The Poets’ Birds: Pelicans

Whether Eleanor Johnson met a pelican during the course of her lifetime, I can’t say. What is certain is that, had a pelican plummeted into our 5th grade classroom to perch atop her desk, Miss Johnson’s first words would have been, “Children! Quick! Take your pencils! Let’s write a poem about our unexpected visitor!”

Miss Johnson guided us capably enough through arithmetic and social studies lessons, but her first love was poetry. Obsessed with verse, she clearly intended that we should be equally obsessed. No doubt she would have preferred pouring poetry into our heads with a funnel but, lacking direct physical access to 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. We memorized stanzas and recited sonnets in front of the class until until we thought we would die of anxiety or boredom. When she assigned a two-hundred word theme on the topic What is poetry?  groans of resistance echoed down hallways. Sighing as I examined the new burden she’d imposed, my distress was eased somewhat because I already had one answer to Miss Johnson’s question. Poetry, I’d learned, could be fun.

Sitting at my grandparents’ table one Sunday afternoon, I attempted to  dislodge some ketchup from a newly-opened bottle by giving its bottom a firm, final whack. When the inevitable glob of sticky-sweet goo landed on my plate, everyone laughed, and someone quoted the 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. Every meatloaf or hamburgers-and-fries dinner after that brought it to mind. If I recited it more than once, my dad would peer at me over his glasses and say, “That’s not just verse, it’s the verst”.  And I’d giggle again.

When it came time to memorize a longer poem for Miss Johnson, I chose Edward Lear’s 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!

In the midst of the memorization process, someone introduced me to a ditty called “The Mighty Pelican,” and and I memorized that, as well:

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

Loving the ditty only because it offered a chance to say “helican” without being chastised by an adult, I had no idea who’d written it. Later, I discovered it was a variation of a limerick written in 1910 by Dixon Lanier Merritt, President of the American Press Humorists Association and an editor for The Tennessean, Nashville’s morning newspaper.

Today, many still attribute authorship to Ogden Nash, but it’s Merritt who deserves it. Here’s his poem, based on a postcard he received from a reader who’d visited Florida:

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.
Though I’m damned if I know how the helican.

Merrit’s poem was my introduction to limericks: a form I loved then, and still love today. I write them in my head constantly, and occasionally add one as a blog comment. When a friend mentioned that real-world obligations would necessitate erratic blog-posting for a time, I wrote:

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

Unfortunately, poetry wasn’t always enjoyable.Falling into the hands of professors who took poetry as seriously as they took themselves, I emerged from college fairly well convinced that 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 dissect 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:  poetic piles of simile, strips of metaphor, and occasional onomatopoeic bits — 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. The universe needs disturbing from time to time, and tossing a chunk of memorable words into the sea we call life isn’t the worst way to send  messages  rippling out to distant shores.

Unfortunately, passionate advocates for serious poetry can reinforce the misconception that poetry is meant solely for a literary or intellectual elite.  Quite the opposite is true. Poetry is neither drab nor irrelevant; it’s meant to be enjoyed, both the writing and the reading of it, and the impulse toward poetry can pop up anywhere. Was Merritt’s postcard-inspired bit of doggerel important? Hardly. Has anyone analyzed it for deeper meaning? Probably not. But it’s fun and memorable, oft-quoted and quotable, and perfectly suited to be a jumping-off point for summer afternoons of verbal serve and volley.

In my neighborhood, I 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 brings smiles to tourists and residents alike.  After their battering by Hurricane Ike, many had to be taken in for restoration, but now they’ve re-emerged: tucked into nooks and crannies of the town like snippets of verse dropped into dinnertable conversation.

Spying one for the first time, children are entranced.  Suddenly discovering a new one, adults are delighted.  People talk to them. Tourists take selfies with them.  I saw a man rubbing the beak of the astronaut pelican as though he were rubbing the belly of the Buddha for luck, and a bride and groom insisted on topping their wedding cake with one of the birds.

Each time I see one I smile, rejoicing in 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.

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

Comments always are welcome.
Originally published in 2012, this revised and rewritten post seemed a fitting conclusion to the series called “Poets’ Birds.” Other entries focused on the waxwings, the egrets, and the songbirds. Click on any link to read one of those posts.
As for the value of memorizing poetry, you can read Poet Laureate Billy Collins on how William Butler Yeats got him through an MRI here.

152 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: Pelicans

    1. I’m so glad — the pelican statues, and the poems, are lots of fun. I know there are some new ones in town, but I haven’t tracked them down yet. My favorite is the astronaut pelican — I see it nearly every day on NASA Parkway, not far from the Johnson Space Center.

    1. Last night, I got caught up in that page filled with Herkys. There’s so much creativity there. Of course I like the Woodgrain Herky, and I really laughed at Jackson Pollhawk. I was pleased to see a RAGBRAI Herky, too.

      The most amusing aspect of the whole thing was that, at first, I couldn’t remember Herky until I went to the page. I suppose that says something about my attention to the football scene.

      Love your poem — it’s not lame at all. And your last point’s well taken. These days, anything that doesn’t cause a tirade is to be cherished. It may be no mistake that there’s no “Social Media Herky” or “Comment Section Pelican”!

  1. I never met a pelican personally
    despite a search continually

    Next time, I come across one in the sky
    I’ll tempt it with a piece-o- pie.

    If this come to nought again
    I’ll just try next with marzipan.

    1. Gerard! You’ve been hiding your poetic light under the proverbial barrel! That’s just great. I’m grinning like crazy — and thinking that marzipan wouldn’t be a bad addition to the sauerkraut and peanut butter in the Great Cataclysm survival kit.

  2. The pelican is proof that God has a sense of humor. Now I have a reason to visit Seabrook, TX. Never been there. Trying to rhyme with “pelican” is nearly as tough as trying to rhyme with “orange.”

    1. We have both white and brown pelicans here. The white arrive in winter, while the brown reside here through the year, but are more common in summer. The numbers for both species are increasing, and brown pelicans can seem as common as grackels now. They’re great fun to watch as they fish, and they’re great, probably unintentional, clowns.

      Now you’ve really done it, with that mention of “orange.” I spent a minute thinking about how to create a rhyme, and couldn’t. I believe I have something to amuse myself with at work tomorrow.

  3. Oh my, the Seabrook Pelicans are wonderful. I had no idea such a thing existed. Thanks for posting them.

    Sorry, I can’t join you in the love of poetry. My brain has a life long disconnect with poetry.

    1. I know there are other collections of critters here and there in the country. There are decorated cows and chickens, for sure, and even some carousel animals. No doubt other towns have created the same sort of attraction for themselves. They’re great fun, and not only that, provide employment for artists.

