". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, April 17, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 11

The last lesson contained an example of a quatrain-- a stanza form consisting of four lines that rhyme in some sort of pattern. In an earlier lesson we studied couplets. These are just two of many options for giving structure and form to poetry. But there is also a type of poetry that does not adhere to any formal guidelines. Instead of being organized into regular stanzas and utilizing meter and rhyme, it is "free" from them and so is called free verse. Due to the lack of rhyme and meter, free verse may not even sound much like poetry when it is read aloud. What sets it apart from prose (non-poetical language) is that it still draws on many other poetic techniques such as intensity and conciseness of expression, figurative language, and a greater emphasis on creating an experience for the reader than on communicating information.

Some people think that free verse is a cop-out--that it is a way of making the writing of poetry easier, since the poet doesn't have to make his message fit within a certain framework. It could be argued, however, that the lack of rhyme and meter means that free verse puts other demands on the poet. Because the poem is not unified by rhyme and meter, it is perhaps even more important that it be unified by other poetic elements.

Below are two poems about the grass. One is in free verse, and one is not. Which is which? Which one do you like better?

In the Grass - Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

"Spring Grass" - Carl Sandburg

Spring grass, there is a dance to be danced for you. 
Come up, spring grass, if only for young feet. 
Come up, spring grass, young feet ask you. 

Smell of the young spring grass, 
You're a mascot riding on the wind horses. 
You came to my nose and spiffed me. This is your lucky year. 

Young spring grass just after the winter, 
Shoots of the big green whisper of the year, 
Come up, if only for young feet. 
Come up, young feet ask you.

"The Grass" - Emily Dickinson

The Grass so little has to do –
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain – 

And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along –
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything – 

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls –
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing – 

And even when it dies – to pass
In Odors so divine –
Like Lowly spices, lain to sleep –
Or Spikenards*, perishing – 

And then, in Sovereign Barns to dwell –
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do
I wish I were a Hay – 

* a spikenard is a type of herb

I'm sure you figured out that the first poem is in free verse. But even though it sounds rather speech-like, it is very different from prose. Can you identify some of the ways? How does Sandburg help you to experience the grass? What sense words (imagery) and metaphors can you find? Without rhyme and meter, what is used to give the poem form?
What type of stanza does Dickinson use in her poem? (quatrain) What is the grass compared to? Why do you think certain words are capitalized? Why would the speaker rather be hay than grass?

(Note: My initial plan was to post a simple poetry lesson in observance of National Poetry Month every week day during April. I have already failed in that plan and will probably continue to do so, but I plan to keep posting as frequently as possible in case there is anyone reading and also to keep me on track with the student in my house!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 10

It's April fifteenth
You know what that means
There's no time for blogging
Or much anything.

I know. It's pretty weak as poetry goes. Blame it on Uncle Sam!

(Be back soon.)

Oh, and the above poem is an example of a quatrain, a 4-line poem (or stanza) with an alternating rhyme scheme. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


My friends wrote a book. I was honored to be given a sneak peek and am here to tell you that you need to buy it, like, now. I will have more to say about LadyLike in the future, but for now, please just trust me (would I steer you wrong?) and go to CPH and place your order. Then go to Facebook and like the LadyLike page (I dare you to say that five times fast). Then add the LadyLike blog to your news feed. Then follow LadyLike on Pinterest. And if you're in the St. Louis area, sign up for this. (Oh, to be in St. Louis this weekend.)

Thank you, Mrs. Curtis and Mrs. Adle for giving so much of yourselves to write this book for us! You're awesome!


Here is a video of Trevor's performance with the UNL Symphony last month. Much better in every way than mine! There are some nice close-ups on hands and face, too. There is very little that approaches the joy of seeing your child do something not only that he loves but that is a blessing and service to others. Thank you, Glen Korff School of Music for providing my son such a good home away from home the last four years. It has been a wonderful journey for him and those who love him!

National Poetry Month, Day 9

Today let's write some similes and metaphors. Remember, a simile is a stated comparison between two unlike things, and a metaphor is an implied comparison. The example illustrates the difference.

Getting a hug from a friend is like being wrapped in a soft, warm blanket. (simile)
Her hug covered my cold, sad heart in a blanket of warmth and love. (metaphor)

Both expressions compare a hug to a blanket, but the first one comes right out and states it, while the second one only suggests it.

Below are some ideas of things to describe . Pick one or two (or think of your own) and try to write both a simile and a metaphor for each. Start by thinking about the thing you want to describe. What does it look/smell/sound like? How does it make you feel? Then think of what you could compare it to to communicate those things. It may take a few tries to come up with the best combination of words to express what you want. Don't give up! Write down whatever you think of, and then keep adding to it, experimenting, and changing it until you have something that you like. (The most important thing about writing is to just do it. If you wait until you have it perfect in your head before writing it down you'll never get anywhere!)

a happy baby
a baby having a temper tantrum
your pet or another animal
your brother or sister
your house
your bedroom
your best friend
your mom when she's mad at you
your dad when he's proud of you
your favorite subject
your worst subject
playing outside
jumping on a trampoline
flying in an airplane
playing your favorite video game
playing an instrument
your favorite food
a food you hate

Now that you've written some similes and metaphors, look them over. Which one is your favorite? Why?

