy chill travel up my spine as I discovered that the textbook contained poems, lots of poems, millions of poems by authors such as Emily Dickinson, Anne Bradstreet and that really freaky Poe guy who wrote about a raven pecking at his window. I sat back in horror as I remembered the long, agonizing hours in high school that I spent hunched over Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters only to receive a dismal C in English Literature.

The disappointing experience I endured in high school led to a severe fear of all words strung together in a rhythmic pattern. As a child, I didn’t even read Dr. Seuss. I would rather have a root canal than read a poem. Poetry doesn’t make sense to me. And a lot of it doesn’t even rhyme! I was convinced that the poets were going to kick my butt. Again! But, I had no choice. I would have to rely on my instructor’s help; I would have to push aside my distaste for poetry, and I would have to gather the courage to explore and discover the beauty in the poet’s words. Only then would I be prepared to conquer those poets.

I relied on my instructor to show me the way. To lead me, like Moses led his people through the desert, through the labyrinth of metaphors, couplets and the confusing world of onomatopoeia. I depended on my instructor to provide the necessary resources, such as videos and audio tapes ease my way in learning to learn how to read poetry and the different techniques that different poets used. I also expected my instructor to nudge me in the right direction if I should run astray or stumble in the wrong direction during my travels through the course. My instructor did all that and I thank him for his patience as I bombarded him with endless questions.

But, I knew that I would also have to fulfill my role as a student to conquer those poets. I had to open my mind and push aside all my preconceptions about poetry. I had to recognize that my bias against this genre of writing was based solely on my high school experience. I knew that many people love poetry and that there are many authors out there who excel in taking their readers into unknown worlds such as: the aforementioned Dickinson, Bradstreet and don’t forget the crazy guy with the bird. I had to bury those memories and start with a clean slate if I was to have any hope of leaving this class with a respectable grade. Once I made the commitment to approach poetry with an open mind, I started to feel that I might have a chance to conquer my poetry demons and could actually do well in the class. I was amazed when I realized one day that I was not only understanding what I was reading, I was enjoying it.

However, my role as a student didn’t end with a commitment and a willingness to bury the hatchet when it came to reading poetry. I needed to go further than the techniques involved to truly appreciate and understand the words of the poets. I had to be willing to explore the world behind the words. I had to let my imagination fly as I watched the metaphors take wing and soar from the poets pens. I had to discover the world that the writers lived in by imagining I was looking through their eyes. Dickinson world was filled with flowers, her religious beliefs and she used metaphors to describe her feelings about the world around her. Bradstreet was a Puritan who wrote about her town, her family and the pleasures she took in the simple things in life. Poe, well, he was a very disturbed young man who put his dark thoughts into words and shared his pain, his fears and his scary nightmares with his readers. By digging deeper and discovering the poet’s personal worlds, I was better able to understand their works and the beauty behind their works.

In the end, due to the help and resources provided by my instructor, my commitment to approach the subject with an open mind and my willingness to take the extra journey of discovery to find just what inspired the poets, I was able to lasso a very respectable A+ in my American Literature course. I also left the course with a better understanding and appreciation for the writers of this genre and I no longer groan when I see a book a poems on the shelves of the local bookstore. I may never quote Keats to impress someone. But I can now speak with confidence when I say that if I was stranded on a desert island and only two books washed ashore, one being Stephen King’s newest novel and the other a book of works by Maya Angelou, I would not consider using the poetry book as kindling. That’s a sure sign that I’ve conquered those poets, don’t you agree?

I have to go now. There’s a huge, dark raven tapping on my sliding glass door. I think he has something to say.




The Haiku Train Wreck


Poetry is not my thing.  I’m not proud of it, but I do admit it freely.  I yawned in high school when poems were read out loud; Shakespeare’s sonnets scared me silly and the terms onomatopoeia and iambic pentameter were Greek to me.  I felt that the only poets I could tolerate were the ones who were singing songs or those writing the nifty little jingles selling deodorants on television.

