The Pleasures of Pelecanus Poeticus

Whether Eleanor Johnson had the pleasure of meeting a pelican during the course of her lifetime, I can’t say. What I know is that, had a pelican plummeted into our 5th grade classroom and perched atop her desk, the first words out of Miss Johnson’s mouth would have been, “Children! Quick! Get out your pencils! Let’s write a poem about our unexpected visitor!”

One of my favorite teachers, Miss Johnson guided us capably enough through lessons in arithmetic and social studies, but her first love was poetry. Obsessed with verse, she clearly hoped to inculcate that same obsession in her little charges.  She would have poured poetry into our heads with a funnel if she’d been able, but lacking direct physical  access to our distracted childhood brains, she did the next best thing – nagging, cajoling, insisting and assigning until we nearly collapsed under the weight of her enthusiasm.

We read biographies of poets, memorized stanzas and recited sonnets in front of the class until until we thought we were going to throw up from the anxiety of it all. When we were assigned our first written theme, an unhappy exercise meant to answer the question What is poetry? groans of disapproval and resistance echoed down the halls. I remember sighing as I examined the new burden she’d imposed.  The essay was to be no less than two hundred words!  My distress was eased only slightly by knowing I already had one answer to Miss Johnson’s question, an answer I suspected she might approve.  Poetry, to my way of thinking, was fun.

I learned my first “poem” at my grandparents’ table. In the process of trying to dislodge some ketchup from a newly-opened bottle, I gave its bottom one firm, final whack and the inevitable sticky-sweet glob of goo landed on my plate. Everyone laughed, and someone quoted those immortal words.

 “Shake and shake the ketchup bottle.
First a little, then a lot’ll.”

It had rhythm, it had rhyme, and the sound of the words made me giggle. From that day forward, every dinnertime menu that included meatloaf or hamburgers and fries became an occasion to recite the poem.  Usually, I’d recite it more than once, causing my Dad to look at me over his glasses and say, “That’s not just verse, it’s the verst”.  And I’d giggle again.

I’d always been a great fan of Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, so when it came time to memorize a “big poem” for Miss Johnson, I chose his marvelous Pelican’s Chorus.  The refrain made me laugh as much as my ketchup bottle, and introduced me to the pleasure of painting with words rather than watercolors.

We live on the Nile. The Nile we love.
By night we sleep on the cliffs above;
By day we fish, and at eve we stand
On long bare islands of yellow sand.
And when the sun sinks slowly down
And the great rock walls grow dark and brown,
Where the purple river rolls fast and dim
And the Ivory Ibis starlike skim,
Wing to wing we dance around,
Stamping our feet with a flumpy sound,
Opening our mouths as Pelicans ought,
And this is the song we nighly snort;
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

It wasn’t long before I was introduced to The Mighty Pelican, and memorized my version of his poem:

Behold the mighty pelican.
His beak holds more than his belican.
I don’t know how the helican,
but then, he is the pelican.

Part of the giggle of that poem was getting to say “helican” without being swatted by an adult. Later, I began to collect variants of the ditty, originally penned in 1910 by Dixon Lanier Merritt, an editor for The Tennessean, Nashville’s morning paper. Ogden Nash often receives credit for the tribute to the wondrous bird, but it’s Merritt who deserves it.  President of the American Press Humorists Association, he was witty and word-perfect.  His original pelican poem was inspired by a post card sent to him by a reader who’d been visiting Florida, and this was the inspired result.

Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican!
His bill holds more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week.
But I’m darned if I know how the helican.

His poem was my introduction to limericks, and I loved them.  I still do, and I’m constantly writing them in my head.  Occasionally, I’ll drop a comment into someone’s blog in limerick form, as I did when a friend said real-world obligations would be keeping her busy for a time and her posting would be erratic.

There once was a writer named Oh!
with too many places to go.
She came and she went
while her bloggie friends lent
her permission to be a no-show.

Unfortunately, poetry hasn’t always been enjoyable, let alone fun-and-games.  Eventually I fell into the hands of professors who took poetry Seriously, and whose view of poets was less cheerful than my own.  By the time I emerged from college, I’d been fairly well convinced “real poets” had to be suicidal, anti-social or drunk on absinthe. Even worse, I’d learned to analyze the life out of any poem that came my way, often under the tutelage of instructors whose mantra was, “But what does it mean?”

By their standards, the words of a poem were one thing and the meaning quite another.  Our job was to pick apart a poem, searching for meaning as we laid bare its structure. We might as well have been in biology lab. Poems became  metaphorical equivalents to the one-pound frogs scattered about our dissecting tables.  Like the frog’s skin, tissue and bones, those piles of simile, strips of metaphor and occasional onomatopoeic bits were vaguely interesting but entirely dead.

Of course, not every poem can – or should be – reduced to the chipper slogan, “Let’s Make Poetry Fun!”  There’s a time to take poetry seriously, and to write serious poems.  When the poster celebrating the 2009 Poetry Month quoted T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and asked the entirely serious question, “Do I dare disturb the universe?”, the implied answer was “Yes”.  The universe needs disturbing from time to time, after all, and tossing a chunk of memorable words into the sea we call life isn’t the worst way to send effects rippling out to even the farthest cosmic shore.

Unfortunately, promoting poetry by T.S. Eliot can reinforce the common misconception that poetry is meant solely for a literary or intellectual elite.  Quite the opposite is true. Poetry is neither drab nor irrelevant and it’s meant to be enjoyed, both the writing and the reading of it.  The impulse toward poetry can pop up anywhere, as Merritt’s famous pelican-postcard-inspired bit of doggerel demonstrates.  Was his poem “important”?  Hardly. Has anyone ever analyzed it for deeper meaning? Probably not.  But it’s fun and memorable, oft-quoted and quotable, perfectly suited to be a jumping-off point for summer afternoons of verbal serve and volley.

Living where I do, it’s impossible not to think of Merritt and his Mighty Pelican on a regular basis.  The whimsical creatures on this page are part of the Pelican Path Project in Seabrook, Texas, a collection of non-migratory birds that bring smiles to tourists and residents alike.  After being battered by Hurricane Ike, many had to be moved or taken in for restoration.  Now, one by one, they’re beginning to re-emerge, tucked into the nooks and crannies of the little town like snippets of verse dropped around a dinner table.

Spying one for the first time, children are entranced.  Suddenly discovering a “new one”, adults are delighted.  People talk to them. Tourists have their photos taken with them.  I saw one fellow rubbing the beak of the astronaut pelican as though he were rubbing the belly of of the Buddha for luck, and a bride and groom once had a replica atop their wedding cake.   Every time I see one I smile, astonished and delighted by their variety and by the creative vision that populated the town with such elegant birds.  Every now and then, I wish Dixon Lanier Merritt and Miss Johnson could see them.  I can only imagine what they’d think, but I suspect Miss Johnson would have her pencil out, ready to write a poem.

I suppose as these pelicans go
some people would say, “Just for show”.
But they’re handsome and fun
as they bask in their sun
and inspire new verses to flow.

Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, please click below.

101 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Pelecanus Poeticus

  1. I’m so glad you included the information on the Pelican Path Project. The pelican structures are such fun. I’d love to see them in person.

    I’ve been sitting on a draft about William Stafford for some time now because it doesn’t quite fit with the tone of my blog. His “Traveling Through the Dark” was the first poem to make me think poetry was worth thinking about.

    I’ve also been sitting on some music posts, and this piece reminded me of a song (and album) by Peter Mulvey called, “The Trouble With Poets.” One trouble with poets is they see poetry everywhere. :-)

    1. Hippie Cahier,

      Some cities have cows, some have pigs – we have pelicans! They are fun, and it’s been great to see them restored post-Ike. Clearly, there are higher priorities after a hurricane than civic sculpture, but still – it’s the little details that make a town a home.

      I read Stafford’s poem. Not much to say about that, except that it’s one I’ll go back to. Heart-rending. It is interesting what sits in the files, isn’t it? I’ve got a couple tucked away myself. Sometimes I think they’re just ripening.

