Friday, November 23, 2007

Monkey Prose Poetry Profile - Waxing GrassHoppeR

“There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.” ~Robert Graves

Poetry has always been a cipher to me, an unknown entity - both intimidating and alluring. Reading poetry looked harder than Chinese algebra. Therefore I have little experience with this art form. However, in the spirit of self improvement, I’ve decided to dive into the deep end of the poetry pool, and see if I can swim among the sonnets, stanzas, and similes.

First, I need to define what poetry is. The Wallkill Central School District (a favorite haunt of literati) defines poetry as: “a type of literature in which ideas and feelings are expressed in compact, imaginative, and often musical language. Poets arrange words in ways designed to touch readers’ senses, emotions, and minds. Most poems are written in lines that may contain patterns of rhyme and rhythm.” OK, I can understand that.

Second, I need to determine why many people anticipate reading poetry with the same dread as a trip to the dentist. I think it’s because we were beaten over the head with poetry in school. Teachers required us to memorize poems and dissect them like medical students’ cadavers. Very few educators conveyed the message that poetry could bring wonder, excitement, and new insights about life.

The word “poetry” brings back memories of learning verses by heart, and then reading them aloud - a standard protocol for the nuns at St. Peter’s Grammar School. While there, I renamed my learning institution God’s Gulag, a phrase I only dared to voice beyond earshot of The Penguins. The nuns would punish miscreant memorizers with a ruler to the knuckles. Therefore I was conditioned to associate poetry with pain.

These facts explain why many perceive reading poetry as an unpleasant task - something to be slogged through with gritted teeth, like doing homework or taking out the garbage. No wonder so many of us shy away from it!

Third, types of poetry should be discussed. The two categories are rhymers and roamers (free verse). Rhyming poetry includes music lyrics, so we all have been exposed to and enjoyed poetry. Free verse is just that – free. There is significantly more latitude to convey thoughts without the constraints of meter and rhyme. I prefer free verse – because it costs less. Ba-dum-BUMP! No seriously folks, it’s great to Regain Paradise! (John Milton must be turning over in his grave.)

In the course of writing this article I realized that the poetic process synthesizes a concept down to a few well chosen words. This produces works that are purified and polished like 24 carat gold or cut diamonds. Thus I’ve begun to enjoy poetry’s structure as well as its message. This activity appeals to my penchant for perfection. A typical Monkey Prose blog post might go through as many as 50 revisions before I publish it. I blame this on traumatic potty training.

My first foray into poetry involves a fellow blogger and wordsmith - Waxing GrassHoppeR. I’m guessing that’s not his real name. I can envision him at a black tie party. “Oh, GrassHoppeR . . . of the Philadelphia GrassHoppeRs?” Hmmm, I don’t think so.

You can read his profile at Waxing GrassHoppeR Profile. His poetry blog can be found at A Blade of Grass. The blog’s subtitle is “Everything speaks in its own way. The earth speaks. The plants and animals and insects and birds speak. Everything has a voice. I'm trying to listen to the words of the world around me.” That is poetry in itself.

Since I’m as qualified to critique poetry as I am to pilot the Space Shuttle, I can only give you my impressions of Waxing GrassHoppeR’s work, so here goes:

Star, Star:

One night when I was young I looked up into the stars.

One seemed to fall and shot across the sky.

I wondered, Where did it go?

Went looking for it but my world was too wee.

Sat down and cried alone in the trees.

Only found home when the sun rose.

I grew and my world grew with me.

I learned and read.

I traveled and worked.

I saw the beauty of the natural world and its life.

Saw the state of my fellow, virtue and vice.

I came to know people.

To love one of them.

Madly in love so I couldn't even tell.

Could only glance sparks like the twinkle of a star who can't know how my heart leaps out of my chest and I wondered if maybe the star was still and I was dancing in the night sky.

Loved like that.

One night when I was young I saw a star shoot.