      It’s strange, how some forms of writing “take” with us, and others don’t. I love poetry, but science fiction and fantasy just don’t appeal. I’ve tried, and tried again, but it’s not for me. Since you’re not a poetry fan, I’m glad there were the pelicans to amuse you!

  4. Your limericks brought to mind a cherished memory from the 1970’s of my dad and me sitting on a park bench in Bern, Switzerland waiting while my mom shopped, and passing the time making up limericks. The little notebook that had them written down didn’t make the last move (as so much stuff didn’t), but the memory remains. He and I shared a love of Ogden Nash, Pogo, and other such wordplay. I wandered farther afield into Calvin and Hobbes, Edward Gorey, and into more serious paths, like Millay and Mary Oliver.

    Pelicans are absurdly beautiful birds, or beautifully absurd birds, depending on which tack you take — as if we needed yet more proof that God has a sense of humor.

    1. Wasn’t it wonderful to grow up with dads who loved words? My own was a great fan of Pogo, and one of my best childhood memories is of the evenings we spent reading aloud from Louis Untermeyer’s “A Treasury of Laughter.”

      Our copy got lost along the way, but I found a used copy on the internet, and snatched it up. You’d like it, filled as it is with pieces by Hilaire Belloc, Robert Benchley, Thurber, Woollcott, and others whose names are forgotten today. There are limericks, “Little Willie” jokes, and other delights that are sophisticated, literate, and absolutely outside the pale as far as political correctness goes. In short, they’re wonderful.

      The only thing more amusing than the pelican itself is the tendency of seagulls to follow them around, trying to snatch fish right from their beak and pouch. It’s usually one seagull per pelican, and it can be quite a show.

  5. Loved this post and all the poetry and limericks about pelicans. I had the same English teacher for 4 years and she was partial to all the great English writers, especially Shakespeare. I detested Shakespeare and still find his writings boring. I like simpler works by Poe, Sandberg, and Dickinson. I suppose I am simple minded. I do like some of the English poets.

    I was hoping for a photo of some pelicans that you had taken but alas there were none.

    1. I’m a little pick-and-choosey about Shakespeare, myself. I tend to have favorite poems, more than favorite poets. There are poems of T.S. Eliot that serve as touchstones for me, but not everything he’s written resonates. It’s the same for Wordsworth, Wendell Berry, Sandburg, Longfellow — any of them. I tried and tried to at least appreciate John Ashbery, but he just didn’t “take.” So it goes.

      Your comment made me realize something, Yvonne. I have no photos of pelicans — not a single one. Why that is, i don’t know. I have plenty of photos of egrets, herons, ibis, spoonbills, and shorebirds — I even have a photo of seagulls — but no pelican. Maybe I see so many of them, so often, I don’t see them any more. I’ll have to see if I can remedy that.

    1. I like that phrase — “pen down the world.” It’s very evocative. And I’m glad you liked the post. It’s fun to play with words — not every bit of writing needs to be serious.

    1. They are, indeed. I hope they gave you some smiles. I certainly smile when I pass that last one every day on my way to work. Thanks for stopping by with a comment — that gave me a smile, too.

  6. I enjoy the poetry such as you were taught. Then we got into the age of the non-rhyming, senseless words in the beatnik era.
    You mention Nash – one of my all-time favorites and I thoroughly enjoyed every poem you posted here. We have a lot of the same interests!

    1. I confess I smiled at the phrase “beatnik era.” Plenty of kids today wouldn’t understand that expression, let alone the poetry. I still have affection for certain poems of that time, like Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind,” but I’m equally fond of poems like Longfellow’s “Evangeline.”

      As for memorization, I don’t doubt its value. I suspect more than a few of the men you write about comforted themselves in very difficult circumstances with the poetry they’d learned.

    1. She was quite a woman. Her sister taught in the system, too, and those two women affected hundreds of children. I wish now that I could sit down with them, and ask a few questions, but it’s enough to appreciate what they did for us.

      Of course, I had the advantage of a limerick-loving father, and a mother who read poetry to me from the cradle. She didn’t read the poetry because she was trying to increase my IQ or speed my development — she just found that it put me to sleep as fast as anything. I’m not sure what to think about that, but I do still remember everything from “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat” to Poe’s “The Bells” — although I’m pretty sure she stuck with the first verse on that one.

      1. Have you ever found references to those teachers in old newspapers? I have found a few items online about some of the teachers who taught my father. It adds a little background to the tales he tells. Maybe I should have tried poetry reading with my daughter instead of trying to make her sleep with my lullabies.

        1. I haven’t even gone looking. I’ve pretty much forgotten the bad ones, and the good ones are so deeply a part of me — along with the experiences they provided — I haven’t felt the need. The last time I tried finding out what had happened to someone — one of my mother’s doctors — I discovered he was in prison for dealing prescription drugs. It explained a lot, but still… I’d hate to find out Miss Johnson had engaged in less-than-upright behavior!

  7. We have plenty of pelicans in Panama. I’ve taken pictures of them now and then. They look so strong and hungry all the time for fish.

    However we don’t have any monuments dedicated to them. In general, we don’t have monuments for animals at all. I wonder why.

    Loved your pictures and tried hard to digest the poetry. English is difficult, but English poetry is an even heavier burden. I wish I had your knack for words. :-)

    1. They are strong birds. Those beaks can inflict some damage, and it takes a certain skill to deal with them when they’re injured. It takes a lot of skill, actually. When we found a pelican wandering a neighborhood on foot, it took our “bird lady” (a wildlife rehabilitator) to show a local policeman and I exactly how to do it. After she told us, we still let her do it.

      I found some interesting bird and animal murals in Panama City. They aren’t exactly monuments, but they’re quite striking. Had you heard of this artist? His work certainly is a step up from casual graffiti.

      I suspect dealing with word play in a second language is as hard as dealing with idioms: maybe more so. When the word play is part of poetry — it only increases the difficulty. Good for you for “giving it a go.” And I’m glad you liked the photos, too.

    1. “Now behold the axolotl,
      left to huddle in a bottle.
      Deprived of home, this lizard mottled,*
      nearly gone, like Quetzalcoatl.”

      *OK — so it’s not precisely mottled. Hooray for poetic license.

    2. In a bit of pure coincidence, I was digging around in my “Treasury of Laughter” for a Thurber piece, and found this, published by David McCord in “Bay Window Ballads,” 1935.

      “The Axolotl

      The axolotl
      looks a littl
      like the ozelotl.
      Itl

      drink a greatl
      more than whatl
      fill the fatl
      whiskey bottl.

      The food it eatsl
      be no morsl:
      only meatsl
      drive its dorsl.

      Such an awfl
      fish to kettl!
      You said a mawfl,
      Pop’epetl!”

