Posted in difficult subjects, general and welcome, poetry

A Pantheist Poem for National Poetry Day

Today, 6 October 2016, is National Poetry Day and Twitter is full of celebrations for everything from best-loved verses to unusual and little discovered gems.In the spirit of the day, I thought I would share a silly sonnet I wrote as part of an Open University course, which is a take-off of a well-known Shakespearean composition (apologies to the Bard for taking such liberties…):

If Shakespeare were a hypochondriac…

 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

I think I’d rather not.

All spring and summer I suffer from hay

fever. Out! Out! Damned yellow snot!

 

So what can I compare thee to instead?

Perhaps an autumn morn?

But with the onerous onset of SAD

Would I feel too forlorn?

 

Could I compare thee to a winter’s eve?

Of virgin snow just laid?

Unfortunately there’d be no reprieve

From Lemsips freshly made.

 

Believe me, darling, you are beautiful

Alas my illnesses are plentiful.

 

This however is not the Pantheist poem that I alluded to in the title of this post. That refers to the poem I have chosen to share with you today, a poem that apparently has been voted one of Britain’s favourites but whose authorship has been greatly disputed.

The piece in question is ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep’ by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004), a comforting reflection of what happens to our loved ones when they die. I’d come across the sonnet years ago and loved it for its simple message that, once our physical bodies cease to exist, our souls find homes in the marvels of the natural world, and that God is reflected, and can be found, in Nature. I believe this is a sort of pantheistic view (you can read more about Pantheism here).

The poem took on special meaning to me more recently as I lost my stepfather Keith just over a week ago. He came into my life when I was already an adult but has been there for me and my family over the past two decades, providing love and support, friendship and kindness. He was a much-loved grandfather to Holly, teaching her how to play hide and seek (making her laugh by always standing underneath the coat stand in the hallway so she would just see a pair of legs sticking out from under a mountain of jackets) and amusing her with Mini-Cheddar tricks.

When my mother, stepsister and I were discussing the service for his funeral next Monday we all agreed that this poem expressed the sentiments of our own beliefs and provided a comfort that we needed at this sad time.The idea that we can remember Keith every time we see a sunset, or a flock of birds, or in the stars seemed apt – he loved the natural world and was a keen and skilled gardener. And with all the atrocities taking place in the world at the moment, it’s vital that we look to Nature for reassurance and peace because, while warring governments and regimes insist on tearing apart our planet and displacing or killing innocent people, Nature carries on regardless. The sun rises and sets and the seasons change despite our actions. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that there are things out there that bigger than us, although we also play a hugely important role in ensuring their survival.

Apparently Mary Elizabeth Frye  wrote this, her only poem (that we know of), on a brown, paper shopping bag after hearing the story of Margaret Schwarzkopf, a young Jewish girl who had stayed with the Frye family. The young woman wasn’t able to return to Germany to see her dying mother because of the increasing anti-semetic violence in the country leading up to the Second World War, and was forced to mourn her at a distance. Frye’s words attest to the fact that we can still ‘be’ with people spiritually even if we cannot be with them physically and it’s easy to see how Schwarzkopf’s experiences could have inspired the sentiments expressed in this poem.

So many people liked Frye’s sonnet that she wrote out her own copies and gave them away. She never copyrighted the poem or officially published it, which is why its origins came into dispute a little while ago. But it has become one of the most popular poems in this country and abroad for its simple beauty and its timelessness. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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Which is your favourite poem? Who is your favourite poet? Please share, and Happy National Poetry Day!

Posted in poetry

National Poetry Day – hearing ‘Aragorn’ read TS Eliot

Since today is National Poetry Day, I thought it would be good to write a post on … well, poetry, of course. And while this blog is mainly dedicated to children’s literature, I thought I would share with you my experience of an amazing event at the British Library last month.

This year sees the fiftieth anniversary of Eliot’s death and a series of events, lectures and articles were planned to celebrate this. On September 11, I heard and saw actor, poet, painter and photographer Viggo Mortensen (of ‘Lord of the Rings’ fame) read TS Eliot’s poem ‘The Wasteland’ at the British Library. Opportunities like this are few and far between and the event was quickly sold out, so I was lucky to get a ticket.