      “The Trouble With Poets” made me laugh, especially the line, “the trouble with shoes is they come untied”. I can’t keep the laces on my boat shoes tied, no matter what. More about that later.

      By the way, I passed your Ant Car post to my friend from Librizzi, and she loved it. As it turns out, she makes it to Baltimore now and then, so it was interesting to her for more reasons than just the ants. She loved that you captured the tower, too. That was the clincher for her – the proof that the folks with the car knew what they were doing.


      1. “. . . and a poet will come along and say, ‘That’s just like life’. . . ” I sing that to anyone whose shoes are untied. Then I have to explain it. More people should listen to Peter Mulvey so the things I say will be more pithy. :-)

  2. Hello Linda:

    Your poetic blog post reminded me of a recent foray into the territory of Panama’s Old Shell; the Panama Bay to be more specific. During that photo trip I saw several pelicans taking sun baths on top of battered semi-sunken boats. Elegant as they were, I didn’t associate them with poetry or the beauty of the graceful birds of your pictures. You have a more exquisite way of viewing the world.

    Regarding poetry, I still remember Ms. Magdalena de Solis, my Spanish teacher who taught us the beauty of Spanish classical poets like José de Espronceda, Lope de Vega, Antonio Machado or Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, just to name a few.

    Spanish is gorgeous language meant for poems. Its pronunciation is like listening to a symphony of sounds, rhythm and cadence. For example:

    “Con diez cañones por banda,
    viento en popa a toda vela,
    no corta el mar sino vuela,
    un velero bergantín.
    Bajel pirata que llaman,
    por su bravura El Temido,
    en todo mar conocido,
    del uno al otro confín.

    La luna en el mar riela
    en la lona gime el viento,
    y alza en blando movimiento
    olas de plata y azul;
    y va el capitán pirata,
    cantando alegre en la popa,
    Asia a un lado, al otro Europa,
    y allá a su frente Istambul:…”

    José de Espronceda, Canción del Pirata

    As long as I live, I will never forget these verses which came to us by the hands of Ms. Magdalena de Solís, our high school Spanish teacher.

    Thank you for planting seeds of poetry across the web. Many will grow and sparse even more seeds to the winds.

    Kind Regards,


    1. Omar,

      We have both brown and white pelicans here, and they’re such a delight to watch. Near Galveston Island, they often fly in long, graceful lines and seem to be having a wonderful time. They perch, too, of course – especially around the boats.

      I don’t know any of the Spanish poets you mention, but I enjoy a good bit of music sung in Spanish, and have come to appreciate the beauty of the language in that way. In fact, these lines are especially appealing to me:

      “La luna en el mar riela
      en la lona gime el viento,
      y alza en blando movimiento
      olas de plata y azul…”

      The combination of the moon and sea reminds me of a favorite song I may have shared with you – or perhaps not. It’s sung by Marisol (the stage name of the Spanish singer, María Josefa Flores) and is a beautiful fusion of melody and lyrics. Well, at least in my opinion!

      A good teacher is a treasure. Ms. Magdalena de Solís was yours, Miss Johnson one of mine. Wouldn’t they be surprised to find us talking of them now?

      I’ll leave Marisol’s song for you – enjoy!


  3. What a great and wonderful post! The images of the pelicans make me thirst to see them in person. Your memories of teachers/mentors who instilled a natural love of rhythm and verse are open testimonies to all teachers who share their love, and in doing so, brand that same love into those students whose souls are like sponges.

    Oh, to be caressed by the fun sound of a ditty, a limerick! My Aunt Lulu in Gulfport was forever showering us with limericks, which of course brightened everyone’s day! Thanks for such a great post! Z

    1. Z,

      When I saw your name, I thought, “Of course she’ll love the pelicans” – the vibrant colors and the creativity of the artists who created them remind me of your work.

      But I’m also thinking of your role as teacher – there are so many beautiful examples in your posts of individuals who’ve learned with your help that they, too, can express themselves in artistic ways – and do it well.

      Thinking about it, I’m not especially surprised more and more people are opting for home-schooling, private schools or tutoring of various sorts, despite the financial and other costs. The generosity, accessibility and honest concern of the teachers I remember so fondly are nearly impossible for public school teachers today. Keeping the bureaucracy rolling too often supplants teaching – it’s a shame, and it certainly doesn’t do much to engender true joy in learning.

      As for your limerick-loving Aunt Lulu from Gulfport, I already have a vision of her. I suspect it’s been influenced by my memories of my great-aunt in Baton Rouge, but it’s delightful, nonetheless. Thank goodness we had them, too!


      1. Teachers should be some of the highest-paid people on the planet; the word’s future depends on those who nurture and educate our youth.

        I will never forget long ago when a second- or third-grade class was doing a life drawing of one of their classmates and NAILING his image. I realized that they were doing it because ‘Mrs. Brunetti’ thought they were capable, and no one told them that they shouln’t be able to capture his likeness.

        Of course I loved the pelicans! Ecuador has had its ‘parade of horses/Caballos con colores” and now I see there’s a new display of hummingbirds in the lovely city of Cuenca. I have been home for the past few days, and it’s so wonderful to watch the pelicans flop flop flopping their wings on the water and lazing around this last bend of the river.

        How well I remember Aunt Lula sharing a story when she was in her 80’s. She had been to the dentist and asked, ‘Doc, aren’t I too old to be having cavities?” and he replied, “Miss Lula, you’re too old to be having teeth!”

        What we are we owe to those who nurtured us when we were young!

        1. There’s the heart of it – “no one told them they shouldn’t be able to…” If we hear too many of those “you can’t” messages, we begin to tell ourselves the same thing. One of the pivot points of my life came when my first sailing instructor laid down the law. I was free to ask “how can I?” when aboard the boat, but I never was to say “I can’t”. Like all good teachers, he nurtured independence and problem-solving along with imparting basic knowledge.

  4. Hi Linda thanks for this enjoyable, evocative, quirky post. It triggered a memory – around aged 12, our English class was sent home to learn Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils” by heart. I was not inspired by this, learning Shelley’s wonderful sonnet on the fleeting nature of life and the pointlessness of human vanity, “Ozymandias”, instead.

    This did NOT go down well with my teacher, a woman bearing NO resemblance to your wonderful Miss Johnson. However, to this day I can still recite “Ozymandias” perfectly. And I still love poetry, despite my former English teacher’s best ( or worst ) efforts!

    1. Anne,

      If it would be any comfort, I could tell you some stories about my 10th grade biology teacher. That was a radically different experience than the good days with Miss Johnson, believe me!

      “Ozymandias” is a great poem, perhaps more relevant today than when I first learned it. I enjoyed the tale of your “substitution”. Isn’t it wonderful to remember those first little rebellions? They prepare us for the larger ones to come, I suppose. And we carry their lessons with us. After all, you can recite “Ozymandias”, I’ll carry that ketchup bottle with me to the grave, and we both still love poetry!


  5. Oh, the flock is returning! Strutting around all bright and shiny. Your pictures are terrific. (People do love them.)

    The birds do have a lot in common with poetry: “Poetry: best words in best order” Pelicans: best colors and design painted by soaring imagination?

    Lovely post – all the way around.

    1. phil,

      Don’t we live in a wonderful place? Imitation space shuttles, tree-moving crews, dancing firemen, pelican statues – if I didn’t live here, I could enjoy visiting!

      I’ve been trying to remember which pelican I saw first. I think it was the doctor with his tennis racquet. One of the docs over on Nasa Parkway had it in his office waiting room. It certainly was a conversation starter! The last one I included is over at the entrance to Lakewood Yacht Club. Most afternoons when it’s cooler, one or two of the resident kitties will be curled on on the base, napping in the sunshine.

      So glad you enjoyed the update. It’s double-fun to share them in a new way with someone from the neighborhood!


  6. I should have had Mrs Johnson. My favourite poem is Tennyson’s ‘Lady of Shallot’
    I also loved ‘Hist’ from CJ Denis” ‘Book for Kids’. Here is how it goes:

    Hist! . . . . . . Hark!
    The night is very dark,
    And we’ve to go a mile or so
    Across the Possum Park.

