Notice: Some information and poetry for this series of poetry lessons is taken from Fundamentals of Poetry by William Leahy, published by Kenneth Publishing Company, Box 11120 , St. Petersburg, FL 33733, 1987 Edition, Copyright 1963. Unless otherwise noted, all specific examples and poems in this series are from this book.
Ever since children are first introduced to Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, and other Mother Goose - style characters, the poem is around. Songs are poems set to music, and as children grow, the characters in the poems change. One factor doesn1t. The poems are usually about one thing- one feeling, one person in particular, one event, one something. Most of the first poems were ballads, and were not written down. People, with strings instruments as accompaniment, went from town to town telling stories.
This tradition is still here, and a good poem deals with one subject and tells a story. There is the challenge. Poems are short, usually, and every word must count. These kinds of things scare beginning writers. Faced with the possibility of reducing an entire story to 20 to 30 lines or less, using the right kind of rhyme, is too much for some. First poems don1t always have to rhyme. We1ll get to form in a later lesson, so first concentrate on the one idea, the one concept that you want to get across.
Here is poem I wrote that was published in the Borders Review, in this first year of it's publication, Spring of 1993 at the University of Texas at Brownsville.
Land Mines The wall is down... Concrete is shattered into splintered blocks... Guards with guns are gone... Only deep holes remain where fence posts stood... But land mines are still planted ready to explode the past into the reality of the present.
The subject is war- concentration camps, prisoner of war camps, the Berlin Wall. The physical evidence of the past is gone, but two things remain - memories and land mines. Even if the forgotten buried mines are found and destroyed, the memories remain, and those involved in a war conflict will never forget the destructive power of this action. Constant reminders- a lost limb, a forced move, a deceased father or brother other family members- are the land mines that "explode the past into the reality of the present." More on the use of symbols is in a later lesson.
"Land Mines" has impact due to the imagery produced by the combination of descriptive words. The stories contained in this poem are not written by the author, but by the reader, who somehow can identify with this experience being described. Even if something happened in the past, the poem is being read in the present, and using this tense makes a poem alive, even though it may be hundreds of years old. Also note that poem does not rhyme. Next is a poem that expands on the notion "April showers bring May flowers" It is a personal metaphor by William Watson.
April April, April, Laugh thy girlish laughter; Then, the moment later, Weep thy girlish tears! April, that mine ears Like a lover greest, If I tell thee, sweetest, All my hopes and fears, April, April, Laugh thy golden laughter, But, the moment after, Weep thy golden tears!
Is April a month or a girl? Are the tears of the girl or the rains that happen that month? The hopes and fears could be the expected outcome of the family's yearly harvest. There is some use of rhyme, which helps create the poem's particular style. Poetry is a form of communication, and as such needs a sender and receiver with a source of information between the two. The source can be a traveling minstrel or a poetry web page. Still, poetry needs to be enjoyed by the reader as much as the writer enjoys writing it.