Thanks to Emily I have been thinking this over, and decided that I cannot resist the poetry challenge. It's over at Kate's Book Blog who, funnily enough, lives here in Ottawa. No, I have not met her. though I'd like to one day!! Anyway, she is hosting a poetry challenge for April, (since April is National Poetry month for Canada and the US. All you have to do is post about poetry once this month! No category, just a poem, or collection. No pressure, just the love of words and poetry. So, haul out T.S. Eliot or something by Tolkien, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare.....
Myself, I just bought Ted Hughes "Birthday Letters", and while I was supposed to wait until August to read it for the Birthday Challenge, I find the book is calling to me, and I am unable to resist. So, I will be reading and reviewing it during this month.
However, to convince you reluctant(or shy to critique) poetry readers that poems can be fun and found anywhere, in the most unlikely spots, I am going to give an excerpt of and critique Neil Gaiman's "Locks," which a kindly Gentle Reader brought to my attention this morning (commenting on my post from yesterday).
We owe it to each other to tell stories,
as people simply, not as father and daughter.
I tell it to you for the hundredth time:
There was a little girl, called Goldilocks,
for her hair was long and golden,
and she was walking in the Wood and she saw-"
"-cows." You say it with certainty,
remembering the strayed heifers we saw in the woods
behind the house, last month.
Well, yes, perhaps she saw cows,
but she also saw a house."
"-a great big house," you tell me.
"No, a little house, all painted, neat and tidy."
"A great big house."
You have the conviction of all two-year-olds.
I wish I had such certitude.
A. Yes. A great big house."
And she went in...."
I remember, as I tell it, that the locks of Southey's heroine had silvered with age.
The Old Woman and the Three Bears....
Perhaps they had been golden once,
when she was a child.
And now, we are already up to the porridge,
And it was too-"
And it was too-"
And then it was, we chorus, just right."
The porridge is eaten, the baby's chair is shattered,
Goldilocks goes upstairs, examines beds, and sleeps,
But then the bears return.
Remembering Southey still, I do the voices:
Father Bear's gruff boom scares you,
and you delight in it.
(...................(excerpt several verses))
And then Goldilocks jumped out of the window
and she ran-"
Together now: "All the way home."
And then you say, Again. Again. Again."
We owe it to each other to tell stories.
These days my sympathy's with Father Bear.
Before I leave my house I lock the door,
and check each bed and chair on my return.
- Neil Gaiman, "Locks", from "Fragile Things"
- Note to my Gentle Readers - I had originally put down the entire poem, but then I started worrying about copyright, and using with permission of the author, so I left out part of the poem - not because it's not good! It's very! and all important - nothing in a poem is wasted (or ought to be). I just have to find out about copyright laws on the internet.
In fairy tale poetry there is a darker thread that runs through it, just like in the fairy tales they are based on. "Locks" is a good example of this - all along Gaiman drops hints of fear - in line 16, "I wish I had such certitude." What is he afraid or uncertain of? And then the line "The bears go upstairs hesitantly, their house now feels desecrated. They realize/what locks are for." (lines 46-48) This isn't a poem just about Goldilocks, which is what I first thought upon reading the title. It's a play on "locks", keeping the unknown out - keeping innocence in. Why? "And if I could," my father wrote to me,/ huge as a bear himself, when I was younger,/ "I would dower you with experience, without experience,"/ and I, in my turn, would pass that on to you./ But we make our own mistakes. We sleep unwisely." (lines 55-60) These lines reveal the poem is about wisdom, and growing up. Notice the little girl is 2, at the beginning of the poem. We know as readers that 2 year olds know nothing, and like this two year old are full of certainty. The same certainty that lets Goldilocks eat someone else's food and sit in their chairs and sleep in their beds, without knowing until too late that she would have to pay. She runs away, in the fairy tale. But the little girl in the poem wants this story told to her again, and again, and again. Note the use of three, which in fairy tales is a charm number, as well as a learning-by-repitition technique. The little girl, the author of the poem when he was young, and ourselves when we were children, all know that Goldilocks is doing something wrong, even though she is lost. We learn to ask permission, through this fairy tale, from Goldilock's point of view. But in this poem, Gaiman turns it on its head - its the bears who are afraid, and he identifies with the bear in the line "These days my sympathy's with Father Bear." (line 71) Why? - "that's what locks are for."(line 48) To keep things out. Why? Experience. Because one day his little bear (the little girl, our own children, us once upon a time) will be touched by the world outside. Someone has broken into their house, used their things, and slept in their beds! From the bears point of view, their house has been invaded. His child's things have been used! Who among us wouldn't get angry naturally? but in this poem, the bears, and the father/teller, are afraid. They know they can't stop their children from growing up.
We tell each other stories to keep each other wise, to warn each other, to teach each other. If you find yourself in the woods, don't just go into a strange house. Don't go into a stranger's house - that's Goldilock's lesson. The bears teach - lock your doors. Someone will steal your children away, but if we tell them enough stories, maybe, just maybe, they can learn without having to experience - but always, even the teller in this poem admits, children have to. Maybe a fairy tale can save a life, so they don't get in that car with the stranger, they don't go into that house, but even with that comes experience. Having to say no is an experience. The world is a big forest, and always, eventually, innocence is lost. So Gaiman treasures his little daughter's "cows", and "big house", and "again, again again," because one day "her mouth will curl at that line" and she will for a time, outgrow fairy tales (or so she thinks) and sleep unwisely instead.
I love the play between father and daughter, how Gaiman has caught the enthusiasm and joy of sharing in books - in stories - between parent and child, of the delight of being safe together while someone else faces the danger. You can never read enough with your kids, you can never tell them enough stories, because one day they won't need you tell them anymore, and they will have to make their own way through the woods with only our stories to guide them.
So, do you have a favourite poem or poet? Let's celebrate our poets who still work with this, the oldest tradition of all. And please, link to Kate's Blog, to join up, and let me know too what poem you are picking, or poet.
Now I'm going to go out for my walk near the woods (no bears there!), and see what birds are here, and enjoy the warm April sunshine. After snow and rain yesterday, it's beautiful here today!