When my kids were born, I was forced to learn nursery rhymes.  Now, I could deal with those.  Easy to remember, not too deep and I got the drift of the message pretty quickly.  When my granddaughter required poems, I could whip out “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and sound like a pro!

And then I joined WordPress.  I found myself intrigued by the few lines of a poem in the Reader, so I opened the post and continued reading, always ready to make a quick exit.  Much to my surprise, I felt the need to comment on a few because I not only understood them, I liked them.  When I commented, I usually prefaced with the fact that I was poetry illiterate and they would have to tolerate my ignorance.

Much to my surprise, I found myself reading more and more of the wonderful poems out there in WordPressland.  I can’t pretend I liked them all..but I can say that most of them were enjoyable and some of them just floored me.

Before I knew it, I began reading poems in conjunction with my regular WordPress reading.  This was a giant leap from my former refusal to even consider reading poetry.  But, you poets out there, dragged me kicking and screaming into your world and I must say thank you for broadening my reading interests.

As my poetry reading increased, I noticed a number of poems that caught my eye.  One or two of the poets were kind enough to label them for me;  these weird, confusing poems were called “Haiku.”

I would read the same poem, over and over, trying to figure out what the poet was saying.  The each line of the poem was so pretty but I couldn’t understand the damn things.  Curious, I had to look up what the hell this Haiku business was all about; all I knew so far was that these poems were short…really short.  So, being the nosy broad I am and trying to expand my new-found thirst for knowledge on the subject of poetry, I looked it up.  And, yeah, they are short but they have a very distinctive set of rules you must follow to write a successful Haiku.  So I decided to learn about how to pump one of these babies out.

But, first, I had to learn to pronounce it. From reading the word, I though it would sound like a sneeze, like ha-choo.  After listening to the verbal pronunciation, I found that it actually sounds like “Hi Koo!”  So, I’m glad no-one ever used the word Haiku in a conversation with me; I’m sure my response of “Gesundheit” would have been frowned upon by the literary crowd.

I learned that a Haiku is a poem that consists of 3 lines.  The first line consists of words that total five syllables; the second line contains words that total seven syllables, and the last line..same as the first with 5 syllables total.  Sounds easy, right?  But, wait!  Those three lines are then supposed to be split in two completely different parts; and one word (called a kiji) is supposed to be used to cut the 3 lines in 2.  Confused?  Wait, there’s more!  The two parts of the poem are not supposed to relate to each other, or at least so you would notice.  But, the kiji is the word that links the two parts and makes it a Haiku.  Whew!

What?  Is your head spinning?  Mine felt like I’ve taken too many of my meds.  Hold on now..we still have to consider subject matter when writing a Haiku.  You don’t just blurt out words on a subject such as strip mining or gall stones.  You’re supposed to use a “kigo”,which is a reference to a season (if your Japanese) or something you’ve observed while meditating as you take your daily stroll (for those of us who are not Japanese and wear our shoes in the house).  I’m sure there’s more to it;  I just get lost trying to explain it.  And, if I can’t explain it, you can be darn tootin I can’t write it.

So, what has all my research come to?  It’s given me a very deep respect for anyone who writes these complex, intricate poems; I tip my hat to them.  In the poetry world, I imagine they’re considered “haiku nerds” for being able to construct such beauty in three simple lines because, in my mind, nothing less than a literary genius can pull these babies off.  My research has also resulted in a sharper eye and better understanding when reading a haiku, which naturally ends up in a deeper appreciation of the art of writing one.

Will I ever write one?  I do not think so…it sends shivers down my spine to even think about attempting to spit out one of these wonders.  It would be a virtual poetry train wreck.  I will be content to sit back and let the poetry nerds (and I say that with great love and respect) do the work.  I’ll stick to my “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and just enjoy their Haiku.  (By the way, there is no plural for these I guess if you had to describe having more than one; you would say something like “Boy, I sure wrote a sh*tload of Haiku today.  How about you?” )  See, I did learn something!

Poets of WordPress..You Rock, and Haiku poets..You Rock Hard!


%d bloggers like this: