It’s almost Christmas and I should probably write something Christmas-y but I’m not quite there yet.
Last year at Christmas my sister in law read us all a question from a card game that asked when Christmas officially started for us. The majority of us answered that the real Christmastime feelings happen between Christmas and New Year’s, when the chores and obligations are done and everyone takes a little rest before hitting the ground running in January. I reserve the right to be all Christmas-y after Christmas.
So, instead, I’m going to just ramble on a little about poetry since it’s something I’ve been thinking about. (No, wait, don’t go!)
I write poems, but I am not a poet. I don’t think. Writing poems seems like something that is supposed to be really emotional, really soul baring and truth telling and moving. Art.
Writing poetry is more like doing a puzzle to me. A challenge, a word game. One time when I was a teenager I wrote a poem full of teenager-y angst and accidentally left it laying around and my youth director published it in the church newspaper and then my aunt got a hold of it from my neighbor she worked with and next thing you know she cross stitched it and had it framed for me, and presented it to me on my “sweet sixteenth” birthday, which is inscribed on a little gold plate underneath it. That’s my only published poem.
You should have seen me the other night, when I decided I should make up some new words for the verse, “And a partridge in a pear tree”. I made a list of all the words that rhymed with the words in the phrase by going through the alphabet and trying all the letters, and then I worked those lists of words until I came up with new words that rhymed in a sentence and fit the cadence. Sadly, there are only a few words that rhyme with “tridge”. I started thinking about that line of the song while I was in the bathtub, rhyming out the words, until I became obsessed enough with finding something that worked that I got out of the bathtub and got out a piece of paper and pencil to work it out. (All that work yielded me like six faves on twitter but it’s ok, I was proud enough of myself for all of us) I like to do the same thing with song titles.
Oh, no reason, just for the challenge of it.
One time a manager of mine asked me to write a poem for a sign above a bowl of candy asking people not to take too many so everyone could get some. She gave me like half an hour but I delivered. Another time I wrote an alternate version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” for a group of our customers who were having a contest and the holiday season would be a pivotal time. I wrote a poem for our employees about how important they were, and tied them onto little plants for everyone’s desks.
People eat that stuff up, let me tell you.
One of my ex-boyfriends, a professor at a local college, asked me to write a poem for him to use in class about a strip mall. (IDK, he was trying to relay some message about art) I rose to the challenge. I wrote a poem for the front of our wedding invitation last year. My friends and I in our younger days, when email was still new and shiny, used to take turns writing and responding to each other in funny poems. (Poems just for fun, like some kind of weirdos) It seems no matter the topic, I can make you a poem.
My poems always rhyme. It would not be challenging if they didn’t. There are lots of nice poems that don’t rhyme, but they seem like the easy way out to me. Where is the challenge of finding the right words in the right order with the right number of beats verse after verse? I count them on my fingers. I make word lists, I arrange them and re-arrange them and at the end all the puzzle pieces become a poem.
Maybe it was all the Green Eggs and Ham Gram read me growing up. Maybe it was when I read Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” as a child, and his poem about nail biters changed my life because he was the only person (Ever!) who had something good to say about them.
I, according to mom, began to chew my nails when I was two. I was a bad nail chewer, the kind of chewing that made other people squeamish when they saw my nails, but felt just fine to me, until I was nineteen. At nineteen a girl at work bet me a week’s worth of work that I could not quit chewing my nails for a month. I was file clerk at the time, and she filed all my papers for a week because like I said, I am stubborn and competitive. Since then I am an incidental nail biter, but mostly I leave them alone.
I read the Shel Silverstein poem in grade school, and I copied it down on a piece of notebook paper and I occasionally quoted it throughout the years whenever someone pushed me to defense of myself and my nail chewing.
Yes, I think it was definitely Shel who taught me that poems can be about ANYTHING, and that poems should rhyme. That poems can be funny instead of painful or sad. But what is it, I wonder, that makes you an actual poet? Where is the line between puzzling and art, between writing and playing?
I have a copy paper box of things I have saved since I was a kid. These are very important things like my “Junior Park Ranger” badges and the tassel from graduation, a tool box I made in shop class in eighth grade and the transistor radio my grandpa gave me for my seventh birthday so I could “listen to the bearded man”. (Kenny Rogers, of course) And also, the Shel Silverstein poem that changed my life.
If you are a nailbiter, and you’ve never read it, then here it is to change your life:
The Nailbiter, Shel Silverstein
Some people manicure their nails,
Some people trim them neatly,
Some people keep them filed down,
I bite them off completely.
Yes, it’s a nasty habit, but
Before you start to scold
Remember I have never, ever
Scratched a single soul.
I feel like it would be pretty easy and also fun and challenging to write a book of poems but what does one do with a book of poems these days?
Wait a minute, I have a great idea for next year’s Christmas gifts!
Wishing you a merry day, of cheer and grace and fun
May the spirit carry you, ‘til the holidays are done
Happy Holidays to you and yours,