    Step . . . . . . light,
    Keeping to the right;
    If we delay, and lose our way,
    We’ll be out half the night.
    The clouds are low and gloomy. Oh!
    It’s just begun to mist!
    We haven’t any overcoats
    And – Hist! . . . . . . Hist!

    (Mo . . . . . . poke!)
    Who was that that spoke?
    This is not a fitting spot
    To make a silly joke.

    Dear . . . . . . me!
    A mopoke in a tree!
    It jarred me so, I didn’t know
    Whatever it could be.
    But come along; creep along;
    Soon we shall be missed.
    They’ll get a scare and wonder where
    We – Hush! . . . . . . Hist!

    Ssh! . . . . . . Soft!
    I’ve told you oft and oft
    We should not stray so far away
    Without a moon aloft.

    Oo! . . . . . . Scat!
    Goodness! What was that?
    Upon my word, it’s quite absurd,
    It’s only just a cat.
    But come along; haste along;
    Soon we’ll have to rush,
    Or we’ll be late and find the gate
    Is – Hist! . . . . . . Hush!

    (Continue reading the entire poem here)

    Lovely post. Thanks for making me think of those good old days again.

    1. marymtf,

      What a wonderful poem – and brand new to me. It actually does a very good job of evoking what it was like when I first began spending time out in the country – really in the country, without a yard light to be seen and only some very strange noises “out there” in the dark. We were so well-trained as kids we always knew to be home when the street lights came on, so there weren’t many panic-stricken runs for the safety of the yard.

      Have you seen any of John William Waterhouse’s paintings of the Lady of Shalott? One of my favorites is I am Half-Sick of Shadows . Of course, looking at that needlework she’s engaged in, she might have solved her shadow problem with a good light bulb!

      Thanks so much for stopping by – I love helping people remember the good old days. It can be a first step toward creating new good days!


      1. I often begin sentences with in the good old days (no, just joking Linda).
        Thanks for your link to the John William Waterhouse painting, It’s just gorgeous. I’ve saved it to my favourites so that I can look at it now and again if I want to be inspired.
        PS. C J Dennis (Denn to his friends) was well known in this country anyhow (Australia) for writing ‘The Sentimental Bloke’ and sequals in which the Bloke’s friends are featured. The stories are written in verse. So beloved was Dennis that there were pocket editions made of the Sentimental Bloke and the other stories so that soldiers going off to war (World War I) could take them along.

        1. Waterhouse did a number of paintings featuring the Lady of Shalott. A google image search using his name and the poem title will bring them right up.

          I read the history of “The Sentimental Bloke” as film – very interesting. It’s amazing that what’s considered the best Australian silent film was being redone as late as 2005 – and that poor Mr. Dennis wasn’t invited to a screening at the 1955 Sydney Film Festival because no one realized he still was alive!

  7. PS., the teacher I remember the best is my grade three teacher Mr Clifford. He said (and today I know he was being facetious) that if our class did well in our maths test he would stand on his head. To do him justice, we were spurred on and did well and, when reminded, he did stand on his head. Mr Clifford was the first adult (outside the family) that ever kept to his word. :)

    1. Bless his heart! Even though you had to remind him, he gets all the credit in the world for actually going through with it!

      I’ve always wondered what it would have been like to have a man as a grade school teacher. We didn’t have a male teacher until we got to seventh grade – well, except for the music instructors. But my ninth grade world history teacher? He was a gem. I still remember building my Parthenon for our “Greek Week”, and him showing up in a toga!

  8. Oh, gosh… I absolutely hated poetry in class. All of my teachers took poetry seriously and just sucked all the fun right out of it.

    Left to my own devices, and my literature book, I found that I like a lot of it. I liked the sound of the words, the rhythm ( I tend to post to Kipling!)and no one was asking me, “But what does it mean?”

    Mama and I, both, thoroughly enjoyed a book of poetry put together by William Cole, “Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls.”

    ‘Nothing To Do’ by Shelly Silverstien: (Yes, Shelly; NOT Shel)

    Nothing to do, nothing to do
    Put some mustard in your shoe
    Fill your pockets full of soot,
    Drive a nail into your foot,
    Put some sugar in your hair,
    Leave your toys upon the stairs,
    Smear some jelly on the latch,
    Eat some mud and strike a match,
    Draw a picture on the wall,
    Roll some marbles down the hall,
    Put some ink in daddy’s cap–
    Now go upstairs and take a nap

    I can still recite this at the drop of a hat! LOL

    The rest of the poems in the book were definitely beastly and ghastly and thoroughly enjoyable.

    1. Gué,

      “Nothing To Do” sounds like a perfect Saturday to me! Actually, that little list is firmly enough grounded in the reality of kid-life-1950s that it’s doubly funny. Things I remember doing: drawing on the wall, rolling marbles down the hall, leaving toys on the stairs, stepping on a nail, covering a doorknob with (petroleum) jelly, playing with matches. I didn’t eat mud, but I had a little friend who would eat spoonsful of dirt for five cents!

      “Beastly and ghastly” reminds me of anther genre of poems I found in a humor anthology that belonged to my folks. Remember the “Little Willie” poems? They’d be right up your alley, since they’re very much in the spirit of Edward Gorey, They were written by Harry Graham around the turn of the century – no, that other century. 1890s or so. They were included in “Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes.” I used to laugh and laugh at such delights as:

      In the family drinking well,
      Willie pushed his sister, Nell.
      She’s dead all right, the water kilt her.
      Now they drink it through a filter.

      Little Willie hung his sister.
      She was dead before we missed her.
      “Willie’s always up to tricks.
      Ain’t he cute! He’s only six.”

      And of course there’s my all-time favorite:

      While making toast at the fireside,
      Nurse fell in the grate and died.
      But what makes it ten times worse,
      All the toast was burnt with nurse!

      You can read more utterly reprehensible, politically incorrect and funny quatrains here.


      1. “Rutheless Rhymes for Heartless Homes”??? LOL

        That poem about Willie pushing his sister down the well was one of Cole’s selections in “Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls.” I remember it well. Pun intended.

        You’re right; they are Gorey-esque and SO much fun.

  9. There is no frigate like a[n] . . . inspired teacher, is there? I remember Miss Dumney (such a name, right?), who agreed that I could put to memorization “Jabberwocky,” but, she cautioned, if I didn’t do it right, there was no in between, I’d get an F. It’s the only poem I’ve ever memorized (isn’t that awful?), but I did it right from stem to stern, thank goodness.

    And, well, of course, you know I loved your Prufrock segment, not to mention the issue of taking poetry Seriously. I had thought to “major” in English when I went away to college, but the analysis so dried out everything (must God and sex be found in EVERY poem??), I switched to U. S. History. There, at least, I got the facts and could imagine from them as I desired…

    Perchance that was an early example for me of “do I dare disturb the universe” and the resounding “Yes!” that you so rightly applaud.

    1. Susan,

      Now that I think of it, my mom must have been quite a fan of “Jabberwocky” – there were a lot of phrases from the poem that popped up in her conversation. “Oh, frabjous day!” comes to mind, especially. Well, and “snicker-snack”.

      It’s an interesting poem – absolutely resistant to the kind of analysis some of my teachers favored. I think it would be pretty easy to memorize if it’s accepted as its own world, with its own verbal atmosphere. I may give it a go – that’s the kind of amusement that can make a day on the docks go quickly.

      I thought of you when pondering Prufrock & etc. If you click the link to the Poetry Month posters, you can download a pdf of the one created for 2009 and print out your very own.

      I laughed and laughed at your question – “must God and sex be found in every poem?” In today’s culture, I think the capitalization would be slightly different: “god and Sex”. And you were one of the lucky ones, to still be getting facts with your history studies. I believe many majors today are listed under “Revisionist History”. ;)

      As for disturbing the universe – here’s someone who apparently takes the question seriously!


  10. Well, you have touched on the reasons I was terrified of poetry for so many years (and I majored in English anyway–largely because I felt my elementary & secondary education had been lacking), despite having had it read to me & quoted at me throughout childhood (as it clearly was for you). I try very hard to sneak a poem or two into the Story Times I conduct, figuring that if you don’t tell children that this is Poetry and it must be Taken Seriously, they will grow to love it rather than fear it.

