Sunday, February 10, 2013

365 Poems: Word Play

John Keats illustration from my 100+ year-old book

Day 41

Trying to create 365 poems in a year (or even, in a life!), is, indeed, folly, as any experienced writer and/or editor knows. Last week I touched on the first-draft-i-ness of any such endeavor, as I was thinking about the foolhardiness of the thing. Last week I wrote about ‘bravado,’ something that Captain Jack Sparrow has in spades, and which I need at least a soup├žon to continue.

And I wasn't kidding about taking next year to go back and edit everything. (Although I don’t think it will take a year -- most will go into the recycle bin and save me a lot of time.) But it would be fun to work on a few.
Which brings me to a more reasoned rationale of why to continue this stupidity/folly/foolhardiness, and it’s one I can live with: play.
Kids, of course, play all the time. Julian, though 15, plays video games; though he takes it more seriously, he also ‘plays’ baseball. The little girls play from the time they pop their eyes open in the morning 'til they conk out at night, on days off school, anyway. 

Kids, of course, play all the time. Julian, though 15, plays video games; though he takes it more seriously, he also ‘plays’ baseball. The little girls play from the time they pop their eyes open in the morning 'til they conk out at night, on days off school, anyway. 
When we grow up? We call our play ‘hobbies.’ Maybe it’s physical, like running or playing softball or even ultimate frisbee. Or maybe we sew, or knit. Or do woodworking, or make jewelry, or play an instrument. Lots of stuff.
I realized what I play with: words. And I do it here.
To declare I play with words gives me both purpose, and excuse. Here I take the random inspiration, the turn of phrase that pops into my head and won’t let my brain be quiet until I wrest it into submission. Here I depend on a prompt for inspiration, a word or phrase or idea stolen from a website that gives me a springboard for more word play. Here I ramble randomly, just because it’s my place to take the words then throw them up on a screen and see if they stink, er, stick.
So if by chance some good words make it here, okay. That’s good.
And if some lame words get posted, oh well. I’ve read enough to know even my lame posts are not the worst ones on the internet.
So, I was thinking about John Keats, and some of his early poems that I have in a very, very old book I acquired from my in-laws’ house, from the library of the gentleman they bought the house from years ago. It’s ‘Keats’s Complete Poetical Works and Letters,’ published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., in 1899. (WOW, right?) The inside front cover is signed by William (maybe) Saunders (can’t decipher his first name) and dated October 11, 1907.

I want to share part of a poem called ‘A Song About Myself.’ According the the notes in my book

‘I have so many interruptions,’ writes Keats to his sister Fanny from Kircudbright, July 2, 1818, ‘That I cannot manage to fill a Letter in one day -- since I scribbled the song [Meg Merrillies] we have walked through a beautiful country to Kircudbright -- at which place I will write you a song about myself.’
It’s just a cute poem, but I think it was written after much more serious works like ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’ and ‘Endymion.’ So when Keats wasn’t working on his poems that would be read and studied by generations and considered classics of English literature he … played with words for his friends and family.

Here’s the last stanza of ‘A Song About Myself’:

There was a naughty Boy,
And a naughty Boy was he,
For nothing would he do
But scribble poetry --
He took
An inkstand
In his hand,
And a Pen
Big as ten
In the other,
And away
In a Pother
He ran
To the mountains,
And fountains
And ghostes,
And Postes,
And witches,
And ditches,
And wrote,
When the weather
Was cool,
Fear of gout,
And without
When the weather
Was Warm --
Och the charm
When we choose
To follow one’s nose
To the north,
To the north,
to follow one’s nose
To the north.

As I noted before, I can do worse than to play like John.

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