Photo courtesy of the British Library

I’ve always found Eliot a difficult poet … and for good reason. His works are full of allusions to classical literature and religion, amongst other things, and he aimed for obscurity in his oeuvre, wanting to make his reader work. His biographer Robert Crawford notes:

“Fifty years later, “difficult” remains the word most people attach to his verse. Yet we quote him: “Not with a bang but a whimper”, the last line of Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” is among the best-known lines of modern poetry. “April is the cruellest month” begins The Waste Land with unsettling memorability; no reader forgets the strangeness of the “patient etherised upon a table” at the start of “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”.” (quoted in http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/10/from-tom-to-ts-eliot-world-poet)

I first came across Eliot, properly, during my second BA with the Open University, when we studied ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’. I struggled to understand the symbolism, allusions… everything … and ended up greatly disliking the poem. What turned it around for me was hearing British comedian Robert Webb read the poem and explain what it meant to him, as part of a BBC programme. Suddenly I wasn’t just looking at the words and trying to analyse them, bit by bit. I was hearing the overall story, listening to the sounds, and enjoying the rhythm – which, for me, is what poetry is about. A kind of spoken song, a prayer to what is important to the writer.

I was similar affected when I listened to Viggo Mortensen read ‘The Wasteland’ to the sold-out audience of poetry lovers and, I assume, Viggo-lovers. He arrived at the podium quietly and spoke quietly about how he had chosen the British Library event over other invitations on September 11th because ‘The Wasteland’ is as appropriate now as when it was written after the Second World War.

On the train down to the event, I reminded myself of the poem and struggled, once again, with its story, becoming lost in my attempts to understand and analyse. Hearing Viggo read it, I concentrated more on the words and rhythm, the fluidity and rise and fall. To our delight, he read all the foreign language parts (eg German, Italian, Latin and Cockney!) with impeccable accents and even sang certain sections. This was Eliot as I had never heard him and, as with Robert Webb, I was entranced. Eliot ceased to be so intellectual, a poetic encyclopaedia, if you like, and became a poet. There are two particular lines that for some reason resonate with me and have done since I first read the piece:

‘I think we are in rats’ alley

Where the dead men lost their bones.’
I think about them, what they mean, and why they are important to me. I can’t explain it … yet.
If poetry has always been a bit of a turn-off for you, I urge you to listen to it. Find it on the internet, or better still, go to a reading and live the experience. I think it’s similar to reading Shakespeare – it’s hard to appreciate its beauty fully in the written word. And on that final note, here’s a link to a reading of one of Eliot’s children’s poems – ‘Macavity the Mystery Cat’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LjaTP0T3Ew
Enjoy and Happy National Poetry Day!
Posted in poetry

A multi-seasonal poem

Holly has written a lovely poem for today’s Advent post – 23 December 2014.

 

In sadness or in joy

“Do you care for one

Who does not care for you?

Do you love one

Who does not love you?

In sadness or in joy”

Sings the pretty bird who cries

“Sing a song of summer in

Mid-spring’s winter joy.”

“Who loves thee? Who loves thee?”

I cry and cry again,

“For I, the pitiful bird, shall

Try and try again.

Do I love thee? Do I love thee?”

I cry in deep despair.

“For I, the pretty pitiful bird shall

Cry and cry again.

Now tis the end of mid-spring-summer-winter joy”

So I burrow my tearful winter tears

In soothing blankets warm.

Posted in poetry

Holly’s Remembrance Sunday poem

image courtesy of hootingyard.org

No one will need reminding that today is Remembrance Sunday.

Each year we talk about what it all means and why we wear poppies. This year, Holly showed a sign of her growing maturity by using the last 10p she had at school to buy me a second poppy instead of a cupcake, when both were being sold on the same day. I was incredibly moved by this action and have worn my poppy with even more pride than normal.

Today we watched the Remembrance Sunday Parade and Service from London on the television. This always moves me to tears, thinking about the sacrifices so many brave men and women have made to help fight for our rights and our freedom. And it’s not just about the people who have died – it’s also about those who have been left behind to mourn them. Today there was a mother talking about her son and how her loss is forever symbolized by a set of photo albums. She had left three in the set to record the next steps his life would take, including getting married and having children. These albums will always remain empty, and the tears she cried were terrible to witness.

I hope that we continue to give this day and tomorrow the respect and gravity it deserves. The nature of war is changing but the sacrifices and bravery of all of those who try to keep us safe still remain great and humbling.

Holly felt sufficiently moved by the last few days’ events to write a poem, so I will end this post with her words.

 

Poppies they come in the colour of red

To represent the blood that was shed

We remember today

As the war ended this day.

 

We sit in silence and wait

and think of people who died like fresh bait.

They fought for us

And were loyal as be they must.

 

Some remember their family

Who have died, which is a tragedy.

Innocent lives that could have been spared

Went into war to fight as they dared.