  8. These are most interesting ornamental Pelicans and verses. Are they all from your city or in your area? What I’ve been seeing at the Pond and the Bow River in my neck of the woods are real life American White Pelicans. They are the largest birds you know, and I’ve got some really cool pics maybe next Sat. Snapshot.

    1. Yes, all of them are located in Seabrook, the little town across the channel where I do most of my work. It’s quite an interesting town, with a long history as a fishing village, and, even before that, as a place where Native Americans lived and did their own fishing.

      The white pelicans, of course, are here only in the winter, and we miss them when they’re gone. Still, it’s good to share them with you, and I’m glad you’ve been seeing them.

      Yesterday, I took time to go to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, and saw something I’ve never seen before: wood storks. I was so disappointed in my photos, but this one was at least passable, showing the bird clearly enough for an ID. I’m going to call the refuge office later this week, and if they’re still hanging around, I’ll make another trip and try for some better photos.

        1. The pink ones are roseate spoonbills. They’re one of my favorites. The ones with curved bills are white ibis, and just behind the stork is a snowy egret.

  9. Delightful! How fun to have your town dotted with these birds. The limerick was one of my dad’s favorites, and thus, mine. Also, when I was very small (I was fairly in thrall) he was strict and stern. One night at table he fought with a ketchup bottle…SMACK SMACK on the bottom yielded nothing. He peered into the bottle, held above his eye…the results were memorable to an amazed little girl just meeting her new step-dad!

    1. What a wonderful, funny memory, Melissa. Seeing any “big person” suddenly not in control of anything — even a ketchup bottle — always delighted us as kids, even if it could be a little unnerving.

      I wonder when condiment squeeze bottles were invented? As far as I can remember, glass bottles were the only option all those years ago, and sticking a knife down into the neck was the safest way to cope.

  10. You were quite the student, Linda, apparent today in your ability to create memorable upbeat posts week after week. I confess to being that English teacher who thought she was in a science lab, dissecting T.S. Eliot and Seamus Heaney’s work like “frogs.”

    I justified this intensity because all of my honors seniors would take the AP Literature test in which they had to identify the theme of the poem in the first question. If they missed that theme, they would then incorrectly answer (it is multiple choice) the next six questions.

    1. Here’s what’s so interesting to me about that approach: who gets to determine the theme of the poem in the first place? There have been times when I couldn’t reduce one of my own poems to a single, declarative sentence — or even two, for that matter — and I wrote the danged thing.

      Of course, in today’s educational circles, a “theme” may be different than “the meaning,” but I still remember something someone (I can’t remember who) once said: “If I could say it in a sentence, I wouldn’t have written a poem.” That’s fun to ponder.

  11. Linda, How serendipitous! I just saw and photographed a brown pelican at Westport, WA yesterday, and I was going to do a post with it, using the little ditty. How nice of you to find to whom I should attribute the poem! I hope you don’t mind if I link back to your post.

    1. Of course I don’t mind, Rosemary. I’m sure Mr. Merritt would be pleased to have one more accurate attribution, too.

      I didn’t realize until I posted this that I don’t have a single photo of a live pelican. The more I think about that, the stranger it seems. I admire them all the time, and they certainly are worthy subjects. I’m eager to see your photo of the wonderful bird.

  12. I love the way Seabrook is celebrating the pelican, Linda! Especially in this day of seriousness, it’s delightful how such colorful, almost-goofy-looking creatures can bring smiles to faces.

    And you know, I think your Miss Johnson was far more reasonable — and probably successful — in her approach to teaching poetry. College profs are too often caught up in their high-and-mighty interpretation of all things written…to the detriment of students. Talk about killjoys!! Why, it’s a wonder any of us write at all!

    1. It’s been a great project. Businesses and individuals sponsored each bird, and each one reflects something of the sponsor in its execution. And, yes — a little goofiness is good for the soul. I’m convinced that’s one reason people love their pets as they do. A pet’s a perfect excuse to play silly games — to goof off, if you will. Combine a dog with a ball, or a kitten with a piece of string, and there’s pure joy to be had.

      I think the key to Miss Johnson’s success was that she loved poetry, she loved teaching, and she loved her students. What more could we have asked?

  13. It’s clear where your love of poetry came from. Not many of us had a Miss Johnson in our formative years. I don’t even remember reading poems in the lower grades.

    I’ve never seen a pelican but after reading this blog today, I want to.

    1. Depending on where you are, you might have a shot at seeing white pelicans during their migration. Because they don’t make a sound while they’re flying (unlike the Canada geese, for example) they can go overhead without anyone noticing them. They’ll fly high, too — sometimes so high they barely can be seen — and they glide beautifully.

      It occurs to me that we didn’t just read poetry, silenty. We recited it in class, and that was a natural extension of my mother reading poetry to me. Because we memorized so much, there was a lot of practice involved, too. More than a few car trips were given over to poetry recitation, with my mother prompting from the written page.

    2. If I hadn’t had a 5th grade teacher who made us memorize a poem that year, I wonder if I would have liked poetry at all – I don’t recall one other person who encouraged me in appreciation by example or in any other way…. but then there is the lyricism of good songs, which many appreciate when they have music to go with them. You certainly had the best foundation in the fun and music of poetry, which must have helped you recover from the “serious stage.” ;-)

      My one living experience with pelicans was watching them dive for fish at the mouth of the Russian River in northern California. My husband and I could have watched them for hours – we probably did watch them for one hour – because they were so fascinating, the way they dove so sharply and fast, and then seemed to plop clumsily into the water without any grace at all. But they got their fish!

      1. While I was writing this, I was thinking about the differences between white and brown pelicans. I learned that the awkward, apparently out-of-control dives of the brown pelicans — those “plops” — actually are a tactic. They stun and confuse the fish when they smash into the water, and it greatly increases their chance of getting one.

        I’m lucky enough to work by a channel now and then, and when I do, I’m able to watch them fishing, too. It is fascinating, and relaxing.

        You’re quite right about songs, too. I recently mentioned two of my favorite songs on another blog: “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” and “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob-bob-bobbin’ Along.” My parents sang those to me, I learned to sing them, and I still sing them from time to time. It was wonderful to wake up hearing the lyrics:

        “Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head —
        get up, get up, get out of bed
        Cheer up, cheer up, the sun is red —
        live, love, laugh, and be happy.”

  14. I have always been a fan of pelicans. In addition to inspiring literary moments, they are great for inspiring photo ops. How can you not smile when you see one up close, or watch them diving into water. And I am shamelessly guilty of quoting, “What a wonderful bird is the pelican.”

    Speaking of birdlife, I just now saw an albino wild turkey chick, Linda. A first for me. It was guaranteed to interrupt my train of thought!

