A Guest Columnist for Poetry Friday

I turned this over to my husband this morning, having left the poems I wanted to talk about at home. Welcome, Patrick.

Charlotte and I were discussing why the poetry in Jack Prelutsky's Scranimals is such a letdown. Inventive to be sure (bananaconda, porcupinapple), but dull. I think it's because he has no confidence in his readers, so feels the need to insist that the rhyme scheme structure the reading of the poem. How does he do this? With too many commas. See how commas can straitjacket your voice:

The comma's the curse,
of children's verse,
leaving no choice,
for the speaking voice,

to sail o'er the chasm,
no, they make us spasm,
odically bumble,
gripe, grizzle, and grumble.

(Charlotte: This is by Patrick, not Prelutsky, incidently)

(Now remove the bulk of the commas and re-read it. It doesn't improve the poem (what could?), but it does grant the reader interpretative freedom of a sort.)

I prefer the semantics to the metrics of rhyme: a series of rather magical coincidences that confronted the rational mind with hitherto unperceived and outrageous comparisons; a bit like Magritte. Hammer the rhyme scheme home with neon nails and you have doggerel. Bossy old commas.

When we were kids in Liverpool we chanted Blake's "Tiger, tiger" like the Shipping Report:

Dogger, Fisher, German Bight,
In the forests of the night

Then one day I heard it read as "burning bright in the forest of the night." No comma, no pause.

So I don't mind rhyme. Auden rhymes. Charles Causley rhymes. Shakespeare sometimes rhymes. Yet neither compel the speaking voice to bang along on the desk with a big stick. I know, I know, speaking poetry is difficult. Here's an awful reading of Tiger Tiger.

Ok, now here's a poem our 7 year-old likes*, from Charles Causley's Figgie Hobbin:

I Saw A Jolly Hunter

I saw a jolly hunter
With a jolly gun
Walking in the country
In the jolly sun.

In the jolly meadow
Sat a jolly hare.
Saw the jolly hunter.
Took jolly care.

Hunter jolly eager-
Sight of jolly prey.
Forgot gun pointing
Wrong jolly way.

Jolly hunter jolly head
Over heels gone.
Jolly old safety catch
Not jolly on.

Bang went the jolly gun.
Hunter jolly dead.
Jolly hare got clean away.
Jolly good, I said.

Charlotte here: So much from trying to shield our little boys from GUNS.
Patrick here: As our 7 year-old would say, "Self-to-text reference!": I first heard Causley in a folk club in Liverpool; or rather, I heard his much-anthologized poem Timothy Winters sung. I'm surprised Loreena McKennitt hasn't plundered his oeuvre yet.
He was in the Navy in WWII, and one collection of poems was named Union Street, after the red-light district of Plymouth, much frequented by sailors on leave. My Mum lived on Union Street for more than 20 years, but always omitted those two words from her address. The shame! (Charlotte here--she still managed to get mail).

Informative aside (from Charlotte): Charles Causley (August 24, 1917 – November 4, 2003) was a Cornish poet and writer. He wrote several books of poetry for children, of which Figgie Hobbin (1970 and many subsequent reprints) is perhaps the best known.

Here's what W. H. Auden thought of him "Causley stayed true to what he called his 'guiding principle'....while there are some good poems which are only for adults, because they pre-suppose adult experience in their readers, there are no good poems which are only for children." (quoted in the 2005 edition of the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, p 1253)." (thanks, Wikipedia).

*Charlotte here again--actually, our 7 year-old likes Prelutsky just fine too.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Whimsy Books today!

1 comment:

  1. "I prefer the semantics to the metrics of rhyme: a series of rather magical coincidences that confronted the rational mind with hitherto unperceived and outrageous comparisons"
    Lovely way of putting this. I agree.
    This was a fun post to read.


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