I wondered, Where did it go?

Now I'm older I see that the brightest star fell through my hands as I watched.

Last night I was reading “A Good Dog” by John Katz. He described how he became simpatico with the universe through a star called Sirius. One night, it shined down on him with blazing intensity. Then the energy flow became two way. John communicated with The Dog Star like a high speed Internet connection. The author said the experience was profound and transcendent.

GrassHoppeR’s poem echoes the same sensation. He questions “I wondered if maybe the star was still and I was dancing in the night sky.” GrassHoppeR felt a need to connect with the natural world beyond him. Stars are obvious visual tools. Humans have looked at the stars and wondered ever since primitive man first appeared.

GrassHoppeR believes that we are the only creatures out of sync with the world. In a prose commentary after his poem, his states “everything else is balanced in nature and form except us... this just isn't right... everything else but man makes sense.” Global warming and pollution reinforce his conclusion.

In the poem, GrassHoppeR expresses:

One night when I was young I looked up into the stars.

One seemed to fall and shot across the sky.

I wondered, Where did it go?

Went looking for it but my world was too wee.

Sat down and cried alone in the trees.

He presents the idea that all of us, whether we know it or not, have an intrinsic need to connect with nature. It is necessary for us to feel whole. I believe that much of the alienation and depression modern humans experience is because we have broken our umbilical cord to the world. Without it we feel cut off and alone.


We fly our flags at half mast for dead soldiers...
Let's raise them up
to where they should be
and leave the banners in the muck.

The War in Iraq was my first thought when I read this poem. The US has lost over 3,000 soldiers, with very little to show for it.

Wars rarely solve political problems. Talking works much better, and is a lot cheaper. We don’t have to agree with another country to talk with them. Dialogue is the beginning of mutual understanding, and understanding can lead to solutions. Just look at what Jimmy Carter accomplished in North Korea and George Mitchell in Northern Ireland.

GrassHoppeR raises the idea that war is not something to be glorified. It should be a last resort. I have the greatest respect for soldiers who have given their lives for their countries. But it is the responsibility of world leaders to only put their soldiers into harm’s way when no other option is available.

Reflection and reconciliation should take precedence over victory when a war is concluded. The key questions should be “How can we prevent this from happening again?” and “How can we reconcile with our former enemy?”, not “Look how we kicked their asses!” GrassHoppeR’s poem captures this sentiment very well.

Stuck in a dory on a stormy sea...

... oh my oh me... what will I do when the stormy sea falls in on me... will it make my eyes like those of the fish thawing in the sink... will I turn pink... blue... will I see you... oh my poor little beat of a heart... boo who for me... boo who for you...

Here's water's wisdom... whether rain or sea or river or tears... water keeps moving... without pity for itself... like the world under water... as it is...

So if stuck in a dory on a stormy sea remember... nothing is forever... not even water or storms... all things move to one feather... one brush... one tide...

GrassHoppeR’s imagery is compelling. When he says “will it make my eyes like those of the fish thawing in the sink... will I turn pink... blue” he appears to be contemplating drowning. He is wondering if his body will assume the visage of a dead fish. I can see the fish in the sink when I read this poem, and smell it as well.

His comments on water illustrate a primary difference between man and his environment. We sometimes put our lives into neutral to contemplate things, while the juggernaut that is nature always keeps moving forward. If we could get more in touch with that flow, then perhaps we would feel more connected, and realize more peace.

Conclusion: I very much like Waxing GrassHoppeR’s poetry. I understand his voice. He elicits powerful imagery. It has increased my enjoyment of poetry, and motivated me to read more. As Kwai Chang Caine’s master told him in the TV Program Kung Fu, “Well done, GrassHoppeR!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seems to me when you started getting into poetry that you were way too hard on yourself about learning the structure that it intimidated you. The thing about poetry is that it is the most unstructured piece of writing that can be altered and twisted into an artistic creation of your imagination.