Friday, June 13, 2008

The Best Words

 There are two kinds of people in the world: those who write poetry and those who don't.

Forgive my boast, but I am a great business writer. I can whip up a newsletter that will make you weep. I'm working hard on my creative writing, as well, learning everything I can and then revising, revising, revising … But, I'm no poet.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined prose as words in their best order, and poetry as the best words in the best order. I like this definition. 

I admit to being a little intimidated by poetry. I used to feel that I was missing the point. Recently, I have learned to take poetry as it comes — ponder it, enjoy it (or not) and accept it for what it means to me.

My favorite poet is Van Morrison (OK, songwriter, but now you're just picking nits):

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

I'm also a big Ogden Nash fan — you know, the poet who penned these seven immortal words:

Candy is dandy
But liquor is quicker.

Granted, it does sound a bit like a jingle for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (, but you can't deny that this little ditty conveys a beautiful truth with a stunning economy of language.

My friend Alice George is a real, live poet. And it turns out that real, live poets are even better than the famous dead kind because, in addition to enriching us with their own best words in their best order, they can teach and inspire the poetry in others. Such was the case for the first-through-fifth graders (including two of my own) who were lucky enough to have Alice as artist in residence at our elementary school this spring.

At one of the culminating events of the residency, Alice led an open mic poetry night at an awesome new(ish) performance/learning venue in Evanston called Boocoo. I was bitter with envy both exhilarated and humbled by the poetry created and performed by these children, who seem able to reach deep into their souls to describe the world with an exactitude and lyricism that eludes my poetry. (Be excited, OCWW members — Alice is on the docket for next semester.)

On past poetry nights, Alice has invited grownups to participate, but this night was just for the children. Since I have never been accused of being a grownup, I decided to share my poem anyway:

The Tantrum

Just a few missed warning signs
Before the blast
The fierce flash of light
The sonic boom.

The toxic fallout of the mushroom cloud
Envelops everything in sight.
No one is safe.

Soft tissue mottles over
Writhing muscles
Twisting and contorting the familiar
Into something unrecognizable.

Ugliness oozes from each pore
As rage pours from every visible orifice.
The genie is out of the bottle now.
Pandora is out of the box.
It’s too late for a cork or a levee or a bunker.

It’s in motion now
Careening violently
Sucking in every object and subject
In its vengeful path.

Just be still
Ride out the storm
Wait for the rain
Hope for the best.

A brief respite
Full of false hope.
All hearts pound as
The storm feeds on itself.

The banging of the shutters slows
To a more predictable beat
But the damage is done.
The family landscape is scarred again.

Finally, there is quiet
Not peace, just exhaustion.

Pulses steady
As survivors venture forth
Tiptoeing carefully on those eggshells
Lest the wrathful beast reawaken.

A final gust of tainted wind
Jarring but not dangerous
Shudders with uncomfortable regret:
"Sorry, guys, Mama is just having a bad day.

If, like my brother, you think my poem is cute but trite, slam me with a scathing couplet by clicking here; or give me an ode for effort. Better yet, try your hand at a poem of your own.

Photo credit: night poetry by kechambers via

Stumble It!


Cindy Fey said...


Thanks so much for hosting the OCWW meeting this week. It rocked. Great company, a great speaker, great advice, all in your lovely home. You're the best.

Van's the man. I love your tantrum poem. Trite? Hardly.

Susan Bearman said...

Sorry to those who tried to comment earlier. My HTML skills are "emerging". The click "here" link has been fixed, so comment away.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I am no poet either, but I did like Joseph Brodsky's reply to people who said they were too busy to read poetry. Poetry being the most efficent use of words, he wrote, busy people are precisely the ones who should most appreciate it.

Last year, when I lay sick, I vowed
I'd never touch a drop again
As long as I should live.

But who could know
Last year
What this year's spring would bring ?

And here I am,
Coming home from old Liu's house
As drunk as I can be!

-- Po Chu-i
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Susan Bearman said...

Baudelaire said: "Any healthy man can go without food for two days - but not without poetry." And for those who didn't know what this spring would bring, maybe you should check out

Insane Mama said...

Love your tantrum poem
I agree Van is the man!

Beck said...

What is it about women named Alice becoming poets? Nearly every Alice I've known wrote.
My dad is a poet. Not named Alice, but still.