    Those pelicans are sublime!!

    1. ds,

      I can’t say I ever was terrified of poety – but terminal boredom’s not much prettier. What really saved me was my dad’s love of word-play, especially puns, and my own decision to give up on an English major, partly because of the clamoring of my relatives who insisted,”You’ll never make any money as an English major!” A few did suggest I could be an English teacher, but given my experience with English teachers at that point, I couldn’t imagine anything worse.

      Your approach to the story time seems perfect. It’s no different than introducing new foods. Tell a nine-year old, “This is a vegetable and it’s really good for you”, plop some some overcooked, plain broccoli on the plate and see what happens. Throw that same broccoli into a tasty stir-fry, and the results may be different.

      And yes, indeed – the pelicans rock!


  11. The Pelican Path Project is a terrific thing! What a great way to bring out the fun of the bird and the spirit back into the poem and suggest that indeed poetry can be fun!

    1. montucky,

      We urban dwellers don’t have quite the same kind of paths you do, but at least in the course of our day, we can see a bird or two! There are so many wonderful pelicans – there’s a chef-pelican in front of a restaurant, a Volunteer Fire-fighting-pelican, and even a cute pelican in an orange outfit in front of the local Hooters! ;)

      There aren’t many reasons in life to use the word “whimsical”, but it’s the only word that will do for these birds. They’re fun, for sure!


  12. Thanks for introducing me (us) to the great limerick about the pelican. Fun, fun, fun.

    Thanks also for tracking down its author, Dixon Lanier Merritt. I can see why people might have misattributed the ditty to Ogden Nash during the decades when Nash was popular. Now that the Internet has come into our lives, false attributions have become commonplace and spread more quickly than they ever could before, but your example shows that they’re clearly nothing new.

    Also not new is the practice, all too common on the Internet, of copying someone else’s stuff without asking permission from the author, or even mentioning who the author is. I just went to and did a search for “A wonderful bird is the pelican” in the years 1910–1915. I found instance after instance of a magazine printing the limerick with no attribution at all (or in one case giving credit to Anonymous). San Joaquin Light and Power Magazine, which reprinted the limerick in 1913, at least gets credit for honesty: it listed the author as Swiped!

    So, as the Romans said (but not in English), there’s nothing new under the sun. Except that in 1910 there was a new limerick about the pelican, thanks to Dixon Lanier Merritt.

    1. Steve,

      When I first learned the pelican poem, I thought it was the work of Nash. It certainly is his style, and it would be an easy attribution. Of course, I learned it incorrectly, as well as attaching the wrong name to it. Maybe Merritt would have said, “Well, you got it wrong, but at least you didn’t put MY name to it!” Or maybe not.

      I still remember the shock I felt the first time I found one of my posts scraped by some site in Uzbekistan or Italy or who-knows-where – plunked without so much as a thank-you into the heart of their little money-making scheme. That was just shortly before I added the phrase “DMCA take-down notice” to my vocabulary. It works, but it’s a pain. Welcome to the brave new world.

      The newest twist, of course, is the ease with which self-plagiarism (a la Jonah Lehrer) can be surfaced. Writers who used to tuck a few previously-published paragraphs into work they agreed would be original had better learn another of those funny internet phrases: “search engine”. Lehrer’s fabrication of Dylan quotations is something else entirely. I’m still not over that. Maybe I’ll distract myself by reading about Fareed Zakaria. Idiots.

      But we do have our pelican limerick, and some lovely, fun statues and a lot of memories about wonderful poems. Well, and the tale you surfaced of San Joaquin Light and Power Magazine and its cheerful acknowledgement: “Swiped!” That makes me smile.


      1. I followed your links and read about those two recent cases of intellectual dishonesty, neither of which I’d heard of. Let’s chalk up two more instances of bad NNUS, nothing new under the sun.

  13. My father was from a very old era. He was in his 50s when I was born. His childhood in the early 1900s was all about the horseless carriage. He used to teach us what he called “ditties” and this one I have never forgotten:

    There was an old man who had a wooden leg
    He never had a ride nor a ride would he beg
    So he bought four spools and an old coal stove
    And now he rides in a Ford, by Jove!

    Your post just made me want to share that.

    1. Martha,

      That’s wonderful! My mom used to tell me stories about the Model A and Model T, and the way they transformed life. Wagons, buggies, horseback – they had been a part of life for her before the automobile began to take hold (or be affordable). And trains – there was a lot of travel between small Iowa towns on the train.

      Here’s something else I like about your ditty – the creativity of the old man. He took what was at hand and made himself something functional – sort of like you tricking out your scooter with all the things that make it more fun and functional!

      Thanks so much for bringing the poem – it’s given us another lovely smile.


  14. Your post brought to mind this scene from the film “Pandemonium,” about Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (It’s an interesting film despite the amount of scenery chewing that goes on).
    I think of prose as oil painting, layer on layer of color and shading, culminating in sharp details, but poetry is watercolor, quick, in the moment, with its unpredictable serendipity, broad washes of color, brush tip details.

    Biographical detail and cultural context can enhance a poem and add depth to its meaning, but a good poem stands on its own. I get impatient with all the mechanics — the structures, the pentameters and hexameters, and the rhyme schemes. Yeah, the best poets transcend all that, but in the main it tends to make for clockwork powered poems that sound stilted and pretentious– I grew heartily sick of “The Wreck of The Hesperus” and Longfellow, as studied in school. I guess that’s why I favor blank verse in free meter. Too many poems “recite.” I’d rather have one that speaks. On the infrequent occasions when I have an attack of poetry, I read the poem aloud again and again to test its “mouth” — how well it reads aloud. The kitties have learned to ignore me.

    1. WOL,

      I watched the clip and am glad I did, because it made your post more enjoyable and understandable. I’m at the point in my life where anything carrying the title “Pandemonium” wouldn’t get a second look under normal circumstances, so thanks for recommending the film clip.

      I’m not sure I’d make any hard and fast distinctions between prose-as-oil and poetry-as-watercolor, but it’s a nice way to get into the subject, and there’s a lot of truth there. On the other hand, there’s a lot of poetry (including some Longfellow) I’d be willing to point to and say, “Palette knife!”

      My own extraordinarily limited experience suggests that, at least for me, trying to shoe-horn words into a previously chosen form isn’t enjoyable or productive. There were a couple of villanelle challenges making the rounds last year, and while I was amazed by a few of the results, my own attempt felt like a trip to the dentist. With the few poems I’ve written, the structure seems to be somehow implicit – my task is to find it, and make it clear.

      There’s no question that reading aloud can help in the writing process, but it’s also important for later enjoyment. One of my favorites actually is Longfellow’s – “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls”. If I recite it aloud, I’m back at the shore in a flash, listening to the waves.


      1. “Pandemonium” is available on Netflix. Sad tale of Coleridge’s opium addiction and his relationship with William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth. Lord Byron has a brief guest starring role. There is a hilarious exchange between Wordsworth and his sister that’s worth the price of admission by itself. I did a post on it a while back, with a link at “scenery chewing” above. Poetry is as individual a taste as any other. There’s a poem by Kenneth Patchen called, “Be music, night” that’s some double barreled love poetry, the imagery of which delights my mind til it goes all waggy and wriggly like a happy puppy. It’s one of several I culled from my old Blogger blog to put where I could find it easily.

  15. They are delightful birds. I got a few shots of them on our last visit to the Outer Banks.

    My mother had a friend who introduced me to poetry when I was very young. She gave me a book of poetry and asked me to choose any poem I wished to memorize. When I had committed it to memory, I could perform it for them. I received a great deal of attention for my good work. Of course, I now realize it was a creative way to get me out of their hair.

    1. Bella Rum,

      My next big pelican project is seeing some babies. There’s a rookery down near Galveston, and every April an event called “Featherfest” makes it possible to see the nesting families. There may be other places around here – there certainly are in Louisiana. At one point there were only 50 brown pelicans left in Texas. The banning of DDT and habitat restoration has helped to bring them back.

