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.
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