 

image courtesy of http://flyingbuttresses.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/steve-thoms-poppy-field.jpg

Posted in poetry

These are the gifts that I would if I could give to you, by Holly

Holly recently enjoyed a poetry workshop at her school, run by Oxfordshire-based poet James Carter. (You can read about him at his website: http://www.jamescarterpoet.co.uk/index.html).

The children were asked to write a poem based on the sentiment: ‘These are the gifts that I would, if I could, give to you’ and this is Holly’s composition – we absolutely loved it.

 

For my Mummy and Daddy:

These are the gifts that

I would

if I could

give to you.

 

The golden key to an ocean of peace

A life so crystal clear you can see right through it,

The colours bottled up in a jar ready to spill out,

The warmth of a flickering candle glowing in the night.

 

I would give you all the brightness of a sunflower.

I would give you the guidance of my hand.

I would give you all the time you want and need

And all the happiness the world possesses.

 

These are the gifts

That I would

If I could

Give to you.

 

By Holly Fratter

 

What gifts would you give to someone you love, if you could?

Posted in humour, picture books, poetry

Review: The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race

Today’s review is of The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon, to be published in September 2013. Plus, as an added bonus, you get Holly’s thoughts on nonsense poetry as a genre (I wish she’d written my MA essay!) and a new nonsense poem written by her!

 

Image courtesy of http://images.angusrobertson.com.au

 

What it’s about (from the publishers): The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race is a psychedelic children’s story best described as, ‘Doctor Doolittle meets Sergeant Pepper’. Beautifully illustrated, it’s zany story follows a race as feverishly competitive as any held before. All manner of dastardly plans and cheats are concocted by the beasts including custard trampolines and banana diggers (the swines!). The Unicorn alone respects the rules. Admirable, yes, but in this weasel-cheats-puffin world what chance of victory does that give him?

Holly’s review: This book is about these animals who gather to do a race. People come to watch it to see who is the fastest. This book is written in rhyme and has just been published and was sent to us by the publishers Digital Leaf to read and review, so I say a warm thank you to them for sending us this book. I like this book because it is written in rhyme and the rhyme is nonsense and I love nonsense poetry because it makes me laugh. The drawings are very interesting – I can’t explain why, they just are, and they are all drawn with the same colours – purple and pink. I think this book has to be one of my favourite picture books and I definitely recommend that you read it.

Holly on nonsense poetry: It is just great the way that nonsense is written because for some reason even though it is nonsense you can still understand it.

There are different types of nonsense. Sometimes there is playing with words or sometimes it is actual real worlds put into nonsense poetry, like this poem I like:

I went to the pictures tomorrow

I took a front seat at the back,

I fell from the pit to the gallery

And broke a front bone in my back.

A lady she gave me some chocolate,

I ate it and gave it her back.

I phoned for a taxi and walked it,

And that’s why I never came back.

Playground Rhyme, published in The Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse, ed. Quentin Blake.

 

Do you see what they are doing? They are doing opposites so turning the meaning of the words around.

This is a poem I wrote for a local nonsense poetry competition. It is for Alice’s Day, which you can read about here: http://www.oxfordshirereading.co.uk/nonsense-poetry-competition We had to include the words Alice, Dodo and Sausage.

 

Alice the troll

She ate sausage rolls

And pickled kidneys of Dodo.

Her desert as we all know

Is Fried Hodo.

Alice the troll

She lives in a hole

By a river of liver.

It sparkles and glows

Deep low in the ground

With no space around, all around.

The dance and they sing

And drink liver ding ding

By the river of Liver.

 

Sam’s review: Holly adores nonsense poetry – always has done. The Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse she quoted from was one of the first books that she saved her money up to buy and it’s so worn (pre-loved I believe is the mot du jour) that the pages have deep crevices and creases in them from so much thumbing. I loved her summary of nonsense verse and in fact wished I had her write my last MA essay on nonsense verse – I think she would have done much better on it than I did! She picked up on a vital aspect of nonsense poetry that I don’t think I had ever really talked to her about, which was that the best nonsense does make some sort of sense. It’s never completely insane.

The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race was a delight to read. I felt that it was a kind of hybrid between Edward Lear and Spike Milligan in its plot – the ludicrous situation of the animals and the bizarre antics they get up to are great modern equivalents to these nonsense giants. The illustrations are marvelous too and really draw you into the story effortlessly. This is a book I know we will return to time and time again, and the fact that it sparked Holly to write more generally and critically about nonsense poetry with no coaxing from me (she wrote her review entirely on her own) shows what an effect this book had on her. We hope to see more of the same from the author and illustrator!

What is your favourite nonsense poem?

 

Please note that we were sent a copy of this book by the publishers but were under no obligation or reward to review it, and all thoughts are our own.

