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Friday, August 30, 2013

Pass the information, poetically please

When we think about common characteristics in well-written poetry, we might notice musicality, fresh imagery, precise word choices, compressed lines, spare language, and interesting juxtaposition as one thing connects to another in an unexpected way. Toss in a little humor, and your readers might even look for more poems by you! But what happens if we toss in information – not made-up stuff, but actual data that’s as factual as it can be? Does that place too much weight on a poem?

English-speaking poets who experimented with this include John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Jane Taylor, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sarah Coleridge, and too many others to mention. To see how they went about passing along information, poetically, you can find some of their poems in the public domain posted on various Internet sites.

Although “informational” poems by the above poets may have been written for children, their work retained qualities found in most well-written poems. Such poets as Stephen Vincent Benét even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for his epic Civil War poem "John Brown's Body," while contemporary poets such as Mary Ann Hoberman use lively humor to pass along information to remember and enjoy. Not only was Mary Ann our U.S. Children's poet laureate for a few years, her published works include 45 books – all but one of which she wrote in poetry.

Since I’d need her permission to quote any of her poems to illustrate what I mean by passing along information, poetically, I’ll use a poem I included in the Christian Poet’s Guide to Poetry – the e-book version of the poetry home study course I wrote in the 1980’s and used for years in working with other poets and poetry students.

Spider, Spider
by Mary Harwell Sayler

Spider, Spider,
eight-legged glider,
how do you spin those threads?
You don’t have a needle
to wheedle a beetle,
so what do you use instead?

Spider, Spider,
how does your sticky web spin?
Can you duck from the guck
without getting stuck?
How do you get out and in?

Even if readers had no previous contact with spiders nor any other info, the poem would let them know a spider has eight legs, spins a web of a sticky substance, and feeds on insects. Those facts – and, perhaps, the questions posed – might intrigue a reader to investigate this amazing creature from the natural world.

©2013, Mary Sayler, all rights reserved. For more investigations into the natural world – from human nature to cosmic leaps landing in traditional forms, haiku, prose poems, devotional poems, and free verse, order Mary's book Living in the Nature Poem, published in 2012 by Hiraeth Press.


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