When Spring Gives You Snowflakes . . .
On the Board

Blasting You With Poetry: Week 4

Welcome to another Thursday in April, filled with poetry!

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(This week, a view from my desk. Because it is too discouraging out in the garden right now . . . with all the frost-kill and all.)

“I’m a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I’d rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program.”
—Billy Collins

Although my mom read me the standard children's poetry available in the 1960s, it was mostly of the Nursery Rhyme and Robert Louis Stevenson variety (Shel Silverstein's Cracks in the Sidewalk - which really changed the landscape for poetry-directed-at-children - wasn't published until 1974). My mom wasn't a fan of poetry. She thought it needed to rhyme, that it needed to be taken seriously, and that it wasn't for "regular people." Like us.

Then, in third grade, I had Mrs. Hermann as my teacher. She turned my world upside down when it came to poetry!

Kym Grade 3

(Third grade me.)

Mrs. Hermann loved poetry, and she found poetry in everything.  We had poetry in the classroom almost every day. We memorized poems and recited them, which most kids hate -- but Mrs. Hermann made it fun. She showed us that poems could be serious or funny - or sometimes both at the same time. She introduced limericks and haiku. She shared nonsense poems like The Jabberwock and had us create an entire "zoo" of the creatures we imagined in the poem. We wrote poems for her -- that didn't ever have to rhyme, although they certainly could. She taught us that songs (like "Waltzing Matilda," which we sang on the regular and with gusto) were poems, that stories were poems, that poetry was everywhere. And that it was most definitely for "regular people." Like us.

(I often wonder about the rest of the kids in my third grade class. I wonder how many of them, like me, still love poetry. I wonder if any of them actually became poets. I'm betting . . . the percentage is higher-than-average.)

Anyway. Mrs. Hermann made poetry accessible to us as children. She knew that the way to a child's heart . . . was through silliness, (age-appropriate) humor, and fun. I believe that the best way to get people who "hate poetry" to actually pay attention and listen to poetry - to make it accessible to them - is much the same: silliness, humor, and fun. (What poetry-hating adult doesn't appreciate silly limericks, for example?)

And when it comes to making poetry accessible for the masses (for all of us "regular people"), I think no one does it better than Billy Collins. His poetry is serious. It covers serious themes and universal truths and all that "poetry stuff." But he always gets there with cleverness. With humor. With a bit of the silly thrown in to make you smile . . . in that very knowing kind of way.

This week, Bonny, Kat, Sarah, and I are sharing the "fun stuff" -- poems that are silly or clever; poems that are easily accessible and that "regular people" can "get." Mine, as you might have guessed, is by Billy Collins. (And I think my mom would have loved this one.)

Enjoy!

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The Lanyard
Billy Collins

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past --
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them, 
but that did not keep me from crossing 
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift -- not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother, 
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

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Today's poem was originally published in Billy Collins' collection The Trouble With Poetry, 2005, but can also be found in Aimless Love: New and Collected Poems by Billy Collins, 2013, Random House. For more information about the poet, check out his entry at Poets.org

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I hope you'll stop by and "blast yourself" with more poetry about spring, new beginnings, and renewal today . . . on Bonny's, Kat's, and Sarah's blogs.

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For a real treat, here is Billy Collins reading The Lanyard. Worth a watch/listen!

 

Comments

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Bonny

The Lanyard is funny, serious, poignant, and clever, and Billy Collins is the accomplished master of "regular people" poetry! You really did have some amazing teachers, and even though I never had a Mrs. Hermann, I'm glad I have come to rely on and appreciate poetry. (And yes to cocktail napkins with poetry on them!)

Vera

Billy Collins...sigh....always good. How fortunate you were to have Mrs. Hermann for your teacher. I grew up learning poetry from my parents who often recited poems they had memorized (some of my Mom's recitations were in Latin!). Fortunately I grew up in a home where poetry was enjoyed and appreciated.

Carolyn

Yes! Yes! I love that one! And hearing him read, well, such a treat. Thank you. I love your memories about Mrs. Hermann (oh, those special teachers that stay with us a lifetime...) and your school picture!

Patty

I had that dress! And thank-you for inching me closer and closer to exploring some poetry on my own. xo

Debbie

I love that poem and I love hearing Billy Collins read it even more!
You were very fortunate to have a teacher like Mrs. Hermann! I remember having to write three limericks for an English assignment in 6th grade. My teacher that year said that while my work was good, it was immature and I needed to develop a more mature approach to my work. I had no idea what she meant, but it made me feel embarrassed. How mature is an 11 year old anyway??? That evening I was so worried that she would think my humorous limericks were immature that I was in tears, but my dear Dad saved the day by having a limerick contest with me. I remember laughing and making up one silly poem after another with him and I still think of him whenever I read a silly poem.

Dee

I wonder if Mrs. Hermann knows what a good impression she made on you.

Good job, Mrs. Hermann!

Chloe

Lucky you to have had Mrs. Hermann! I'll bet she influenced MANY of her students. Gosh. Teachers. We had our grade school principal who, on the rare occasion when she subbed for an absent teacher, shared her joyous love of grammar with us. Who in the world LOVES grammar?? She did! And probably made grammar a lot less tedious for many of us... I loved The Lanyard reading, probably more for adults, Shel Silverstein came along too late for me as well. My main childhood poetry memories were Robert Louis Stevenson and Casey at the Bat. (It was a sunny world back then.)

Sarah

This is so good, and it brought back many memories for me of the random (and mostly ugly) things I made for my mother as a child -- as if anything I could make could fully capture my indebtedness to her for giving me life!

You know, I had forgotten this until you talked about your teacher, but my very strict (and British) fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Jenkins had us memorize the beginning of Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride." I can't remember many things, but all these years later I can still recite "Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere."

Carole

I'm full of gratitude for Mrs. Hermann and that she taught you to love and appreciate poetry. I'm going to show Dale the Lanyard because it reminds me so much of him and his mom.

Mary

I was hoping for some Billy Collins this week - thank you!

Kat

LOVE! This poem is just so fun... and so touching... and so real! Thank you for sharing this one! :)

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