Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Magic of Words

I love words. I love poetry. I love stories. I love books, and if I weren't so tired at the end of the day, I might be able to read more than one paragraph before falling asleep. There were close to 20 years in my life when words poured out of me. Yes, quite a bit of it was during my manic phase, but still, I lived and breathed words and ideas. I haven't lived that way now for nearly another 20 years.

I miss that fire in my brain, the way it would connect and pull out old, archaic words and phrasing and be exactly right for the emotion or experience I was trying to convey. Of course, when you're manic, things you write at 3 in the morning are absolutely brilliant! Looking back at them now, some of it is still very good, while a great deal more of it appears to be trial and error. My poor friend L had to read through them all and copy them down. She should receive Sainthood for that alone. She never once laughed at me or told me I was crazy.

So where did this love of words come from? I wouldn't say I grew up in an illiterate household, but I don't remember any books around the house other than school books and the occasional Reader's Digest collected works books that my mother sometimes got in the mail and would shove under the china cabinet and forget.

I remember watching Sesame Street and the Electric Company and just loving the rhyming segments and the sing-songy musical numbers they did. But that wasn't what did it. I still remember the day I tuned in to poetry. I was 7 years old and in Miss Flood's second grade class. I remember that I was half paying attention as she was reading poetry to the class. She read the following bit from Emily Dickinson:

I Never Saw A Moor

I never saw a moor
I never saw the sea
Yet I know how the heather looks
and what a wave must be

That jarred my ears and I immediately raised my hand and said, "that's not right." Miss Flood questioned why I thought it wasn't right and I told her, "it should say, I never saw a moor, I never saw a sea, yet know I how the heather looks and what a billow be." I was so convinced she read it wrong that she had to show me the book she was reading from. Still, something stuck in my gut that this wasn't right. Later I would go to the public library (yes as a 7 year old, I would get in trouble for this more than once) and found a collection of poems with the librarian's help. She also brought me a number of Emily Dickinson books. Most of them had the version that the teacher read, while I remember finding one version of the poem as I knew it. "I knew I was right." Who knows where I must have heard it before (PBS possibly), but it stuck.

Well, that impulse satisfied, I began reading other poets in the collection book and came across Christina Rosetti, the Brownings, Yeats and other classic Romantics. I was hooked! I could not get enough of the death, dying, eternal love and life themes. I know this is not the usual fare for a 7 year old, but I was already questioning where I came from, trying to make sense of strange memories in my head, wondering about dying and what happened then, so these poets spoke to me in a way Sesame Street never could. They gave me comfort that I wasn't alone, reassurance that some things survived and even transcended time.

Remember Me

When I Am Dead

When You Are Old

After reading these poems, I remember writing down all my favorites in a notebook that I could carry around with me and read whenever I needed reassurance. I progressed on to other poets eventually, but I did go through a few years with the Romantics, and then later many years with Dickinson.

Another poem that haunted me was "Nancy Hanks," a poem about Abraham Lincoln's mother. Here's a lady in a hospital reciting it. I can see this being me when I'm old and out of it, still reciting poetry.

I had hoped to pass my love of words onto my children. My daughter seemed to attach to it quite young and always asked for me to read a number of her favorite poems before bedtime. She still keeps her childhood poetry books. My son veered more toward music and old folk songs, but hey, there was poetry in the lyrics, so that was fine.

I ran a daycare when my daughter was little so I could afford to stay at home with her. I used to read to the children everyday. Some days I would perform Jaberwocky for the kids, usually when it was dark and stormy out. I believe fear in young children can be healthy when controlled. At least none of the parents complained their kids were having nightmares.

My daughter was enthralled as a toddler when I would act out and recite Jaberwocky to her and the other children in my daycare. Even once she was grown she remembered. She told a boyfriend about it and when she brought him home she wanted me to do Jaberwocky for him. Of course performing for 2 year olds and 20 year olds is quite different and since I hadn't done it in nearly 20 years, I wasn't sure I could remember all the lines anymore. So here's a young Kate Burton (daughter of Richard Burton) reciting the lines. Now just imagine a crazy mom/daycare provider crawling around the floor with 2 year olds acting out each scary bit. :-)

Was poetry ever fun for you?


