Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thanks for Poetry

I was a very good English major because I love to read.

I was a very poor English major because I hate to be critical.  And when you are an English major, your survival (ie, your grade) is based upon your ability to be critical.

So I did it, but I didn't like it.
I read literary criticism and wrote papers regurgitating views I didn't necessarily agree with (or often fully understand).
I taught six semesters of English 111/112, and did my best to grade stacks and stacks of papers with the severe red-penned approach like that of my office mates, but was criticized for handing out too many As and Bs and not enough Cs and Ds.

My breaking point was a grad-level poetry workshop.  I was thrilled get in to the class, as it was taught by a distinguished and well-loved professor.  And of course, I am a poetry fan.

On the first day, we went around the room and were asked to recite a bit of a favorite poem. When it was my turn, I began, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . . "  A few of my classmates sniffed at my choice, and one (who I thought was my friend) droned, "Frost is so plebeian."

I was embarrassed.  Not only because of the snub, but also because I wasn't so sure what "plebeian" meant.

I went home, looked up plebeian and dropped the class a few weeks later.

(I know -- I was a quitter, I admit it.  The class was REALLY hard -- deconstructionist litereary theory, eek -- my classmates were all trying to "one-up" each other, and I had two little girls at home.  At the time, it was an easy -- and relieving -- decision.)

And I dropped poetry for awhile.  But thanks to Garrison Keillor, and The Writer's Almanac, I rediscovered my love of poetry.  Thank goodness, because some days  I just need a good poem.

And speaking of good poems, here's one of my favorites, which I am sure would be considered uber-plebeian.  I remember my dad reciting this one, "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphan Annie" to us.  Riley is criticized for his use of dialect, and his provincial and sentimental themes.  But just look at that third stanza -- dried corn tassels "preaching a sermon" -- that is beautiful, and touches the heart of this plebeian farmgirl poetry lover.

When the Frost is on the Punkin

James Whitcomb Riley

WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,         
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—  
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—  
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;  
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps  
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—  
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

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