Journey into Poetry: Laura Boggess

The words of my youth were simple words. They were good words, functional words, words with concrete meaning. Even the bedtime stories my mother told us had an obvious purpose.

The moral of the story is…

What other need of words would the children of a blue-collar family have? Lofty words were for lofty people and we surely had none of those in our household.

So when my little brother’s kindergarten teachers gifted him with a book of poetry…it sort of rocked our world.

Dilly Dilly Piccalilli
Tell me something very silly:
There was a chap his name was Bert
He ate the buttons off his shirt.

Have you ever?

The book was Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes by Clyde Watson, Illustrated by Wendy Watson. The verses capture the adventures of a large family of foxes with remarkably human traits. My siblings and I fairly memorized the entire content. The sing-songy rhymes set us into fits of giggles and gave us a new language to share. We would call out the lines to each other while riding bikes down our dusty hollow, whisper them up through the crack between the wall and the bunk beds at night, sing them out from the tops of the trees we climbed. We carried them with us through the years.

Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes is a collaborative effort of two sisters. Says Wendy, of the book, “Its inspiration has been our childhood at home on the farm in Vermont—the seasons and the work that goes with each, the buildings, the countryside—and the atmosphere and fun of our own family. Many foxes wear favorite garments that still hang in closets in Putney; and special family occupations and times of year and occasions are in almost every poem and picture.”

What? You mean poetry can be about real life? And be fun too?

It was a lesson I took to heart. I began to hear poetry everywhere. In the kneading of the bread dough my mother drummed and moiled on Sundays, in the way the wind soughed through the trees, the distant bark of dogs, or the long low whistle of a train.

Poetry came to me from everywhere.

And then I grew up.

Once again Poetry took on the lofty presence of a thing that required careful study. I was afraid of poetry. Afraid I didn’t know the right words or the right form or the right anything. It made me nervous.

And so, I avoided it.

But poetry came looking for me.

When I met Laura Barkat, and she re-introduced me to poetry—I was cautious at first. But what was offered was so much grace—tender leading hands which desired that I bask in the joy of this luminous word-play. Her gentle encouragement awakened a recognition in my spirit. And so I began to join in the word–play—frequenting Tweetspeak Poetry, participating in Twitter poetry parties. Poetry here is warm, inviting. And sometimes I accept the invitation.

I still feel clumsy with words most days, but I am slowly embracing this new way of seeing. That is what poetry is to me—a way of opening my eyes to the beauty around me. A way to name that beauty. And it has made my life richer.

I’ll leave you with these wise words from Father Fox:

Knock! Knock! Anybody there?
I’ve feathers for your caps
And ribbons for your hair.
If you can’t pay, you can sing me a song,
But if you can’t sing, I’ll just run along.

Photo by L.L. Barkat. Used with permission. Post by Laura Boggess of The Wellspring.


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  1. says

    I think that kind of fun, children’s poetry is a way in for a lot of people, Laura. Not a thing wrong with it in the world. What a wonderful teacher to gift that to you!

  2. says

    I still have that book, Megan. Occasionally I pull it out and the pages flood my heart with such good feelings. A good gift, indeed.

  3. says

    Oh! I love that you still have the book, Laura. How marvelous.

    This whole piece reminds me that words are the birthright of everyone. I want that for people, that “in” to a world that actually belongs to them.

  4. says

    This is where it starts, this love of words: with children. And there are so many wonderful poets who write verse for children. Jack Prelutsky is one of my favorites.

    Your prose at The Wellspring often reads like poetry, Laura.

  5. says

    Real life—yes! And fun—YES, YES!!!!!

    I’m with Maureen: Jack Prelutsky is great. Here’s one from a collection of his Thanksgiving poems that we have:

    “When the turkey gobble gobbles
    it is plump and proud and perky.
    When our family gobble gobbles
    we are gobbling down the turkey.”

  6. says

    Yes, Maureen, I see the truth of this. Falling in love with those poems as a child put down a fertile bed that nurtured the tender shoots of a love for words for years to come. I will have to check out Jack Prelutsky since he comes with such high accolades from you and Monica. Never too old…

  7. says

    Now that I’ve had but a taste, I’m gonna have to get me that book…

    Thank you for this post. Maybe I like the kid poetry so much because I was never ever introduced to it — until I met you and LL. I wrote angst poetry in high school, but who didn’t do that?