    But back to poetry. I’ve probably mentioned on your blog that Peggy’s mom, Helen, was a high school English teacher and required her students to memorize poems. When Peggy and I attended her 40th high school reunion in Ohio a few years ago, her classmates were still reciting poems they had learned under Helen’s tutelage. –Curt

    1. We’re lucky to have both white and brown pelicans, and it’s fun to compare things like their fishing techniques — the brown dive into the water, while the white ones feed from the surface. And every year, when the white ones arrive, they line up along the old pilings in Seabrook: one pelican per post. When the weather gets rough, they ride it out in local lakes or bayous, and then they’re back, ready to inspire photographers and artists.

      It never occurred to me that you’d see turkey chicks around your place, Curt. For some reason I assumed they stayed hidden until they were older. I can’t remember seeing an albino anything, except a person. That’s the sort of treat that doesn’t come along every day.
      Yesterday was my day to see my first wood stock — an impressive bird that greatly outsized the great blue herons.

      I’m so glad that I was made to memorize poetry, and exposed to such a wide variety of poets. That’s something that never can be taken away — at least until my mind goes.

      1. I watched white pelicans work together to herd fish before chowing down in Morrow Bay on the California coast, Linda. Fascinating. As for turkey chicks, the moms are careful but I’ve seen them frequently, both here and along the American River in Sacramento. I was trying to take pictures of chicks once in Sacramento when mom flew at me with her claws outstretched. I got the point and backed off. :) I’ve seen wood storks, in Florida if I remember correctly, and they were impressive birds. And I love Great Blue Herons. Unfortunately, I don’t see them around here very often. Finally, I still remember some of the poems I memorized as a young person. They rumble of around in the back of my brain and come out at the most surprising times. –Curt

        1. Those mama birds can be protective, can’t they? Mockingbirds are the fearless ones around here. They’ll take on anything: hawk, crow, squirrel, human. If one heads for me, I don’t ask questions. I just leave.

          Like you, I often find bits of those memorized poems popping up — sometimes, without any obvious connection to where I am or what’s happening. The mind, as they say, is a mysterious thing.

          1. So Linda, I just tried an experiment. I said to my mind, “Mind, come up with a poem.” What popped our: “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves.” The mind is indeed a strange thing.
            I often watch tiny birds taking on crows and hawks and I am always amused/amazed. The larger birds normally beat a hasty retreat. –Curt

  15. I’m with you. Dissecting a frog is pretty grim, but dissecting a poem is even worse, to my way of hearing. The difficulty in saying what a poem “means” seems to justify way too many college teachers. The best teachers I had pointed out metaphors and word choices and made us wonder how we might use them and how the sound of reading a metaphor aloud can sometimes change its meaning.
    The pelican and belican illustrates that beautifully.

    1. Your mention of the spoken word brought something else to mind: the rhymes we used in games, especially jump-rope and clapping games. Remember “Teddy Bear”? It was one of the classics for the double-dutch set. And our autograph books were filled with rhymes, some as simple as the standar “roses are red, violets are blue,” and others more complex.

      One thing memorization and recitation did was preserve poetry as spoken word. The change from that to poetry-as-literature-to-be-read is one I haven’t thought much about, but it surely has happened. As the arrangement of words on a page became more important, and the rhythm and rhyme that aided memorization became less so, poetry became more of an academic exercise and less of a shared experience. At any rate, that’s how it seems to me tonight.

      By the way — one of these days I’ll get you a photo of those filigree treasures.

  16. Here’s to all the Eleanor Johnsons out there! Poetry indeed can be fun and inspiring. (A smile always lights my face when I encounter that Nash poem about the pelican.) I also enjoyed your limericks and the photographs with your article. Very well done!

    1. A good teacher is to be cherished, whatever the field. I’ve had good teachers and bad, but I was blessed with exceptional ones during my grade school years. In those days, teachers were free to engage children in the way they thought best, and engage they did.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It may amuse you to know I have a two-foot tall, chainsaw-carved wooden pelican. His name, for no reason that I can remember, is Wordsworth.

        1. Actually, no. The pelican came to me in rather a strange way — I found him in the bathroom when I came home one day — and in the process of trying to find out who’d left him, someone asked, “What’s his name?” I just said, “Wordsworth!” And so it was.

          On the other hand, there are certain Wordsworth poems I quite like. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” comes to mind, and “The World is Too Much With Us.” I should refresh my memory, and see what I’ve forgotten over the years!

          1. It’s the alliteration perhaps. Wordsworth the wooden pelican has got a nice ring to it. And you have an interesting story, too! I’ve always enjoyed the British romantic poets. Though Wordsworth is not my favorite, I re-read some of his verse in recent years and appreciate it much more now that I did years ago. I was trying to recall if he ever wrote anything about pelicans… don’t remember, though.

  17. Lacking a teacher like Miss Johnson, I avoided poetry in school, thinking it had little value. But Kipling, of all people, set me on the path (and provided one of the first rhymes I felt compelled to memorize).

    So I’ll meet him later on, at the place where he has gone,
    Where it’s always double-drill and no canteen.
    He’ll be squatting on the coals, giving drink to poor, damned souls
    And I’ll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din.

    And I saw Thurber’s name come up earlier…always a favorite.

    1. I hadn’t thought of Kipling for years, until someone who posts about military history mentioned one of his poems. I re-read several, including “Gunga Din,” and thoroughly enjoyed them.

      Thurber’s good, too. My favorite piece of his is “What Do You Mean, It Was Brillig?” It was pubished in “The New Yorker” magazine in 1939, and I found it here. I have no idea why I think it’s hilarious, but I do. That’s part of the beauty of humor. it doesn’t have to be explained.

    1. Even after eight years of blogging, rethy, I’ve not been tempted to stop. I’ve kept fairly close to a once a week schedule, and I’ve never felt the dreaded burnout. So, on we go!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. It’s enjoyable to remember those childhood days, and there’s nothing wrong with having a little light fun now and then. A serious mind and a light heart aren’t necessarily opposed to one another!

  18. LOVE it! The wonderful poetry and limericks accompanied those photos of the whimsical pelicans (a la the original cow parade statues) perfectly!! :)

    1. I have a cynical friend who wasn’t particularly impressed with the pelicans when I took her on a tour. Her opinion was that “every town has a schtick.” I suppose she would say the same thing about the cows. No matter. It may be a schtick, but it’s our schtick, and I suspect there’s many a child who now knows “the pelican poem” who otherwise wouldn’t. Glad you enjoyed seeing them!

  19. So that’s where “helican” came from! Never knew
    Sometimes I think what kills poetry is “studying it” and instructors.
    Rhymes, rhythm, and poetry are natural human utterances. Cheers for fun. Enough to make a pelican fly to there and back!