      Aren’t big people clever? You got to choose the poem, you were given the privilege of performing it, and then you were fussed over. In the meantime, they got THEIR “45 minutes” of peace and quiet!

      Say – you haven’t thought of suggesting the memorization of poetry to H, have you? ;)


      1. LOL You are too funny.

        I didn’t know there were only fifty brown pelicans left in Texas. That’s too close for comfort. So glad they’re making a comeback. I love to watch them as they approach from waaay down the beach. I never get tired of it.

        H is considering quitting his 2-day-a-week job. Poetry is an option.

  16. Mrs. Franklin and Mrs. Galloway forever changed the way I approached poetry. Mrs. Franklin had us memorizing 300 lines at age 12 and Mrs. Galloway had us writing as high school freshmen. Then “modern” recording artist Joan Serrat forever engraved the Spanish poetry of Antonio Machado in my mind.

    One way to meet the required lines that had to be memorized I figured was to choose a long poem, a very long poem with just the right meter and rhyme and enough story in it so I could remember it. My choice was “The Deacon’s Masterpiece” or “The Wonderful One-hoss Shay” by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Once I learned that poem, that only met just over one hundred of the required three hundred lines, and I knew there were more to learn. From Mrs. Franklin, I learned the delight of committing verses to memory. From Mrs. Galloway I dared write some of my own lines and from a Spanish professor who taught about the “Generación de 98” I tackled memorizing more verses.

    I loved this post on so many levels. I especially enjoyed how your dad was so in synch with your thoughts to tickle you with a rhyme.

    I love this Pelican Parade and it makes me want to revisit Seabrook to spy as many as we can find. I’m sure things have greatly changed since we lived there in the early 70’s in El Lago Estates.

    1. Georgette,

      I’d never heard of Serrat, so I went looking. What an amazing history – and how very interesting that he was banned by Franco for wanting to sing in Catalan, then later chastised for wanting to sing in Spanish. I enjoyed his statement that, “I sing better in the language they forbid me.”

      Weren’t we lucky to have teachers who encouraged demanded memorization? I’m filled with admiration for your choice of such a long poem! I have read that “story” poems are easier to memorize because they contain within themselves the kind of cues that actors receive from other cast members and the action of a play or film. It makes sense. In any event, Miss Johnson and Mrs. Galloway and Mrs. Franklin did us great favors.Personally, I didn’t enjoy the recitation in front of the class – I was more shy than you can imagine at that point – but I’ve never regretted the discipline itself, or knowing the poems.

      My dear dad was a great fan of word-play, particularly invented words and puns. I’ve told the story before about avoiding a trip to my room by begging, “Oh, Daddy! Don’t pun-ish me!” He was great fun, always.

      You’d be amazed by the changes down here. The Kemah Boardwalk has increased traffic, for one thing, and every piece of property alongside a drainage ditch is being marketed as “waterfront”. But the small town “feel” still exists. As for El Lago – their claim to fame is their police department. I had the pleasure of experiencing night court thanks to those fellows. I still don’t think I rolled through that stop-sign. ;)
      If you ever come down, the best seafood dining (in my opinion) is down the road in San Leon, at Topwater Grill. They’ve got their own boats, and a great location on the edge of Galveston Bay.

      They have flocks of real pelicans that fly around, too!


      1. Oh thank you for this link. I just listened to it and I look forward to listening to it again. Several verses rang so familiar, yet I know I could not recite it today in it’s entirety. Thank you for graciously editing the correct poet–Oliver Wendell Holmes. Perhaps because of the rhyme scheme, (at times awkward and certainly not Longfellow), or perhaps because of his straightforward story telling and imagery, his poetry appealed to me back in the day, “Old Ironsides” being still another one. Still the discipline of memorizing started with this piece “The Deacon’s Masterpiece.” “Logic is logic. That’s all I say.” so delightfully ends this piece. It’s no wonder his son became a supreme court justice having had a father who crafted such lines.

        1. I found a wonderfully serendipitous bit in Holmes’ poem.

          When the deacon mentions using “the hubs of logs from the settlers’ ellum”, the first thing that crossed my mind was Deep Ellum, up in Dallas. As it turns out, “ellum” is elm. In “The Sound and The Fury”, Quentin Compson juxtaposes the two pronunciations when he says, ” “…a rippling shawl of leaves. Elm. No: ellum. Ellum” (p.124)

          On the site of the Deep Ellum Foundation, , it says, “Deep Ellum developed in the late 1800s as a residential and commercial neighborhood on the east side of downtown Dallas. The area was originally called Deep Elm, but the pronunciation “Deep Ellum” by early residents led to its current and historically accepted name.”

          So from pelicans to poems to Oliver Wendell Holmes to Deep Ellum and its blues. How fun is that?!

  17. What a wonderful piece of writing. Both fun and inspirational. It sounds like you had some wonderful teachers and terrific parents. And the pelican parade! Kids must love this.

    I had a 4th grade teacher that taught us much more than the 3 R’s. She taught us how to square dance, and how to shape gourds into wonderful works of art and household appliances like lamps, and she taught me how to respect other people even if they were a lot different. We are lucky to find these people in life. And it is up to us to carry their wisdom on!

    1. Wild_Bill,

      I did have wonderful teachers, except for a couple. One scared me to death and the other obviously was bored to death with teaching. Still, that leaves a lot of very good ones to go with those good parents I had. When they teamed up, I didn’t have a chance – from my parents’ point of view, if the teacher said it would be good for me to memorize poetry, that’s what I would be doing.

      Ah, 4th grade. That was Mrs. DeKamp, who read aloud to us every day. We went all the way through the entire “Little House On the Prairie” series, and then we built ourselves a house, right in the classroom. We even braided a rag rug for it. No wonder I liked school!

      You’re so right – in the midst of our school lessons, there were life lessons being taught that were even more important. It seems to me one of the biggest challenges today is to find ways to continue teaching those life lessons – the institutions we always counted on aren’t always doing the job.


  18. I grew up with my father’s rendition of the Pelican poem, and you contributed to its completion in the comment section of a past blog post of mine about the very same poem . . . Thanks for stepping this up so I could see these whimsical pelican statues! What a great idea!

    I also had an English teacher with a penchant for poetry. e. e. cummings was one of my favorites as a child, and I memorized quite a few of his little ditties. How fun! Your ability to come up with little verses is amazing! What are those called again?

    1. Wendy,

      Looking at these pelicans again, I was reminded of Kenny Hill and his work over at Chauvin. Has anyone ever figured out what happened to the guy? I poked around a little this morning, but there’s no information even on the foundation website. All I can find is that he walked away. That’s as interesting as his sculpture.

      I remember liking some of e e cummings’ poetry when I was in school, but I’m surprised that I don’t remember a bit of it today. When I went to a page that listed all his poems, the only one that rang a bell was “My Dear Old Etcetera”. It’s a fact that much of his work was more visual than auditory – at least, that’s how I’d describe it. The placement of the words on the page and the punctuation (or lack) was more important than the sound.

      Little verses… you mean the limericks? They’ve quite a history, actually. Even Shakespeare included a couple in his plays. They’re five-lined and often bawdy, a tribute of sorts to the beggars and drinkers who’d compose and recite them in the taverns. Here’s one just for you!

      A pirogue’s a heck of a boat
      for anyone willing to float
      through ‘gators and logs
      and ear-deafening frogs
      just to scare up a good Cajun quote!


      1. OH I LOVE IT!!!! You are just the smartest thing EVER!!! Yes, I guess they are called limericks, but I love the rhythm and bop to them!!! And thank you so much for creating my very own. I will use it with great pride!!! Maybe someone can cross stitch it for me as a wall hanging! (I never was any good at that!) Yes, they made me think of Kenny Hill since I was just there not too long ago. I have a dear friend who is a docent there, and I’ll see if she will tell me “off the record” if they know what happened to him. I see something new every time I go, which isn’t really hard to do, right?