Posted in poetry

Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, at least it needn’t all the time…

Happy Saturday to you all.

I had to share this post as it’s something Holly and I worked on this morning as part of my Masters in Children’s Literature. We were asked to select an anthology of poetry that had won either the CLPE or the Signal Award. My choice was a book called This Poem Doesn’t Rhyme, edited by Gerard Benson.

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Image courtesy of waterstones.com

The two main reasons why are:

  • it’s an anthology of different poets’ works (I tend to prefer this to anthologies by one person)
  • it deals effectively and humorously with how children view poetry and tries to help them see beyond the immediate appeal of rhyme.

If it don’t rhyme, it’s not sublime

I worked as an intervention assistant in my daughter’s primary school and saw at first hand how children love rhyming poetry and dismiss other forms as not proper or correct. I did a session on this with some key stage 2 children, using Sharon Creech’s lovely book Love That Dog and I felt this had a similar aim – to encourage children to develop their poetry-writing skills – though through a different approach. Admittedly, though, I do prefer poetry that rhymes or at least has a very strong rhythm, and I think children do too because they love the flow of words and the anticipation of guessing the next rhyming word.

Benson explores this humorously in his opening poem, written by himself! – called ‘Problems of Poetry’, in which the poet persona is struggling to find end rhymes and failing spectacularly. This mimics his anecdote in the introduction that he kept finding children who were ruining brilliant poetry by searching for any word that might rhyme.

The second poem, entitled ‘Another Method’, shows how to write a prose poem by writing about how to write a prose poem (!) and the third is about sight rhymes at the end of lines, with some excellent examples – climb/limb, height/weight, laughter/daughter.’ This would be great too to use with students of English as a second language to show how unpredictable and unphonic (if that’s a word) English is.

Poetry, please

At this point, I asked Holly about poetry and whether it should rhyme. She’s a big fan of nonsense poetry (as am I) and she said that children find it easier to write rhyming poetry because otherwise they think poems sound like stories. So I read her an extract from ‘The Passing of Arthur’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson and she was quite captivated. She said that although it didn’t rhyme, it had a very strong rhythm, so she identified it was blank verse in iambic pentameter (though not so technically!). She said it was calm and relaxing to listen to because of its rhythm but the beat had an anger and energy to it.

At this point, she took the collection off me and started reading poems aloud, including: ‘The Mighty Horse’, from the Book of Job, ‘Buffalo Dusk’, by Carl Sandberg, and then one that was our favourite, ‘What for?’ by Noel Petty. I’ll include it below because it’s hilarious:

 

‘What For!’

One more word, said my dad,

And I’ll give you what for.

What for? I said.

That’s right, he said, what for!

No, I said, I mean what for?

What will you give me what for for?

Never you mind, he said. Wait and see.

But what is what for for? I said.

What’s what for for? he said,

It’s to teach you what’s what,

That’s what.

What’s that? I said.

Right, he said, you’re for it,

I’m going to let you have it.

Have what? I said.

Have what? he said,

What for, that’s what.

Do you want me to really give you

Something to think about?

I don’t know, I said,

I’m thinking about it.

Then he clipped me over the ear.

It was the first time he’d made sense

All day.

The humour of course lies in the misunderstanding of colloqualisms and the adult’s way of using them and the child not seeing the meaning (or choosing not to). This sort of conversation happens regularly in my house! What was interesting was that Holly didn’t know what the expression ‘what for’ was either but she still caught the humour, I believe through Petty’s clever observation of conversation. It perhaps shows that while children don’t have the full background to some texts, they can still make their own meaning from them (something we are studying in my other module, about reader response).

We also liked ‘The Greengrocer’s Love Song’ by Anon as it was very clever in how it used fruit and vegetable words in a strong play on words:

Do you carrot all for me?

My heart beets for you.

With your turnip nose

And your radish face

You are a peach.

If we canteloupe

Lettuce marry.

Weed make a swell pear.

Holly identified it as North American through the use of ‘swell’ but didn’t get the humour exactly until I showed her the spellings, which shows that certain poems do rely on a visual reading for their effect.

Finally, we liked a short riddle that appeared, called ‘Snake Riddle’ by Anon.

‘Why didn’t the viper

Vipe’er nose?

Because the adder

‘ad’er ‘andkerchief!’

To summarise, this is an excellent collection because it achieves different things – it informs children that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme to be beautiful, funny, moving or clever by showing examples that engage. It’s not overtly didactic or bossy – it just does what it says on the tin. I can see children enjoying this – Holly, who was reluctant to look at the book, couldn’t put it down!