    1. Phil, I was thinking about the dissection metaphor last night. Sometimes, dissection serves art; Audubon took his birds apart piece by piece to learn about their deeper structures. But then he took the next step and reconstructed them in his prints, leaving us fabulous representations of the birds. I’m not sure what that “next step” would look like in teaching poetry, but I have a sense that too many of my teachers stopped at the taking apart, and neglected the putting together.

      I’ve decided the best flyway around here is the Galveston bridge, on the Tiki Island end. Every time I go down, long lines of them are gliding alongside. Maybe the air currects are just perfect. In any event, it looks like they’re having a good time — pelicans just want to have fun!

      1. I think you are right – school instruction is unclear on the concepts of poetry. Just like grammar/mechanics are structural to a good piece of writing, those cannot build something that soars on their own – a touch of human intellect has to sort and group and choose to creative a written piece of art. Audubon was learning the underpinnings, the reasons why the light bounced on one surface and not another on the birds.

        Sadly many teachers are afraid of poetry – not part of their soul and their world. Poetry, a scary thing – so they teach the flashcards compnents (Rhyme schemes, imagery’s devices, meter) like rote memory of math addition, subtraction, multiplication, division facts: stuff that is definite. And never go past that to the wildly creative vague open-ended part – like physics/ quatum physics.

        And then there’s the curriculum death march to the end of the year of what is evaluated on mandated tests.And of course vocabulary is no longer valued. So with concise every word counts for sound, beat and meaning, poetry is difficult for so many to teach and learn. Sad as they are wringing their hands about higher level thinking skills declining these day.

        There’s a bird watching spot not far from there. With the channel and the bridge surrounded by flat water and wetland, the wind is different for sailboats – birds, too I guess. (Been looking around Tiki island a bit. It’s getting so crowded around here. More new subdivisions going up down I45..kinda feel like hitching the wagon up and looking for bigger skies).

        1. Speaking of getting crowded — what’s going on with that new construction site near you on 2094? Saturday, it was all trees and grass. By Sunday morning, they’d sneaked it and cut everything. It not only was cut, they already were shredding the trees. There’s nothing left now but huge mulch piles and a bunch of heavy equipment. I can’t find anyone who knows what’s up. The best guesses seem to be an addition to the intermediate school, or another strip center.

          Teaching to the test is an abomination. Your concept of the curriculum death march is strangely apt, if just a little over the top — not that many people would recognize the name Bataan, anyway.

          1. They don’t put contractor’s trailers up for strip centers usually. My best guess is apartments to the most money gained per square foot.

            Those poor animals – the skunks hung on for the longest and were the last out, if smells at night were any indication. Hopefully thye made it across the street to the narow grass strip and then around to the park. trying to find out more…as are the people whose nice homes back up to that once quiet wooded parcel.

            Bike trail on Egret is making progress – now just need some cool weather before I try it out. Why don’t they use that triangle bit of city owned land across from the Int. school and by the Bank which fronts that little canal as a pocket park instead of trying to sell it off? I keep sending emails…no response.

            1. OH, after many phone calls, waiting on hold, and the city people finally understanding I wasn’t going away..it’s an assisted living center…another one. Let’s put that frail population under really high voltage power lines (No one remember’s the 70’s deal with holding up a florescent light and having it glow from electrical “spillage”) and top it of by backing up to a watery canal…with much plant growth so mosquitoes and possible flooding…
              Wonder if the motorized scooters will make it across to Starbucks?

        2. Thanks for the update down below. I never thought of assisted living, given the new place over on Egret Bay. I was trying to figure out where all the old folks are coming from, and then it hit me: movement away from the urban center.

  20. First off, I love your pelican photos. What a zany, jazzy bunch! And what a great teacher your Miss Johnson was. I’m reminded of Mrs. Dumney (I know, unfortunate name, but she was a wonderfully encouraging teacher, if a bit stern). When we each had to choose a poem to memorize, I brashly chose Jabberwocky. She consented, but knowing what a smart aleck I could be admonished that I could take no shortcuts and had to recite it accurately, word-for-word. I did deliver. I only wish I could do the whole of it from memory today, though even calling up a line or two always makes me smile.

    Akin to your college-days story, I started out in English, full of the pleasure of poetry and fiction, only to have it drummed out of me with analyses I still consider ridiculous today. I actually switched majors as a result (to US History).

    1. Oh, ha, ha, I somehow missed where Miss Johnson went beyond her initial enthusiastic pick up your pencils, which I loved. Fortunately for me, Mrs. Dumney only required us to memorize ONE poem. I do wish I’d been challenged to do a bit more than that, but not at the Johnson level, to be sure!

      1. The wonderful thing about Miss Johnson was that, by the time it all was over, we’d forgotten the pain and only remembered the pride of accomplishment. The worst part for me, being desperately shy, was the actual recitation. The joke in the family was that I couldn’t read a recipe out loud in front of my own relatives. You can imagine what a good chunk of “Evangeline” in front of classmates could do. But it stuck, and if I ever get myself together, will write about how that poem led to my little blogging career.

    2. Interesting that you started out as an English major. I began as a music major, then changed to English when I realized my only option with a music degree would be teaching — probably something like junior high chorus. When practical people pointed out that my second choice, English, would mean teaching, too, that was the end of that. It’s funny, because I ended up teaching in Liberia, and loved it: so much so that I continued on in other ways once I was home.

      It tickles me that you chose “Jabberwocky,” and impresses me that you memorized the entire poem. Have you read James Thurber’s piece titled “What Do You Mean, It Was Brillig?” You can find it here. Given a choice between watching convention coverage and reading Thurber — can there be any question which is a better use of time? (I will note that the piece was published in The New Yorker in 1939, so there are dated aspects to it. It’s still funny.)

        1. I am so glad you linked that post. My cat is giving me the eye, wondering what I’m guffawing over. I never would have thought of doing such a thing, but I tend not to use spell-checker anyway. Each of the versions you shared had their good qualities, but I did like the “culinary” version at the end.

          I had to look up the Newton, too. I’d never heard of it, but I’m one of those late adopters, and didn’t get my first computer until 1999: a year after the Newton was discontinued. It’s a small coincidenc that my hometown was Newton, Iowa. I tried to find the history of the PDA’s name, but couldn’t. I’m sure there’s no connection, but it’s interesting.

  21. Pelicans are strange indeed,
    and this, my dear, was one great read.
    Miss Johnson though,
    she chilled my blood,
    recalling Shakespeare,
    never understood,
    but poetry’s fun, I’ll now conceed.

    1. Dina, your poem’s wonderful! It let me start the morning with a little “bounce,” and that’s always a good thing.

      Speaking of Shakespeare, are you familiar with The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company? On the page I linked, it says they were founded in 2009 by the UK hip hop artist Akala, with the goal of exploring parallels between the works of William Shakespeare and that of modern day hip-hop artists. So there we are! New times call for new teaching methods.