        1. You know, I haven’t made it over to Hill’s place yet. I’m thinking about October, once the heat breaks. I’ve determined to stop by Chester’s in Chacahoula, too. By the time I add in Chauvin, Schmoopy’s and a trip to the cheniers on the way home, it’s taking shape as a nice roadie. We’ll see.

          I don’t do that cross-stitch business, either, but maybe I could whomp up something that would do for the camp. I’ll ponder that.

  19. I LOVE artist-rendered collective series like these pelicans, Linda. I have seen the Buddy Bears in Germany, the autos in Detroit, the turtles in Atlanta, cows somewhere, watercarriers (also in Germany). Here in Europe there may be as many as 100 in the series, purchased individually by businesses that then decorate/paint them as they wish. I LOVE THEM and your pelicans have given me another arrow in my virtual quiver.

    I’m not sure when I “fell out of ” poetry, especially after writing it often in my early adult years. But I’ll never tire of limericks as long as I live. Nor of plays on words like my favorite from high school days. It still rolls off my tongue without any effort:

    TB or not TB, that is the congestion.
    Consumption de done about it?
    Of cough, of cough, but it take a lung, lung time.

    1. Ginnie,

      You can add yet another set to your “collection”. Georgette (who commented above) introduced me to the Cleveland Pigs and got me working on this post again. The pelicans were financed in the same way – individuals or businesses could commission one to reflect their particular interests. I amused myself for a while with the thought of a varnishing pelican! Then, I got the specifics on the cost and said, “Well, maybe not.”

      Since I’d never heard your parody, I had to go searching. Lo and behold, I turned up your blog entry from 2005 and read about it there. Not only that, I discovered that Woody Allen made use of it in “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask”. If it’s good enough for you and Woody Allen, it’s good enough for me!

      Here’s another nip of serendip for you. A nature photographer in Montana just posted some pics of huckleberries. Someone questioned whether they were the same as blueberries, and in the process of figuring that out, I found the expression, “I’ll be your huckleberry”. I think what we’re working with here is six degrees of literary separation. ;)

      Happy and safe travels!


  20. I am awfully sorry, dear Linda, but I am going to be one of these stiff-necked, serious, fuddy-duddy spoilers of fun. The examples you give are, at best, verse, more probably doggerel, but never, in a million years, poetry. There is a heaven-wide difference between verse and poetry. Poetry doesn’t even have to rhyme, but it must always say something meaningful.

    I love poetry, read it every day and enjoy it immensely. It can be simple, needs to have no long words, death and destruction need not be its main ingredient, but it must touch a deep place in me, must speak a truth in as few words as possible, must move my spirit.

    I can’t live without poetry, but I can live happily ever after without another piece of doggerel. I am a big girl now.

    1. friko,

      No need to be sorry. The good news is that each of us is free to enjoy whatever pleases us most when it comes to poetry – or any other art form, for that matter.

      Clearly, Merritt and Nash aren’t Shakespeare or Dante, nor even Sandburg and Frost. I wouldn’t confuse them with those poets any more than I’d confuse Danielle Steele with Jane Austen. While they amuse me, they certainly don’t move my spirit in the same way as T.S. Eliot or Cavafy. But of course, they never intended to.

      As I think about it, music seems a good analogy. “The Well-Tempered Clavier” and Abba both have a place in my collection. I enjoy pop music from Ghana and Gregorian chant.
      My youtube “favorites” list has everything from Pink Martini to Iron and Wine, from Andrea Bocelli to the Beach Boys. What determines what I choose? Whim, circumstance, mood. Sometimes I want a full-course dinner, and sometimes I want bubble gum.

      I guess I’d consider myself a big girl, too. But sometimes even big-girl-me likes to kick off my shoes and take a bare-footed run through the sprinkler. ;)


      1. You are absolutely right, Linda. We enjoy different things at different times. I was listening to folk songs the other day, really quite saccharine stuff; but I indulged myself and let it work on me until I had had my fill.

        What I find important is not that we must always be elitist and strive constantly for the ‘higher’ things in life, but realise the difference between the higher and those a little lower in the pecking order of accepted standards of excellence. Perhaps I would enjoy reading Danielle Steele (I never have yet) and call her my ‘bubble gum’ course rather than my gourmet dinner.

        Big girls that we are, we know our own tastes best, and who is to say we mustn’t indulge ourselves.

        1. Please, no Danielle Steele. A friend said, “I’m reading a good story, you’ll enjoy it.” Not wanting to offend this sensitive friend, I read, thinking the whole time, “Who edits this c…p,” and, “How does she get published?” Read and weep. ;)

          1. Here’s my question: can you imagine having to spend your days editing her books? Still, as one of my own friends says, “I’ll take a Harlequin over “Fifty Shades” any day.”

        2. Friko – I’ll just add to Martha’s comment above – if you decide to give Danielle Steele a try, be sure you get your copy from the library. You wouldn’t (in my very humble opinion) want to spent a pence on her books. (Do you still have pence?)

  21. Lovely post. The pelican has always been somewhat of a totem for me. While living on the Southern California coast years ago I used to ride my bike from Del Mar to the University of California, San Diego on Torrey Pines to work. Along the way I would see the pelicans in flight along the coast, coming back from their brush with DTD. They not only made me smile, but reminded me during a hard time in my life that I, too, would survive. You can imagine my delight when one day here in the middle of Central Washington I saw a flock of white pelicans soaring overhead. They nest on the Columbia and come north to visit the Yakima River in the spring and fall.

    As for poetry. I did not have teachers or professors who could ever inspire me to love poetry as you do. My loss. Mom, on the other hand, used to recite verses and limericks she had learned 85 years earlier in high school.
    P.S. I have a redirect on my old blog, but doesn’t automatically redirect subscribers. Oops. New site:

    1. Martha,

      I’ve always loved hearing geese in the fall, but there’s nothing like the sight of the white pelicans coming in. For weeks and weeks we wait, and then one day they’re just here, circling high above. When they deign to come down and join us, it’s just marvelous.

      I have been very lucky when it comes to teachers. Those in grade school and junior high were especially good. English profs in college, not so much, but of course we all were “serious” in those days, full of ourselves and Satre and Camus. And Kerouac. I laugh now, to remember it. Luckily, I was saved from a state of literary despair by a single prof in grad school, and now all is well. ;)

      The new site looks good. I appreciate your bringing the link by. I’ve already subscribed, and have gotten an email, so it looks like the system is working fine. I’ll be by to visit soon.


      1. Beautiful photo of the white pelicans. We have about 15 white pelican — when we have them. Someone said they were losing their nesting areas along the Columbia. I need to get to the ocean!! This time of year I sorely miss it.

  22. I like Miss. Johnson. I like her a lot.

    Your frustration with Serious Poetry is exactly what I try to avoid in my English classes, Linda. I’m all for digging deep into poems–when the time and the audience is right–but most often, why not just read it? Why not just listen to the music of the language? Why not find the FUN behind the cheekiest turns of phrase?

    Ah, what a great post for me to read as I head back into the classroom.

    Here’s my limerick:

    There once was an alien named Mo
    Who’d follow me where ever I’d go
    And then one dark night
    There came a bright light
    And now I’m–dear God!–I don’t know!


    1. Emily,

      I wish I could take you with me, back in time to the class in grad school that saved me from all that heaving and sighing over Serious Verse.

      The prof in charge was just as passionate as Miss Johnson. He had a sign in his office that proclaimed, “Creato, Ergo Sum”, and his approach to literature and poetry was nothing if not creative. In a discussion of “The Scarlet Letter”, his question was, “If you had to wear a letter, which one would it be, and why?” Now, there’s a discussion starter! And thanks to him, I always and forever will think of Ahab as the prototype for people who bear an infinite grudge against the universe.

      He opened up T.S. Eliot for me, too, and Eliot became such a part of my life that, if you do a search inside my blog, you’ll find Eliot all over the place. For me, the “Four Quartets” are the perfect lens thorugh which to view life. Needless to say, it’s a long way from that ketchup bottle to the good Mr. Eliot, but there’s no question they’re connected.

