A stand on poetry

            My husband is still hooked on Samuel Johnson, so over coffee this week, I heard about Johnson’s take on “modern” (18th century) poetry.  Johnson felt that “versification,” as in Milton’s sonnets with perfect rhythms, iambic pentameter, was out.  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  (Or as I would have said when I waitressed during 3 college summers, if I’d known my husband or Samuel Johnson, “They also stand who only serve and wait.” Fortunately, all 3 summer settings provided a beautiful ocean for soothing my tired waitressing legs and feet).


            Our 20th and 21st century poems also seem predominantly to lack versification of the Milton manner.  Yet, they do have form and rhythm.

                In children’s lit, versification still seems fashionable.  Over and over again in writing critique sessions, we talk about syllabics and accents and meter and perfect rhyme.  The mark of a beginning writer is to write a picture book in verse, without consistent meter, without precise rhyme (to go from bad to “verse,” as local writer Fred Bortz quipped.) 

                So although we push writing group members for the versification, I find myself wanting the children’s poets to write occasionally without rhyme and without the known forms.  Most resist.


                And speaking of standing—I spent most of two days standing on a stage in front of delightful kids in the Fox Chapel elementary schools.  I always talk for a few minutes about blindness, because I have this hairy visual aid beside me, and because she tends to steal the show, rolling onto her back and spreading her front and back legs as if to say, “Here I am, World.  Behold.  Aren’t I adorable?”

                Especially kindergarteners in the audience struggle to figure out that I’m standing up there, looking similar to a “regular” person in sunglasses, and yet, my eyes don’t work.

                “How can you drive?” is the most common question, and that from students in high school, too.  It’s unimaginable that a mother doesn’t play the part of chauffeur.

                But in one Fox Chapel school, the kindergarteners, continued the same pattern, “How can you take a shower?”

                When I laughed and said, “pretty much the same way you take a shower, I think.  It’s all about touch.”

                The finale that morning was the question, “How do you go to the bathroom?”

                At that point, the librarian mercifully stepped in to stay that we’d run out of time. I  headed home and stepped into a very steaming shower, not an ocean, to soothe my tired legs and feet, pretty much the same way you able-bodied types do.



About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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