  8. says

    I think pretty much everything you write at the Wellspring is poetry Laura.
    I mean that.
    I grew up small on Shell Silverstein and then survived the angst of middle years with Tennyson (On either side the river lie, long fields of barley and of rye…will never lose The Lady of Shalott)…but somewhere down the road, I forgot–
    The power and beauty of reading and heart-memorizing words like these.

    Thankfully, our kiddos pulled me back into their joy with a love of anything that rhymes…just put our 2 year old down for a nap with Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses :)
    I’m going to sign up for the daily poetry…love that idea…thank you.

  9. says

    How wonderful that you have such wonderful memories associated with that book and poetry, and that you are able to share with others now through your writing…your writing on your blog is poetry…Many thanks to L.L. and you for kindling my interest in poetry…I guess one is never too old to discover poetry :)

  10. says

    See, and if I’d have had to guess, I’d say you’d been doing this same amazing, beautiful thing your whole life. I love hearing you tell your story, Laura. Very much.

  11. says

    You all are the sweetest of friends. Darlene–You will love father fox. Silliness abounds but also…um…love. And I did my share of that angst drivin writing too :). Kara–you will love the poem a day! It’s one of the bright spots in mine. We are still big Shel Silverstein fans…despite that unfortunate author photo on the back of his books. Dolly–isn’t Laura L. a wonderful teacher? Such a gift to all writers. Lyla–we are fledgling poets together :). I’m enjoying watching you grow into this new language too.

    Feel very blessed to be here, having this conversation.

  12. says

    I love this story, Laura! I have always loved poetry, but never ventured much into it, feeling under-qualified, under-instructed, just under. I love reading it – just don’t write it much. I’ll think on it…

  13. says

    Love this, too. I am a huge lover of poetry, and my youngest is, too. Some of her fondest memories include listening to Garrison Keillor read the daily poem on The Writer’s Almanac. We both enjoy all kinds but lately our favorite has been the children’s author Jack Prelutsky :) Somehow I think you will, too, if you aren’t familiar with him already!

  14. says

    Laura, my childhood was filled with Nursery Rhymes! Good ole Mother Goose! I have always loved poetry, but it has also had such mystery for me. I, too, feel very intimidated – especially since I have always written those rhyming sort of poems. I can’t quite figure out the free verse.
    You write poetry with your heart and I love it! Keep writing please.

  15. says

    Really enjoyed reading Laura, a silky poetic voice shared throughout the prose. Loved what you said here “Once again Poetry took on the lofty presence of a thing that required careful study. I was afraid of poetry. Afraid I didn’t know the right words or the right form or the right anything. It made me nervous.”

    Sometimes I feel as though I must be incredibly welled traveled and cultured to understand poetry, or thoroughly educated regarding certain aristocratic elites you only read about in another intellectual elitist’s poetry. I have no such passion…Thanks for sharing so gracefully, authentically, and leaving room for the simple-hearted expressionists such as myself.

  16. says

    Thanks to you all for your encouraging words. I can’t say enough about what Tweetspeak does…opening poetry doors for so many. How refreshing it is to feel that this beauty that poetry offers is accessible–not hidden away for only a learned few. I’m so glad this community is here to encourage each other and grow together.

  17. says

    I love poetry! It must come from growing up with a mom who taught high school English. :-) I used to love teaching poetry to my 3rd & 4th graders when I was teaching. Now I enjoy it with my boys as we home school. Poetry is Biblical! “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 :-)

  18. says

    I resonated so much with your words here, Laura. Loving poems as a kid? Check. The fear of poetry when I grew up? Check. Laura L.B. gently inviting me to open the poetry door again? Check.

    Having kids has opened the poetry door, too. Poetry written for kids is so unpretentious, so approachable. It’s helped me feel more competent to read poetry written for adults. I still don’t understand the half of it, but I’m learning to just enjoy the feel of the language on my lips and trust that understanding comes with exposure. I hope.

    Thanks so much for this heartfelt post.

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