      Thinking about children and poetry, and laying the foundation for life-long appreciation, I can’t help but think of Emily Dickinson and her wise words:

      Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
      Success in Circuit lies
      Too bright for our infirm Delight
      The Truth’s superb surprise

      As Lightning to the Children eased
      With explanation kind
      The Truth must dazzle gradually
      Or every man be blind.

      I’ll bet I’d like your class as much as I liked Miss Johnson’s – and I’ll bet Miss Johnson would like your limerick as much as I do!


    1. Claudia,

      No question! The various singer-songwriter festivals testify to that. And think how many poetic elements appear in songs: simile, metaphor, rhyme, rhythm. There’s a difference between musical settings for poems and poetic lyrics, but sometimes the line’s pretty thin.

      There are some songs I love primarily for their lyrics, even though the music is there to amplify and enrich their meaning. The first one that comes to mind is Aaron Neville’s version of La Vie Dansante. There are plenty more. Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust”. Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. Well, you get the point. ;)


  23. This was delightful. I love the pelicans. There is an all over art exhibit in Chicago that is couches. Some of them are fantastic. I think the guys you have featured here are terrific.

    I have poems which are fun and others which are garlic pods your professors could have argued for hours. Even some of my really lighthearted ones have more than one acceptable interpretation. I still stand by poetry is in the eye of the beholder. Glad mine will be in the hands of readers at the end of the month.


    1. Red,

      Couches! Who knew? Just as poets can take any aspect of life as their “raw material”, so the artists. I did a quick search for some inages of the couches, but SOFA Chicago kept getting in the way. ;)

      The wonder of poetry – or any work of art, for that matter – is that it not only can mean different things to different people, but that it can mean different things to the same person at different times.
      I’m no longer stirred by some of the poems that were so important to me in high school. Some that are highly acclaimed as “masterpieces” of the poet’s art leave me quite cold. Some of Sandburg’s poems seem to me as powerful as anything ever written. Others, more popular (“Fog”) just don’t appeal.

      Vive la différence, sez me. And I hope you get the appreciative audience you deserve!


  24. Like many bio species, I don’t get to see the Pelican here. So all the pelicans I’ve seen have been in movies, cartoons, and now you’ve brought them up, poetic images. I’ve enjoyed the limericks here, yours and others,

    I also like the more thought-provoking language in T.S.Eliot’s poetry. So, just like the bio diversity I see, or fail to see, poetry offers similar varieties. But unlike geographical limitations, I can always see them in my mind’s eye. Thanks for an interesting post, Linda!

    1. Arti,

      It’s amazing to me how much difference even a few hundred miles can make in everything from bird species to flowers. I still miss the midwestern robins, not to mention the spring flowers that were such a delight after the long winter.

      Actually, even a few miles can make a big difference. I live with pelicans, seagulls and herons. I have a few sparrows and doves, but that’s about it. On the other hand, a friend just a mile or so down the road has cardinals, finches, titmice and chickadees because she has more brush than water.

      I suppose, as you rightly note, that’s the beauty of it all – every place has its gifts to offer. I haven’t a clue, really, what birds you have, but I’m sure they’re just as fine as our pelicans. And now I see you have your first Poet Laureate for Calgary! I really was hoping “Kris” would be a female rather than male – only because it would be such fun to introduce or write about Ms.Demeanor! ;)


  25. [Note: I wrote this comment on FRIDAY, but forgot to post it (head desk)]

    Oh I LOVE the pelicans! Cincinnati has pigs – it’s always fun to come across them in unexpected places – but these pelicans beat the pigs I think.

    As you know I occasionally write poetry (& sometimes Poetry), but as far as fun, this one, written years ago, is one of my favorites: Ode to Grapefruit

    1. The Bug,

      I’ve seen the pigs, and thought them quite as marvelous as the pelicans. I suppose it’s a fact of life – whatever surrounds us over time has a tendency to become just part of the scenery. It’s one good reason to blink a couple of times now and then and take a look at what actually surrounds us.

      I love the “Ode to Grapefruit”! Not only that, I remember the post of Ruth’s that you mention. I don’t think I knew you yet at that point.
      The fact that you spent time in Africa reminded me of a belief about grapefuit in Liberia – that eating it would make a man sterile.
      Reasonable me tried to talk that one through with a fellow one day. I said, “But look – all these doctors at the hospital have plenty children.” He agreed, then pointed out, “But Missy – they be white men. We Kpelle men, we not be eating grapefruit.” If you accept the basic premise, his argument was irrefutable!


  26. First of all, before I forget, I ADORE these pelicans. I would want one for my yard — they’re so bright an happy. I’ve seen other city creatures (I do like the Milwaukee hippos) but these just get me where I live!

    And the poetry — what a gloriously fun post! I write (bad) poetry every year for Rick. He always loves it, I’m always happy. I cut my teeth on Ogden Nash, all the others. But one of my favorites remains Victor Buono’s My Feet.

    “I think that I shall never see
    My feet.”

    Says it all!

    1. jeanie,

      Hippos! My gosh. I suppose if you see the cows, pigs and horses already are taken, you might start scanning the horizon for a different civic totem!

      The pelicans would make great yard art. You’re exactly right – they’re happy and cheerful, and make everyone who sees them smile – well, except for the very grumpiest, I suppose. They’re not quite as adaptable as things like the concrete geese down the road from me who sport seasonal costumes, but they’d still be fun.

      I remember your poetry for Rick – it’s for Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?
      And Victor Buono’s poem reminds me of another from the days of childhood:

      “You’re a poet and don’t know it –
      Your feet are Longfellows!”


  27. I love this post. It brings to mind two classroom poetry experiences–one postive and one not-so-much.

    Being forced to memorize The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in the 6th grade didn’t endear me to poetry. But all the fun we had with Jabberwocky in the 10th grade did help.

    I remember a classroom roaring with laughter as we took turns doing dramatic readings of Jabberwocky. Many years later I loved teaching that poem to my children. During our Sunday evening Scrabble games we would sometimes play “Jabberwocky Scrabble,” which permitted the use of any word the player could use in a sentence (even if invented). I’m convinced our fun with Jabberwocky helped develop an appreciation of poetry in our kids, rather than a dread of it.

    Thanks for churning up these memories….

    1. Bill,

      At first, all I could remember were the first lines – “Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”.
      But I went and looked at the complete poem, and was rather started at my response to the final stanza:

      “So through the night rode Paul Revere;
      And so through the night went his cry of alarm
      To every Middlesex village and farm,—
      A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
      A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
      And a word that shall echo for evermore!
      For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
      Through all our history, to the last,
      In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
      The people will waken and listen to hear
      The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
      And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”

      For some reason, that made me tear up – no doubt because of my concerns about our nation, and what’s transpiring here now. I need to refresh my memory of the history of Paul Revere, too. It’s been a while. Thanks for churning up these memories!

      As for “Jabberwocky”, it’s just wonderful, and the thought of Jabberwocky Scrabble is hilarious. Making up words is a great way to begin enjoying language and the sheer joy of creativity – good for you for creating the game!


  28. Pelicans and poetry: why wasn’t I reminded till now of this poem by Robert Desnos?

    Le capitaine Jonathan,
    Étant âgé de dix-huit ans,
    Capture un jour un pélican
    Dans une île d’Extrême-Orient.

    Le pélican de Jonathan
    Au matin, pond un oeuf tout blanc
    Et il en sort un pélican
    Lui ressemblant étonnamment.

    Et ce deuxième pélican
    Pond, à son tour, un oeuf tout blanc
    D’où sort, inévitablement
    Un autre qui en fait autant.

    Cela peut durer pendant très longtemps
    Si l’on ne fait pas d’omelette avant.

    Here’s a straightforward (and rhymeless) translation.

    Captain Jonathan,
    Being eighteen years old,
    One day captures a pelican
    on an island in the Far East.

    In the morning, Jonathan’s pelican
    Lays a pure white egg
    And from it there emerges a pelican
    Astonishingly like the first one.

    And this second pelican
    Lays, in its turn, a pure white egg
    From which there emerges, inevitably,
    Another one that does the same thing.

    This can keep going on for a very long time
    Unless someone makes an omelet first.