Anonymous said...

Hi, was reading your entry for today. Gota tell you, you missed something, because as early as I can remember "books" were a part of our lives mine and every one elses in our house. When was young every thursday a new little elf book was purchased. When was a pre-adolesent, there were the Nancy Drew books, we had every one of them, and all were read at least twice, There were the classics, Heidi, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, and yes all of those readers digest books. Can not remember any poerty books at home, but that was not my preference. Was not fond of poerty. With the exception of Rudyard Kipling, and "IF" at one time could receite this word for word, it did speak to me. Then there were his stories The Jungle Book for example. Really was into adventure and mystery personally. Spent a lot of time at Corb. Lib my self. Also liked reading about indian history. Lib was my source for that kind of information also. Diane and I spent a lot of time there. That is also were we received religous education. At the Library.
What is very interesting to me is what things various members of the family remember and or do not. Perceptions of People. And just how varied they are.
One of the funnest things too me is Ki told me Grandma Mead was really mean? I never would have thought that am like how'd ya come up with that. But when that is said, can not tell you why because I really only remember her from a hand full of times? Am so glad the Loreen was there for you because think we were all in our own little worlds however we choose to excape, the daily nonsense. Gotta say, that maybe also do not think of poetry being the lyrics of most any song, and I too am partial to Old Folk Songs.
Am thinking as rereading your post that maybe it's the almost 10 years between us. I did not watch Sesame Street or Electric Company. For Diane, Robert, Kathy, & myself it was CAPTIN KANGROO EVERY MORN. Never Mr. Rogers,,, My children did watch Sesame Street though. p

Vancouver Voyeur said...

I remember hearing that you and D had the Nancy Drew books but I don't recall ever seeing them. Maybe they were put up and away from the younger siblings by the time I came along. I remember for my 11th or 12th birthday Beth next door got me a couple Meg mystery books and I was in hog heaven! Yeah, it's interesting what we remember. As kids we are all in our own little worlds and our perceptions are distorted. My only memory of books at home were the Reader's Digest books and school books. Then again, if I was into people like Dickinson, Rosetti, Browning and Yeats at 7, maybe the Little Elf books weren't real books to me. I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Little Elf books were toddler books, first books if you will. Never heard of Meg mysteries? But Dickinson was something that was forced on someone. I was introduced to Poe and Kipling. Rather than romatics. Or that is my memories of such things. As far as books being put up would love to know where they were sent, the boys also had Hardy Boys mysteries. My most favorite book as a small child was Little Black Sambo, and I loved that book, wish still had that one, it's worth a lot of money now.

Anonymous said...

No just remembered that they were around at least when you were 3 or 4. And I know that because, we were getting ready to go someware, all of us and your shoes were no where to be found. Finally mom had to go buy a pair of sneakers for you to wear. The funny part was about a week later they were found on top of the Nancy Drew books on the book shelf. Think Kathy was one who finally found them. You were always stickin stuff, some place. And have no clue why. :):)

tshsmom said...

I have a notebook full of poems I've liked too. I haven't read poetry in years. Like you, I was fascinated by adult poetry in the early grades. I also wrote a lot, both prose and poetry, until I had kids.

Reading has always been a very important part of my life. From a young age, I swore that I'd never marry a man that didn't read. L's love of books is what first attracted me to him.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

I lost a pair of shoes, really? I remember Kim constantly losing shoes when we were growing up.

Tshsmom, what poems/poets were in your notebook?

tshsmom said...

e e cummings is all I can think of right off the top of my head. I know there were others. I'll have to dig out my notebook.

Anonymous said...

Yes, usally it was KIM, she was famous for loosing shoes, socks, etc. "Special Toy's" that we could not leave the house with out.??? And then the hunts would begin...
tshsmom, e e cummings is that the poet who used .... a lot after various stanzas?

Vancouver Voyeur said...

E. E. Cummings wrote in lower case letters with no punctuation, right? He also used odd word choices?

anyone lived in a pretty how town
with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

Christina said...

Poetry is rad because you don't have to explain yourself. You can be as thorough or as vague as you need to be. And the more you do it, the better you find your rythm. I say you should try to write it more. Don't give up on it.