      Here’s a video that was posted by “The Guardian.” While I’d prefer my Shakespeare “straight,” so to speak, I can see the value. You may even know Akala — he’s been at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, so he’s not just some dude from down the block.

      1. Oh…how interesting! I wasn’t aware of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company! I shall go check out those links.
        We had to memorise Shakespeare at school, and recite it, I think that put me off him a little.xxx

  22. In school, at the primary school level I really didn’t like poetry. I wasn’t crazy about learning limmericks, or the kind of poems that require five lines(I can’t think of the name). I thought they were stuffy and boring, but when I was in junior high and high school I wrote tons of free verse poetry to express what I was experiencing emotionally. It was a good way to not keep things bottled up.

    I only read Captain, Oh my Captain by Walt Whitman and l loved it! I have gaping holes when it come to American history, so a lot was probably lost on me, but I loved it all the same!

    I think to truly appreciate any kind of poetry most of us need to be adults, unless you have an adult who really gets what and how poetry is to be enjoyed!

    1. When I began writing poetry, I tried free verse, too. When a different teacher told me my poetry wasn’t particularly good, because it didn’t rhyme, it really crushed me. Eventually, I figured out she probably was saying more about her preferences than about my poetry.

      I like Whitman, too. I’ve always thought “When Lilacs Last in the Doorway Bloomed” drags a bit in the middle, but I sill like it, and find it interesting that Whitman always associated the scent of lilacs with getting the news of Lincoln’s death.

      I think one key to nurturing appreciation of poetry is matching poems to a person’s age and experience. When I was four, “The Owl and the Pussycat” was just right. Eliot, or Mary Oliver, or Shakespeare wouldn’t have meant a thing. The beauty of it is that today we can appreciate Eliot and Oliver, and still enjoy the Owl and the Pussycat.

  23. Wonderful poetry – to laugh and be entranced by its wit, humour, and clever wordplay. Many of the short verse forms can be comfortably typed into a smart phone to send on to give a lift or a laugh to a friend. Oh, if only poetry would become a vibrant part of our lives again!

    1. Before Twitter increased their 140 character limit, there were a good number of people who also enjoyed the discipline of Twitter-verse. It is fun to share short verses, of every sort. As a kid, I learned many of Harry Graham’s “Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes” — written in the early 1900s — and I still laugh at them. And of course there were the Little Willie verses. The shortest I’ve found is this one:

      “Little Willie;
      Pair of skates;
      Hole in the ice;
      Golden Gates.”

      So much story in so few words! As for poetry becoming a part of our lives again — all we have to do is share it.

      1. Oh my, some of those rhymes are indeed (gulp) ruthless! I’d never seen them before. I think Belloc’s Bad Child’s Book of Beasts may be the darkest versified humor I can fully enjoy….still, I have some teenage grandsons who will no doubt love hearing about Little Willie, so I must thank you for him, too!

        1. Even our playground verses were a little edgier, back in the day. As far as I know, none of us were particularly warped by them — or by little Willie. Of course, my Swedish grandmother told some troll tales that would have curled little Willie’s hair, and we heard Grimm’s fairy tales regularly. As I remember them, I’m not sure Little Willie and the Ruthless Rhymes could hold a candle to the Brothers Grimm.

  24. There are so many characteristics to love in poetry… and I think humor is celebrated whenever it’s found in any art form. What is common to all the arts, though, is intensity. And what I personally love most about poetry is the possibility of brevity. Thanks for a very amusing post.

    1. That brevity is one of the things I enjoy about trying to write haiku or etherees. The constraints imposed by the forms require the distillation of experience into so few words — it’s quite a challenge. And limericks? they’re a perfect vehicle for humor: the laugh-out-loud sort that just makes us feel good.

      It feels good to see you, too, Shimon. It’s always a pleasure.

    1. From what I gather, Nash himself never had anything to do with the poem directly. But it sounded so much like the things he wrote that people who heard it assumed it was his, and passed it on as an Ogden Nash poem. It wasn’t long before pretty much the whole world thought it was his. Even today, there are plenty of articles being written by people who begin by saying, “I’ve always loved the pelican poem, but I never knew…”

      The bears are cute. We have a Teddy Bear Parade here on July 4, although I think I prefer the Scottie dogs. A friend has been to Brattleboro, Vermont, to see the Strolling of the Heifers. That’s even better, because the heifers are live.

      1. I’ve never gone to the Strolling of the Heifers. Shame because it’s not far. I did go to the Pittsburg, NH Old Home Day Parade during their Moose Festival which can have almost anything. The year I went it was all the local Fire Departments and Farmall Tractors.

        1. That Moose Festival looks like wonderful fun. In Iowa, tractor events hold sway. This year, at the Steam Threshing Festival, there will be sweet corn and bologna cooked using steam from one of the threshing machines. What’s not to like about that?

  25. You
    know that
    I’ve before
    used Merrit’s verse
    in reference to
    my brown pelican friends
    that arrive in the winter
    bills pointed down before the dive,
    breaking the surface with their strongs necks,
    then all recovered bobbing and gulping!

    1. Well, look at this. An etheree flew in. This is wonderful, Wendy. Is it possible that a pelican might join the otter and egret in your childrens’ book series? That really would make sense, especially since the pelican’s your state bird.

      You may remember my all-time favorite pelican — Plato, the bird who spoke to the bureaucrats during the BP horror. I still can’t get over the fact that we were down at Camp DuLarge and didn’t know a thing about that until we got back to Houston. Ah, well.

      It’s so good to see you. It got hot fast this year, but it’s mid-July. Only a couple more months, and we will have been spared some rain with a name. (If you think I’m even using that “other” word, you’re crazy!) There still is the sculpture garden to be seen, but it’s just too hot right now. Maybe in September.

      1. Oh, perish even the THOUGHT of using such a word!! And, yes, we will have been spared! I thought you’d enjoy my gift of etheree, especially since you are my teacher. Yes, stories of Pierre, although he shall have a much more original name by then, flit clumsily through my mind now and again as I watch his antics of vying with the sea gulls for fish scraps thrown from the fillet table by fishermen for their entertainment. Alas, the ibis is, even now, my next feature character, and then a heron; after which, BP, which I might call him, will bring an altogether different story of his own, I imagine! (And oh by the way, the ibis has a friend named P.B., who is the other part of her story . . . . . ). And now I’ve said way too much!

    1. That’s wonderful, Deb. Smiles seem in short supply these days, so if I can add one here and there, it pleases me no end. I’m glad you enjoyed this bit of fun — and I hope you’re still smiling!

  26. Unfortunately too many professors and too many teachers have destroyed for too many kids the enjoyment of poetry or even reading. They haven’t understood to meet children on their terms, make them realize that poems can be funny or even naughty (and all kids love anything naughty, don’t they), as you found out yourself. Another great and poignant post, Linda.