    1. Steve,

      Who cares about the absence of rhyme? The poem’s a delightful bit of wry hilarity just as it is. I’d not heard of Desnos, who apparently was as quirky as he was prolific. Automatic writing, “surrealistic aphorisms” and a poem a day for a year? My goodness.

      I do love the final couplet. More than once the world has profited from a bit of omelet-making!


      1. One fringe benefit of having been a French major in college is knowledge of this poem, which has stayed with me for more than 45 years. In a poetry class we read several of Desnos’s poems, some childlike and light-hearted, like this one, and others adult and serious. Unfortunately Desnos spent time in German concentration camps and died of typhoid shortly after being liberated.

        1. What a painful experience – to have endured all that, and end by disease. At least he had the experience of being liberated – so hard to think of those whose lives ended otherwise.

  29. What cute pelicans! What a delightful teacher you had in fifth grade, and you were fortunate.

    Well, I be. Poetry has been on my mind lately and I come here to read about poetry. Recently I had read a great pantoum, and thought perhaps to try writing a pantorum poem. I went through a time where all I could write was poetry and the lament of the soul. Poetry was a bridge between genres and prose for me at the time. It has been awhile since I have written poetry. I haven’t tried limericks or pantorum and perhaps that will help get the poetic juices flowing. By the way, I used to love delightful silly children’s poems and Shel Silverstein was a favorite. Usually when autumn begins sighing is when I begin waxing poetic. :)

    1. Anna,

      I’ve never heard of a pantoum. Now, I’ve read about it and have it tucked into a corner of my mind with the villanelle – poems whose structure would make them real bears to construct! I vaguely remember an exercise in sonnet-writing in school. No doubt it was part of some teaching unit on Shakespeare. I don’t remember it being unpleasant, but I certainly remember it being a struggle – like trying to stuff a cat into a bag. There always was a part that didn’t quite fit!

      I just learned something else. I was born in 1946, just at the beginning of Dr. Seuss’ popularity, and mostly missed his books until I was old. In the same way, Shel Silverstein didn’t become a part of my life until the last decade or so. But Gerald McBoing-Boing? He was a creation of Dr. Seuss, and I still remember listening to that poetry on my little record player, with its red and yellow 45 rpms!

      You know what would be fun? A limerick to go with each of your photos of your new “special spot”. Priming the pump, so to speak!
      (I would have suggested a pantoum, but that sounded like too much work to me!)


      1. Linda, I am definitely going to try a pantoum as well as a limerick or two with some of my photos of the new special spot. The pantoum is challenging yet a fun way with play of words and meaning. Indeed, prime the pump. :) Shakespeare -sonnets? Uh… no. Read, yes… only.


  30. What a delightful history of poetry throughout your life. It made me smile that your family encouraged word play. I’ve always admired poetry from a distance — it seemed like an intricate and foreign language. I would enjoy some of it but felt like there was another layer (perhaps that Meaning the Serious types insisted on) that was just beyond me.

    And what a vivid collection of pelicans you’ve found to intersperse your post :-)

    1. nikkipolani,

      My parents were typical of their generation – both graduated from high school, but had no further formal education. Still, they believed in education and in the power of words, both written and spoken. Our house was filled with books. It wasn’t Tolstoy and Balzac – much of it was Book of the Month Club – but that still meant that writers like Pearl Buck and Steinbeck were coming into the house on a regular basis. And there were anthologies galore that introduced me to all the poets.

      Poetry was a part of our life as kids in a lot of informal ways, too: jump-rope rhymes, autograph album verses, camp songs and so on. Words and action were woven together in so many ways that even today seeing some kids jumping rope will bring the verses right back.

      I smiled at your description of that intricate and foreign language. I can remember believing at one point in my life (college, actually) that the more dense, convoluted and impenetrable a poem was, the higher its quality. One of my favorite distinctions is between words as windows and words as walls – those were some pretty serious walls we built back then. Terrible stuff!


    1. Preston,

      And I can understand why. I only remembered the first lines, so I went over to read the whole thing. That poem is long – it must have taken you forever.

      When I think about all the things that happen in childhood, it’s an amazement that any of us got over it. But we’re doing all right!


      1. I remember I practiced the poem for a long time. I think I did not miss a word. I felt pretty good about myself when it was done and over with. Amazing…. I had forgot all about this prior to reading your article.

  31. I feel deprived. We never ever recited limericks at home. I never had a teacher who loved poetry as passionately as Miss Johnson.
    we do have pelicans flying up and down our beaches. Beautiful birds.
    There’s so much in this post that I’ll be back to re-read it.

    1. dearrosie,

      Isn’t it wonderful that we can make up for the lacks of childhood once we’re big people and capable of finding new teachers? Sometimes I think that’s what I enjoy most about blogging – the opportunities to learn more about what I’ve loved and be exposed to things I’ve never imagined.

      Our pelican statues are whimsical and cute, but pelicans in flight are compelling. I never tire of watching them, especially since they so clearly are as capable of play as we are.


  32. I love Edward Lear’s verses, though my favourite of his is The Jumblies (they went to sea in a sieve, they did.)

    I learnt poetry in primary school and particularly was in love with Lochinvar. (I still remember the first verse, though much of the rest of it is lost now.) I had a few inspiring teachers but none quite like yours!

    And taking apart poetry has never been my idea of what it is about. It’s to be enjoyed not operated on! ;)

    1. Val,

      I don’t think I’ve ever read “The Jumblies”. I really enjoyed it – and couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve felt as though I was sailing around in a sieve. I noticed a reference to a pea-green veil, too – a reminder of the pea-green boat that the Owl and the Pussycat used in their travels. Mr. Lear must have been fond of pea-green!

      You got it exactly right – saying that poetry’s to be enjoyed, not operated on! It’s good to know the history and something about the context, to understand some of the forms and all that. But when some of my teachers took poetry apart, it was as though I was watching my dad and his friends take watches or cars apart. There always were a few parts left over!


  33. 29/agosto/2012 – 7:45 a.m…. am watching the weather and satellite images and hoping all’s fine where you are. of course we’re all remembering katrina and the seriousness of this day. hope you and your loved ones aren’t affected. z

    1. Zee,

      We’re fine – perhaps even a little sad that none of the rain will make it here to Texas. Such is life on the dry side of a hurricane.
      While Katrina’s obviously uppermost in peoples’ minds, more than a few Texans are remembering the storm of 1900, known now as “Isaac’s Storm”. The more superstitious among us (or hyper-imaginative, perhaps) were wondering if this Isaac might trek over to see the site of that other Isaac’s storm. But, it wasn’t to be.

      I have friends in Louisiana who are being affected, and I see today that it’s Mississippi that will be suffering from tornados, and perhaps even a dam failure at the Tangipahoa River near McComb. Rises along the river to Osyka are expected to be 2-3 feet.

      Now it’s my turn to say I hope none of your loved ones are affected. You can use #mswx on Twitter to keep updated very nicely, even if you haven’t joined Twitter.


  34. I had one such professor, too, freshman year. He made us read poems out loud, stopping us mid-word if we weren’t reading it correctly (whatever that meant). By the end of the semester, the word poetry caused stress and anxiety in even the most language-loving of us. It took me years to recover from that class, but posts such as this make me glad I did. I love the pelicans. And as for “tossing a chunk of memorable words into the sea we call life,” you’ve done more than your share. So thank you, once again.

    1. Charles,

      Reading your little tale reminds me all over again of my biology teacher. She could freeze your blood in the middle of a report. She’d stop you in the middle of a report and say, “Now. Tell me what was wrong there.” Then, I felt stark terror. Today, I think, “Good grief, lady. If I knew what was wrong I would have changed it before giving you another chance to embarass me in front of the class!”

      I am glad you got over the poetry-trauma. I’ll never be one to snuggle in with some good Dante or Chaucer, and a good bit of what appears in places like “The New Yorker” seems as non-poetic as it gets. But we’ve got these words, and we might as well do something with them. If they’ve got rhythm and rhyme, more’s the better. And if they make us laugh on top of it all – well, that’s just the best!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the kind words.


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