What is the difference between a good poem and a great one?
Seriously, how is Alligator Pie a renowned (Canadian) classic? Here I am reading it to my firstborn, confused as can be. Anyone can rhyme, but not everyone is Dr. Seuss. Not all poems are emotional either, but if they were... how could you judge?
Why do I bring this up? In one of my manuscripts the protagonist (Jamie) is an avid reader and poetry fanatic. He acknowledges he has no skill in the art itself yet tries anyways by consistently recording his thoughts in a poetry journal.
Recently I posted a short poem about the moose in our back yard...
"You won't have to search hard,
A visitor you see,
Right here in our backyard,
Beyond the apple tree."
I wasn’t aiming for gold with this caption. I was playing with rhyme. In school, I struggled with the poetry unit. I think it was because I couldn’t read the teacher’s mind. Since then, I have of course developed the ability to not only read minds, but convert them—not! Anyways, we would read poems but I would understand them only on a surface level. The poems I beloved seemed underrated. Writing poetry was worse. The ones I poured into—decent. The ones I wrote halfheartedly—appreciated.
Then we spent what seemed like forever studying literary devices, except while they are great in poems, they seem to become stumbling blocks in stories. Repetition comes across as redundant. Alliteration seems unfitting. Rhyme is interpreted as tacky, like the old geezer who shouldn’t rap but does.
Below is an excerpt of my novel manuscript, “Haunted.” In this scene, Jamie Rodgers is picking up his new girlfriend Sarah from work, even though he is madly in love with Natalia. Earlier in the story Sarah requested he write her a poem. (Changes are still to be made as this story is only a rough draft.)
“You know you don’t have to wait every time.” Sarah winks back. I shrug.
“I don’t mind. You’re worth the wait.” I murmur into her ear. Those are the exact words I want to tell Natalia. Because that is what it is these days isn’t it—a waiting game.
“Hey is that my poem?” Sarah asks, ripping my journal out of my hands. Eager, she reads it out loud,
“Sweet syrup rots the teeth,
It increases my heartbeat.
Coveting it to a festered defeat,
An endless cycle of highs and lows.
I’m high on her flavor.
Wishing for the love I’d savor…
My tongue scorns.
My throat filled with thorns.
My heart, the throbbing cavity.”
She closes the journal, placing it in the glove box. “I guess this makes me your sweetie.” She leans over for the first of many kisses. I smile through it. If only my situation wasn’t so sour.
So what are your thoughts? Does interpreting poetry come natural to you or are you in the same boat as me? What’s your favourite poem and why?
Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash