Thoughts on the writing process...
If you peruse the archives here at Patterns, you'll see some "verse" posts mixed in with weekend stories and essays. Last week, the above post called "Wooden Box" was basically a paragraph, but as I re-read it this week, I wanted to explain that "heads on your desk" was not a punitive request by Mrs. Schoen. Remembering that pattern after recess brought back the images and sounds of the playground of Huron Park Grammar School. The equipment (now banished from school yards), the sledding hill, etc. In revising the paragraph about that day, the prose began to saturate and the images and emotions began to crystallize into lines of verse. I then did the same with "Part II" to help unify those thought about the assassination and the funeral to follow.
I've heard poetry defined as: "Words that don't go all the way across the page." I'm not saying that every time I use "verse form" it qualifies, but there's some truth in that definition.
Take the Gettysburg Address, for instance. Those 278 words are sheer poetry when spoken aloud. Had Lincoln chosen not to write all the way across the page, we would not say he gave a speech but that he wrote and read a poem that day. The power of his words and the rhythm of their interplay soar far above common prose and illustrate the force of few words.
When thoughts crystallize in lines of verse they lay bare the sounds, rhythms, and simple meaning of words. For instance, I had first used wadded rather than crumpled in those closing lines of "part I", but crumpled sounds softer, fits better with "hanky," and conveys the emotion of a teacher trying to "keep it together" through the last hour of a sad day. (I better understood the feelings teachers had that day years later on September 11, 2001, when as the administrator of our school I had to decide how to share the news of that day's events. We chose not to tell our elementary, but had an assembly with 6-12.)
[By the way, it was not a Kleenex that Mrs. Schoen held; it was a hanky. Back then all women had hankies and men carried handkerchiefs, big ol' squares of cotton into with the spat or blew their nose and then returned to their pocket for further use. When it was sufficiently used (or "full"), it was tossed into the laundry and a fresh on was taken from a neatly folded stack in a drawer—actually mine were wadded. Ladies carried "hankies," delicate little things sometimes with lace or monograms embroidered in the corner. Kleenex "facial tissues" were available in the 60's, but it would be several years before an adult was without the gender-specified "snot rag."]
Sorry about that little handkerchief "rabbit trail." Sometimes when I write I feel like the nice but senile man in the nursing home entry way, sitting there with his false teeth in his lap, mumbling non sequiturs to passers by. ("Mommy, what was that man talking about?") If I seem like that to you, too. Thank you for not telling me. Thank you for pausing to listen and smiling (and saying to your child, "Be nice to the old guy. He's just remembering things out loud.")
Speaking of the writing process, you must go see Charlotte's Web. E.B. White's prose is a perfect example of what I've attempted to share today. His mastery of words is legendary. There is just enough "narrative" in this new film to showcase the beauty of language and the importance of words like "terrific" and "humble." If you like this great 20th Century fable—you'll love its treatment in this movie. Be sure to get this book and read it aloud to all of your favorite listeners. The movie site says, "Help is coming from above." At the heart of this story is this truth: "Greater love hath no man than this...that a man lay down his life for a friend."