    1. Those naughty verses were delightful. It was thrilling to say words like “helican,” knowing that a boundary had been crossed. In today’s world, filled with people saying things in public that would have been unimaginable even a decade or two ago, that sort of experience may be lost. In a way, it was the linguistic equivalent of turning over a skirt’s waistband on the way to school, to shorten the skirt and show an extra inch of knee. Rebels, we were!

  27. Brilliant and such a fun read, Linda. I still have memories of a book of children’s verse that was recited when I was a child. Stories of Humpty Dumpty for instance:

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
    Humpty Dumpty had a big fall
    All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men
    Couldn’t put Humpty together again

    And then there are local sayings, full of strange dialect words that make us laugh. My wife comes from the north of England where a silly person (often me) is referred to as a ‘Gormless Morning’ or a ‘Gobbin’. A world without words, limericks and Edward Lear’s poetry would be a very sad world.

    1. Those verses do stick, don’t they? Even now, when I see someone’s photo of mushrooms or spiders, Little Miss Muffet and her tuffet can come to mind, quite unbidden.

      When I got older, I was surprised to see how many of the verses I learned were English: like Banbury Cross. I suspect most people who’ve heard Ray Steven’s song about “Ahab the Arab” don’t know that its description of the lovely Fatima — “rings on her fingers and bells on her toes — echoes that old verse.

      And I’m glad to know those strange words make you laugh, Andy. I remember when I first came across “up the apples” for going to bed. I read a number of blogs from England, and keep my online site of English words and phrases handy — especially for the Scousers, aka “Liverpudlians.”

  28. What a fun post! I’d like to see those pelicans in person some time…

    Your discussion of how poetry can be fun reminded me of a poem I wrote almost 30 years ago:

    Ode to a Grapefruit

    Ah! Humble Fruit – I sing to Thee
    With perfect past’ral Modesty.
    I sing Your Virtues – clear to Me
    In Moments of Senility.

    When on Thy rounded perfect Orb
    My Eyes alight, They do absorb
    An unparagoned Creation of Our Lord –
    Which leaves Me quite without a Word.

    Thy sly ambrosial Juice that squirts
    Into My Eye in vicious spurts –
    That hidden sour Taste that lurks –
    Are just, indeed, but trifling Quirks.

    And so in Moments of Repose
    Fancy flies and I compose
    A lilting Ode that fairly glows
    With Love for that “Most Precious Rose”…

    The Grapefruit!

    1. Dana, that’s wonderful! “Sly ambrosial Juice” is especially tasty, but the whole poem sings. I’m not even particularly fond of grapefruit, but now I want one, thanks to your poem.

      Did you ever take the next step, and write “My Love is Like a Red, Red Grapefruit”? There might be possibilities there — ponder it!

      And thanks so much for the share. It brought a nice, big smile.

    2. I also love that! I only learned to love grapefruit as an adult, after being forced to eat it all through my childhood. Hmm… this sounds like some people’s experience of poetry. Thank you for sharing – after this you may become famous in some circles.

      1. I actually do NOT like grapefruit (which made that time I tried the Grapefruit Diet especially difficult). I might have to see what I can do with the My Love is Like a Red, Red Grapefruit. :)

        1. I’m fond of red grapefruit. It seems a little sweeter, less edgy — but I prefer it combined with other things, like avocado and banana, or mixed half and half with orange juice. My mom loved it, but couldn’t have it because of medications — my goodness, she could gripe about that!

    1. Nia, thank you so much for your nomination. Although I don’t participate in blog awards, I appreciate this one as much as any I’ve received. More, actually. Your comments over the years truly are all the reward I need, and I pray the countries of the world will begin to reflect the spirit of this award. ~ Linda

  29. The pelican verse is “important” to me in regard to my grandparent duties, in this way: When I visited two grandsons recently, I took them each a small plush toy. One was a puffin and one a pelican. I taught them the silly song I knew about puffins, “Three Little Puffins,” but had not a word to go with the poor pelican. Next time I see them I will have your rhymes in hand and we will give the pelican more than equal time to make up for slighting him the first time.

    Thank you also for sharing the Pelican Path creations, which are really fun!

    1. Thanks to you, I now know the song about the “Three Little Puffins,” so it’s a fair trade. Puffins and pelicans both are delightful, but I’m glad your grandson’s pelican will have his own verse now. There are ways to adjust the lines, of course, should your boys be a little young for (ahem) Mr. Merritt’s original verse.

      I just noticed a new pelican on the path yesterday, over by the post office. It really is such great fun to see them popping up with no fanfare, but great panache.

  30. What a fun post about a fun bird! It’s amazing how many poems and ditties have been written about pelicans. Somehow this post reminds me of the time in 8th grade when we had to choose a poem and then recite it in class. I chose “The Moo Cow Moo Says Moo.” The teacher was not amused. :)

    1. Now, that made me laugh, Sheryl. Some of the best times in school somehow involved teachers who were not amused. Speaking of moos, you do know the purple cow poem by Gelett Burgess, don’t you?

      “I never saw a purple cow,
      I never hope to see one.
      But if I had to make a choice,
      I’d rather see than be one!”

      There are some slight variations in that poem, too. It’s a good one!

  31. I love pelicans, even the pigeon-eating kind. There’s something so ridiculous, yet so beautiful about the birds.

    This whole post has reminded me, though, of the ancient poem games of Japan (from which the haiku originally began, as a starter poem for the game of 100 or so verses). The games had very particular rules, like deer only being able to be mentioned in autumn poems, and so on… but there was one creature that could not be mentioned, ever. The whale. Poor, glorious whale, not considered poetic!

    I am sure if the noble elite of Kyoto had ever had the chance to hear a whale song, they might have thought differently!

    1. Your comments about the elite of Kyoto and whale songs reminds me of my favorite song about whaling, which includes the whale’s own songs — Judy Collins’s fine “Farewell to Tarwaithe.”

      I know so little of Eastern poetic traditions, but I have at least a passing acquaintance with forms like Tanka and Renga, thanks to other bloggers that I follow. I know I’ve seen some challenges that involve multiple people contributing to a poem, but my goodness — a hundred verses? And I didn’t know about the haiku as a starter verse. There’s so much to learn (and enjoy) and so litle time.

      Maybe that’s what pelicans say to one another: so many fish, so little time!

    1. Thank you, Martha. They’re clumsy, funny, and not really beautiful birds on land, but when they begin to fly and fish, they’re graceful and compelling. I’m happy to have a few perched around our streets.

    1. What beautiful photos, Maria. I’ve spent so little time in Florida, and never have seen the Everglades — that river of grass — or much of the coast above the Keys. It’s another of those states that clearly is more than what is portrayed in the tourist brochures.

