Poetry Tutorial – Week One

“Pretty things well said, it’s nice to have them in your head.” – Robert Frost

I’ve been known to have an occasional rant about poetry on Facebook. (Don’t get me started with the Betty comic strip that was smack talking poetry. Just don’t). One of my dear friends, L., whom I occasionally run with, was asking me about this. “I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.” Then I gave her an earful as we huffed around the block. She cited some crap ass education, I blathered on quoting random poetry lines I love, with no context, and we moved on. I want to be more thoughtful about it. So I’ve made a deal to try to win her over. I feel confident – she’s sharper than a pointy stick and a music lover, so we’re already halfway there. Her first request: “Start with the rhyming stuff.” Nothing I’m going to say here hasn’t been said elsewhere, and probably more articulately, but I’m going to say it anyway. Here’s hoping I can sway my friend.

Poetry is a big word. To say you don’t like poetry is the same as saying you don’t like books. Or music. Or food or people or any other tremendous category. You can like crime mysteries and cyberpunk and hate romance and historical fiction. You may love techno-pop music, while modern jazz leaves you cold. Cinnamon rolls are delicious, but sometimes you’re really just craving a lamb chop. There’s this weird snobbism around poetry: people think they should open a book and enjoy every poem, by every poet. It’s quite liberating to read aloud a Wordsworth poem, and say, “Well, that one sucked.” Hey, they all can’t be winners.

So here are some rhyming poems for L. Think about why rhymes stick in your head. Why do kids remember nursery rhymes? Why is that jingle from 1976 still there when you can’t remember where you left your kids? We’re just wired that way. It’s pleasing, the same way a circle is a perfect shape, the way we seek symmetry in people’s faces, the way certain sandwiches have to be cut on the diagonal. It just is right.

Ogden Nash is the master of rhyme and wit. His clever verses show a deep appreciation of the English language and a piercing sense of humor. You just know he’s the guy you’d want to sit next to a dinner party, to make snarky comments about the other guests. (He brought us the oft-used Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker). Besides, the kids love him. It’s a great way to start a lifetime love of wordplay.
A few gems:


The cow is of the bovine ilk,
One end is moo, the other, milk.

Family Court

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of the stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.

I’ll have more next week, but in thinking about a mythical dinner party, I’d like Dorothy Parker on the other side of me. She’s got the same edgy wit. I’d like to have her and Ogden give me their thoughts on the “Twilight” oeuvre. I’ve always enjoyed this one:

Social Note

Lady, lady, should you meet
One whose ways are all discreet,
One who murmurs that his wife
Is the lodestar of his life,
One who keeps assuring you
That he never was untrue,
Never loved another one…
Lady, lady, better run!

  1. #1 by Olivia on November 18, 2010 - 1:17 am

    Awesome! Of the things I’m planning on asking Billy Collins, “What is a poem?” is high on the list.

  2. #2 by MC on November 20, 2010 - 2:02 am

    Love it. I always wonder if Dorothy Parker had witty thoughts when she was home alone in her ratty robe as she was in public. (Maybe she wasn’t the ratty robe type….)

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