Monday, April 13, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 8

Let's be a metaphor detective today. Read the following short poems and see if you can figure out what the metaphor, or implied comparison, is. What is being compared in each poem?

"Good Night" - Victor Hugo

Good night! Good night!
Far flies the light;
But still God's love
Shall flame above,
Making all bright.
Good night! Good night!

"April Rain Song" - Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night.

I love the rain.

"Dandelion" - Hilda Conkling

O little soldier with the golden helmet,
What are you guarding on my lawn?
You with your green gun
And your yellow beard,
Why do you stand so stiff?
There is only the grass to fight!

"Skyscrapers" - Rachel Field

Do skyscrapers ever grow tired
Of holding themselves up high?
Do they ever shiver on frosty nights
With their tops against the sky?
Do they feel lonely sometimes
Because they have grown so tall?
Do they ever wish they could like right down
And never get up at all?

"The Horses of the Sea" - Christina Rossetti

The horses of the sea
Rear a foaming crest,
But the horses of the land
Serve us the best.

The horses of the land
Munch corn and clover,
While the foaming sea-horses
Toss and turn over.

If some of the words in the next poem are a little difficult to understand, look them up in a dictionary or ask for help understanding the ones you don't know.

"There is No Frigate Like a Book" - Emily Dickinson

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul! 

There is a special type of metaphor known as personification. When you use personification you give human characteristics to things that aren't human in order to describe them more vividly. Are any of the metaphors in the poems above examples of personification?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Weekend

I am one post behind in my month of poetry. The weekend got the better of me! Phillip has been out of town and I have been playing Cantor in his absence. So in addition to my regular employment there were extra rehearsals and practicing to fit in. Plus, true to form, I left the taxes for the last minute. I spent much of yesterday on them as well as on several articles I have in the works. This morning there were two services as well as another rehearsal; then it was off to the nursing home where I play a couple of afternoons a month. I am now finally home after a stop at the grocery store, and I think I am DONE for the day. Where is my bartender when I need him? (Sigh. He won't be home until tomorrow.)

Will try to get back on the poetry tomorrow morning!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 7

One of the most effective ways to describe something is to compare it to something else. Not only do poets do this, but we do it in real life. Sometimes we state the comparison clearly by saying something is like something else. In that case, the comparison is called a simile. (We might use the word "like" or "as" or we might use a different word, but it's still a simile.) Other times we imply or suggest the comparison rather than state it. In that case, it's called a metaphor. See the example below. Both sentences compare a person's face to the sun (or some other light source), but the first one states the comparison while the second one only implies it.

Her face was shining like the sun. (simile)
Her face shone with joy. (metaphor)

Here's a short poem that is based completely on one metaphor. What two things are being compared?

Monet, The Houses of Parliament Series
(Effect of Fog)

"The Fog"
Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Notice that the poem never says that the fog is like a cat or similar to a cat. It says the fog is a cat.

We'll talk more about metaphors and similes tomorrow. Today, try to listen for both and write a few down. You may be surprised to hear we use them all the time!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 6

One of the most famous uses of imagery in poetry is this poem by William Carlos Williams:

Farm Girl Feeding Chickens, Julien Dupre*

"The Red Wheelbarrow"

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

The poem paints a vivid but simple scene. People have been studying it for years, wondering what exactly depends on the red wheel barrow. What do you think the answer is? Why do you think the poem has no capital letters and no punctuation?

One popular poetic form that greatly depends on imagery is the haiku.** Maybe you have written one before. A haiku is a three-line poem about nature. It is Japanese in origin. It is simple but presents a powerful image. The first and third lines have five syllables each; the second line has seven syllables. Here is an example of a haiku in the original Japanese:

Furuike ya 
kawazu tobikomu 
mizu no oto

by Matsuo Basho***

There are various English translations of this poem. Some translators don't try to maintain the syllables but just focus on trying to translate as closely as possible. For example, here is a translation by Robert Hass:

The old pond--
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

Other translators attempt to maintain both the content and the syllables. Here is a translation by Dion O'Donnol.

The silent old pond
a mirror of ancient calm,
a frog-leaps-in splash.

Which translation do you like better?

Today, try writing your own haiku. If you would like to write about something besides nature you can do so, but then it is called a senryu. Have fun!

*I couldn't find a public domain image of a red wheel barrow but if you look for one you will find zillions because so many artists have been inspired to create one!
**"The Red Wheelbarrow" is not a haiku but is similar in presenting a simple but vivid picture.
***Thank you to Famous Poets and Poems for the original version and translations of "The Old Pond."