Spring is coming, the season of beginnings and near-magical changes! Why not explore some unusual pieces of poetry? Unlike prose, poetry lends itself easily to many varied adaptations. From couplets, to sonnets, to free verse, poetry has a massive range. This month’s poetry selection features uncommon, interesting forms, as a departure from the British sonnets and ballads I’ve been writing about.
We Real Cool
By Gwendolyn Brooks
THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
This poem features four rhyming couplets that describe the ‘pool players’ in the epigram. The couplets start playfully, with almost childlike description. Dialect is employed, with the technically ungrammatical statement “we real cool,” which sounds like something a young child might say. In the second half, the couplets take a dive into more dismal implications – “singing sin” and “thinning gin” sound like nefarious activities. Finally, it ends with the surprisingly dark statement, “we die soon.” In only eight short sentences, Brooks takes us from light wordplay to brutal honesty. Although this poem might not have the same strict structure, length, or complexity as a sonnet, it too brings the reader into a foreign way of life with diction and word choice that seem to embody its subject.
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
BY EDWARD LEAR
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Many of Edward Lear’s works are nonsense poetry, and this one is no exception. Lear originally wrote these poems to entertain children, and he was puzzled by their positive reception and popularity among adults. Encouraged by the success of his poetry, Lear wrote and published more. While all of Lear’s poems are superficially absurd and nonsensical, they carry undercurrents of more significant themes, which is perhaps why they are still famous today. They also contain striking and fascinating imagery, and their rhymes are masterful. “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” one of Lear’s happiest poems, is a sweet tale of cross-species romance that is more universal, more creative, and more accessible than any of Shakespeare’s love sonnets. Sometimes, poetry that seems simple and shallow can explore deep emotions too.
By Nicholas Shey
I am the king of the shaded-sphere
I toss the ball in a perfect arc into the bottomless-basket
I, the lord of the spheroid, drive to the net
As the crowd clamors
I bask in the glory || of their cheers
I easily toss the ball || into the basket
From the far blue-line in the hardwood floor
I proudly wear || the uniform of the game
The knee-sock, the short shirt
The emblem || of the team
I, Nicholas, master of the high hoop
Run ruthlessly to the net
I, ruler of the court, voice victory over my enemy
As the ball, the orange sphere, flies into the empty latticework.
This is a poem written by current TPS student Nicholas Shey! Nicholas combines two extremely disparate elements to make this poem highly unconventional. Although he uses old English poetic devices like caesuras and kennings, his subject is the definitively modern sport of basketball. The poem illustrates how the written word weathers time well. When the author of an old English poem created his works, he probably did not imagine that a person in the 21st century would be appreciating and even taking inspiration from his toils. Imagine that! Perhaps one day a person from the distant future will be inspired by something you have written.
Want to be featured in a clay column? Fill out this form by April 8th.