50 poems to print and hang on the wall

Every so often, I get a bee in my bonnet about poetry. When we homeschooled, we read and sometimes memorized poems. We’ve since moved on to other kinds of schooling, and it’s been a good choice, overall. But to my everlasting chagrin, so many teachers teach my kids that poetry is a kind of catch basin for emotion.

Prose, they learn, is for when you have orderly thoughts to express with precision; but poetry is the place to open the floodgates and wallow, and nobody can possibly say you’re doing it wrong, because there are no rules.

And this is true, as long as the poetry is utter garbage. 

This utter garbage approach to poetry accounts for why so many young people love to write but hate to read poetry. Wallowing feels great when you’re in the middle of it (when you’re in the mood), but no healthy person likes to watch someone else flail around aimlessly in the muck.

A good poem works in the opposite way: The writer does all the work, and the reader — well, the reader has to do some work, too, but if he’s willing, he’ll be rewarded with something of great and lasting value. Have you seen an uncut, unpolished diamond? It doesn’t look like much. Most of its beauty is in its potential, and it’s not until it’s carefully, skillfully cut and polished that it sparkles and reflects the light.

The same is true with the ideas and passions that animate poetry. In a formless stream-of-consciousness poem that’s allowed to spill itself thoughtlessly onto the page, the ideas and passions that animate it may be present, but they won’t do much for the reader until they’re brought out by skillful, time-consuming wordsmithing and ruthless editing.

Of course, you can make perhaps the opposite mistake, and approach a well-crafted poem the way a dealer approaches a precious jewel, and think only of what it can deliver. This is what Billy Collins protested against in his poem, Introduction to Poetry. He pleads with his students to listen to, to live with a poem; to encounter it on its own terms, to experience it. To hear the sounds it makes and be open to the various things they might suggest.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope 
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose 
to find out what it really means.

People who teach poetry this way should be sent to work in the salt mines. They can meet up with the wallowers once a week and think about what they’ve done wrong.

Anyway, as I mentioned, every once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet and start printing out poetry and tacking it up on the walls of my house. I pin up a new batch every year or so, and once they become tattered enough, I tell myself they’ve probably been read by somebody. I’m far too tired and busy to lead any seminars, but at least it’s something.

The theory is that it’s possible to ruin a wonderful poem by torturing a message or moral out of it, and it’s possible to miss out on the power and import of a good poem by skimming over the surface of it and not stopping to consider why it’s made the way it is; but at least with the second error, you’ve had a moment of pleasure. And if the thing is hanging around long enough and the poem is good enough, you’re bound to let it inside your head, where it may colonize.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

photo credit: emileechristine Bejeweled via photopin (license)

mister fat plush: a search terms poem

i. chico marx and tallulah bankhead

grapefruit spoons
cannoli shells
simcha fisher hock

brown stain ceiling
catholic dying
medjugorje hoax

dolpih poorn
wiggle low
medjugordje fake

sexblog
sex.blog
feshar sex
homeschool catholic horny

ii. timothy o’donnell uh resigns

went to school and i was very nervous
irration fear of prostitutes
get berserk island cup cakes
poren caren fisher

should single women be allowed to row boats
do i have to obey my husband catholic
what to do when your nipples throbes
is medjugorje a hoax

the bible said woman breastfed your husband very well?
short women’s breasting feed men
why do people say i’ve been so blessed
where does simcha fisher live

moms think i m dad
thrilling sex
frog and toad tomorrow

responsibility and men
what i don’t belong down
medogorje is a fake!! and then some

****

****

Do you have a website? I want to hear your search terms poem! The only rule is you can’t change anything, but you have to use the search terms as they appear on your dashboard. Warning: You will not end up feeling better about your readers.

More poetry composed entirely of search terms that sent people to my site:

moral obligation to vaccinate simcha fisher

visions of women who went to hell because of wearing trousers

i want to turn into a dog but how?

people accidentally swallowing moths in sleep

i feel so moron

 

 

 

You are a cup

It’s a task like no other, this task of merely being present at the edge of a fathomless immensity of love. But that is what you were made for: You are a cup, and you are here to be filled.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Podcast #58: Thank you, Chachi!

Who can even say what’s in this podcast? What isn’t in this podcast? Not Chuck Norris, that’s who!

And not a poem by Donald Justice.

Photo by Carlos Killpack via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Podcast #57: And then the internet took off.

It’s a stone cold sober podcast! And in honor of how much we suck, it’s free.

Damien and I incisively analyze the dead hand of Mother Angelica, how Facebook pranks all of Australia, newspapers that were not metaphors, a small disappointment about sharks, cocktails, lyme disease, toxic masculinity, and so much more. And a poem by W.B. Yeats.

Podcast #56: Glory be. (free! free!)

Matt Walsh,

Cape Cod,

Tony Montana,

baked beans,

fat girls,

football pooper,

LEONARD BERNSTEIN! It almost works.

And a poem by John Bargowski.

Podcast #54: Faulknersauce!

In honor of FINALLY GETTING AROUND TO RECORDING A PODCAST FOR ONCE, we’re making this one free to all comers. (Normally, podcasts are for closers, I mean patrons.) Sorry it’s been so long! Or, you’re welcome! You’re welcome!

This evening, we snickered our way around hybrid wolves, Vienna sausages, the town with no bootstraps, cellulite, egg salad, William Faulkner and his sauce, the difference between boys and girls, and of course a poem by Wislawa Szymborska.

Additional audio “provided” by “Damien.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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