Poetry is intended to be read aloud. The rhythm, the wordplay, the emotion, the feel of the syllables as the tongue rolls through the sound….
And two little kittens
And a pair of mittens
And a little toyhouse
And a young mouse
Many will recognize those lines from Goodnight Moon, a bedtime tale that is also a lovely bit of poetry. (Written in 1947 by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, it’s filed under a red dot in the Lennoxville Library’s children’s section.)
Or how about the incomparable Dr. Seuss? ‘You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care./ About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”/ With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,/ you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.’ Indeed, a quick check of the copyright page at the beginning of Oh, The Places You’ll Go! (1990, blue dot) shows that the US Library of Congress, no less, files this brightly coloured book under the rubrique “stories in rhyme”.
April is National Poetry Month.
While some poetry is admittedly difficult (narcissists exorcise personal demons through obscure ancient mythologies, leaving the rest of us thinking – hunh?). But even complex poems, when read aloud, offer the beauty of language and of image as the ultimate prize.
Not that poetry for grown-ups is impenetrable. Consider the work of Ian Tait, a Champlain College teacher of folk culture, English and Native studies. The Townshipper died too young, at 57, in 2005. But he has left us his verse.
Frost leaves lose their brittleness,
Those simple, beautiful two lines are from Dancing The Spiral (1996) (filed in the Eastern Townships Collection). The book is split into three sections – West, East, Far East.
“Luckily,” writes Jan Draper in her introduction, “the various traditions from which Ian draws seem to find peace with one another, forming a cohesive, if eclectic, whole.
“Each poem captures a moment in time but a moment that is a part of a universal human cycle.”
Tait’s work is filled with humour and insight. In Indian Time, he begins: “History/is something printed/in a book/for non-natives/ The past/ always a straight line/ leading back/ from your shoulder.”
(Additionally, the Ian Tait Collection, a grouping of material on the history of the area’s anglophone community, was donated to the Bishop’s University-based Eastern Townships Resource Centre by Ginette Bernard.)
The Townships have hosted a great many poets. Think Ralph Gustafson or Al Purdy, just for starters.
Michael Ondaatje, winner of the Governor General’s Award for poetry and the Booker Prize for the novel The English Patient (filed under fiction in the library stacks), spent time here.
Born in Sri Lanka, Ondaatje moved to England and then, in 1962, followed his businessman brother Christopher to Canada, attending Bishop’s University under the tutelage of poet D.G. Jones. (Within two years, Ondaatje and Jones’ estranged wife, Kim, would fall in love; Jones travelled to Mexico with the pair in order to facilitate his own quick divorce).
Ondaatje, like many great writers, is a trickster. He deflects, he twists and distorts, lies and conflates about his characters and himself, but yet pours himself into his writing, whether poetry or fiction or memoir. At least, that’s according to biographer Ed Jewinski in the short tome, Michael Ondaatje: Express Yourself Beautifully (1994, filed in non-fiction).
“Nothing is more irritating than to have your work translated by your life,” Ondaatje once wrote. He will not surrender his privacy.
And as Ondaajte avoids, his biographer nonetheless gives it a try. His parents divorced when the poet was two years old, Jewinski notes, and suggests that Ondaatje has never stopped writing to and for his absent father. The people in Ondaatje’s works must be “pieced together from whatever is available – a newspaper clipping, an anecdote, a bit of gossip, a hazy memory, a vaguely worded letter.”
For Ondaatje, the writing is burnished by emotional truth, rather than fact. That makes it poetry.
-Eleanor Brown, April 12, 2013