Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Christmas I Remember Best

Until a couple of generations ago it was common for ordinary people to write and recite poetry. Then our elitist institutions successfully wrested the poetic art form from the common people. This elite form of poetry has taken on increased complexity to the point that it is not understandable to the average person.

To its practitioners, this is part of the beauty of modern poetry. They haughtily deride commoners that would dare to tread where only professionals should be permitted, eagerly poking fun at clumsy poetic attempts by the semi-literate rabble. Since poetry has become largely not understandable to the masses, the masses rarely engage in reading, listening to, or (especially) writing poetry nowadays.

A notable exception to this is cowboy poetry. Like the mythical ideal of the cowboy, this type of poetry celebrates individuality. Standard forms and rules can be applied with sparing rigidity. Like many facets of the Old West, cowboy poetry is rough hewn by design. Anyone is welcome to try their hand at it, and many do.

The success of a piece of cowboy poetry is not how well it adheres to forms or how well it impresses others that ply the art; but how it affects the average person. It is meant to speak to the heart and to the common experience of ordinary people.

I have tried my hand at various pieces of cowboy poetry for a while now. I claim no greatness or special capacity in the art. I do it because it brings a level of enjoyment to me and occasionally to others.

Several years ago I wrote the following poem as a Christmas gift for my Mom. The poem has been greatly appreciated by my extended family, because it is a story that is absolutely true without embellishment. It is titled The Christmas I Remember Best.
There’s nothing quite like tiptoeing boys
That don’t understand the effect of their noise.
Though they whisper, they make all kinds of other sounds
That to parents are like scents to bloodhounds.

Now, the Christmas I remember best
Was when I was about eight or nine, I guess:
Too sophisticated for the Santa game,
But filled with excitement, all the same.

On Christmas Eve, as we’d always done,
Us kids exchanged gifts and had some fun,
Dad read the story of the Savior’s birth,
Mom led us in songs of peace on earth,
And then we were shipped off to our beds
To rest our little sleepy heads.

But my brother and me, who shared a room,
Lay wide awake in the gathering gloom
Just tingling with anticipation
Of the following morn’s gifts and elation.

Then adventurous Tim, who was two years my senior,
Concocted a plan that couldn’t be keener:
We’d slyly slip on down the hall
Just to take a peek at the gifts and all.
We’d have to be careful, that’s for sure,
‘Cause Mom and Dad were right next-door.

Well, I made it as far as the bedroom door,
Then didn’t dare take another step more.
So I left Tim by himself out there in the hall
And retreated to my bed next to the wall.

But Mom, who knew her boys only too well,
Before lying down to sleep a spell
Had strung a trap of string and cans
Across the hallway along with some pans.

Well, when that alarm clattered loud and clear
I cowered under my covers in dread and fear.
Then in one swift motion, Tim flew in there,
Somehow closing the door in mid-air.
He landed on his bed in perfect position
And his covers settled gently upon him.

By the time Mom and Dad rushed into the hall
Somehow Tim had left no evidence at all
Of who it was that had sprung the trap.
We appeared to be having our long winter’s nap.

Well, our stealthy sneaking was done for the night
And we waited to get up until morning’s light.
We acted like it was a mystery to us
Regarding the trap and all the fuss.

‘Course Mom and Dad knew who it was all along,
For a parent’s intuition is seldom wrong.
And I’m sure that they didn’t have to wonder
About which bed produced that child-landing thunder.
May you and yours have a joyous Christmas celebration and may the new year bring you peace and prosperity.


y-intercept said...

Poetry is primarily an oral form of art. Now that everybody has the ability to share sound recordings with the world, I suspect that we will see a renaissance in poetry. Today's poets can record their poetry as it was intended to be heard.

I think you are right about cultural elites trying to dink with the poetic voice of the people. What's happened with poetry is far more subtle than your post implies.

The real problem isn't that people feel uncomfortable writing poetry, but that they feel uncomfortable sharing poetry in general.

I think your statement about complexity is off.

The great poets of the Romantic and Classical age paid much more attention to form than modern poets.

If you jumped into the classical or romantic age; you would find strict rules about the form of verse and even about who was allowed to write poetry.

Very people wrote poetry, but a large number of people took pleasure in reciting great poetic works. The world had great poets as their was a widespread appreciation of great poetry.

It was only after the Romantic age that you saw large numbers of people penning verse.

One might say that a problem with today's poetry is that people are too focused on personal expression.

The culture war thing also create problems. The elite holding to Marxist ideology sought to use art to further their political ends. People of this mantality encourage art that agitates people when they are out of power, then switch into a progandist mode of art when they are in power.

The culture warriors on the left openly disparaged spiritually uplifting and fun poetry in lieue of in-your-face poetry that the consider to be concious raising.

Today's poetry slams are often much more about pushing personal expression to an extreme, or about being in your face than about carefully structured verse and deeply contemplated sentiment.

People scream strings of swear words and call it poetry. In performance art, if you are naked, then any sounds coming from your mouth is considered poetry.

I would reword your complaint. The problem isn't that people are discouraged from writing poetry, but that people are discouraged from appreciating spiritually uplifting poetry.

It is possible that the cure is to encourage people to recite the great poets of old.

Of course, times change. As I said at the start of this post, poets can now record their verse. If this is a subject that really interests you, then the thing to do would be to find the poetry that you like online and tell us about it. As a blogger, you can promote those things that you believe are good.

Right now, there is a whole slew of people into cowboy poetry. There is a large number of people hungry for spiritually uplifting verse.

As for me ... I will be dropping my pants at the next naked poetry slam where I will present my new work: "A scatology of the Bush Administration" Anyone know a snarl word that rhymes with "Cheney"?

Scott Hinrichs said...

Thanks for the comments. I believe you are correct in your thinking that people are no longer encouraged to read or listen to uplifting poetry and that there is a hunger for uplifting content.

Also, I am aware that poetry is mainly an oral art form. Something is lost when poetry is merely read as opposed to seeing it performed. Still, even read poetry can be enjoyed. I have committed a number of poems that I enjoy to memory. The great bards can be deeply enjoyed, but so can silly stuff like Ogden Nash's poetry.