      We have a place here called Moody Gardens that also takes in pelicans unable to function in the wild. After I spotted one wandering a neighborhood, a wildlife rehabber and a policeman helped capture it. We discovered it was blind in one eye, and so couldn’t fish. It was healed up, and now lives down at Moody, with plenty of fish and nice water. So satisfying!

  32. I have never heard this poem before and it is enchanting. I need to copy it down, to remember and learn it for one day when Kevin and Molly have a child ready for a delightful story!

    I never got into poetry so much in school, yet I must have more than I thought for not long ago I found several notebooks with poetry written when I must have been all of eight or nine. To simply pick up poetry and read it, that’s never much been my thing. Yet when I am read poetry — or when I read it myself but aloud — it becomes a very different thing. I suppose my fascination with song lyrics (give me a good Stephen Sondheim song!) is a fascination with poetry and I certainly do my marathon poetry book for Rick each year. So something stuck.

    But I wonder, if I had a teacher like your wonderfully enthusiastic Miss Johnson, might I have discovered it earlier and more passionately? I suspect so, for I think if I had a teacher like that, I would jump to her every command. She sounded wonderful.

    1. I can’t believe you haven’t heard it, jeanie. On the other hand, I keep bumping into stories, poems, and songs that I’ve never heard. I suppose we all assume that what we know, everyone must surely know.

      It makes perfect sense to me that spoken poetry would be more appealing to you. And, in fact, the movement from spoken verse to written was quite a dramatic change. Rhythm and rhyme are the essence of spoken verse, and help us to remember it. Today, the arrangement of words on the page has become more important. Just try reading some modern poetry aloud — it can be difficult, because there’s no way to replicate the “page appearance” with the voice.

      I suppose that’s one reason that songs are so easily remembered. You know I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but on the other hand, when I’m driving across Oklahoma, I can recall practically the entire score of that show – and sing along with it. And it always surprises me how many songs from the 40s and 50s I remember: songs like this. It’s one that was a standard in our 5th grade dance classes (part of the school curriculum!)

  33. Oh my goodness, amazing friend! The post is entertaining on so many levels, and you’ve reminded many of us of the beauty and special rhythms of limericks. My father and his sister were both poets, and it was very normal for one to break out into either a short ditty or a long narrative poem. my father also enjoyed chattering in morse code!

    Scrolling rhrough the comments, i wonder how you manage to do anything else in your ‘off’ time except for reading and replying!

    With the sale of the property pending, when I drive to town there are usuallly other tasks as well as emails that consume my time, and then I’m mentally and physically exhausted – too tired to reach down and write a post. sigh, a year later, the chikungunya still affects me.

    i opened a page to write a post, and the words don’t have the energy to fly! thank goodness there’s plenty to read, which i save on the screen then read offline at the property…

    until next time online,
    lisa

    1. I stopped when I read about your father chattering in Morse Code. I had to learn code for my Ham license, and believe me — just learning it well enough to meet the word-per-minute requirements was a struggle. On the other hand, I did learn it at work, by listening to tapes. Instead of thinking about it, I just listened, and eventually it began to soak in. I’d say it soaked in very well for him.

      You’re right that comment responses take time — as does commenting. On the other hand, don’t forget that I’m the one who mostly lives without television, a smart phone, texting, and social media. I check my Twitter timeline twice a day to see what’s been posted, and I’ll send or receive two or three texts per week. The last statistics I read said that the average American between 25-54 (or close to those ages) spends 4.7 hours — HOURS! – checking their phone. You can do a lot of reading and writing in 4.7 hours.

      I heard a woman from Brazil pronounce the word “chikungunya” last night. It certainly didn’t sound like what i hear in my mind when I read the word. Next Wednesday, I’m going to a meeting where the Brazoria County mosquito control people are presenting a program on our critters, and the chikungunya, dengue, and zika threats. It ought to give me a chance to practice my pronunciation.

      Take care of yourself in the midst of what has to be a very demanding time.

      1. Hi from the Andean city of Riobamba.. Arrived an hour ago and will attend a memorial service on Sunday (for my friend Marta who died last Oct)… It’s nice to have a change of landscapes, and it’s beautiful here w/the snow-capped peaks of Chimborazo and others…

        Chikungunya is evil, and I’m glad you’ve heard the word pronounced! It has a fun syntax, even if the virus is not fun.
        I disconnected from phones about 17 years ago and don’t miss them at all. television even longer ‘ago’ though I do enjoy well-made programs.. I have always preferred the book over a movie, but I enjoy seeing movies at time to compare how well they stuck to the best parts (as in Corelli’s Mandolin) etc etc…

        My father would have adored spending time conversing with you in Morse code! He was just as likely to break out in poetic verse, as if he tuned into a station no one else could hear!

        1. I remember Marta, of course. Celebrate her life well — and enjoy that change of scene. Even seeing a snow-capped peak would be a delight at this point. We’re heading into the heart of summer, and the tropics are stirring. We’re not worried,but we are attentive.

          Tomorrow, I’m off early morning to visit the wood storks at a refuge down the coast. They’re such magnificent birds — I do hope they’re at home!

          1. i was telling a neighbor in the cloud forest that we were about the same distance inland as i was for a few years in louisiana. an old timer told me that when they’d see pelicans, they knew that a hurricane was brewing! i don’t know any tales about storks, but we do have them on the coast here in ecuador. they are so unique!

            buen viaje, and say hello to the storks for me!

  34. This was so much fun. The decorated pelicans would sell in an instant, but the poems would live on in our memories. No wonder your poetry is so exceptional having had such a teacher. The only teacher I had in early years was one who made us memorize long uninteresting poems, but surprisingly she is the one I remember the most. Go figure.

    1. We were blessed with a plethora of good teachers. It’s interesting which I remember, and where the blank spaces are. There’s no question that experiences helped to cement some of them into my memory: field trips, classroom experiments, art projects. And then there was the 4th grade teacher who read aloud to us every afternoon — the entire series of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books.

      I was in a new area of Seabrook today, and found a pelican I hadn’t seen before. It must have been newly installed, as fresh and colorful as it was.I went past the Hooter’s pelican, too. It took me a while to figure out the veining on the beak. I think it’s meant to mimic broken eye capillaries — perhaps from looking at the girls a little too hard?

  35. I so appreciate this post, and am especially happy about the push against the obsession with finding the meaning of a poem. Humor is surely a fine antidote, and to boot, can be quite profound in its own way, just as play also performs very serious functions in human life together. Here’s to more “yuks” in our verse!

    1. Some people do think a poem can have only one, fixed meaning. Others believe it means whatever the reader wants it to mean. I’ve always thought that our understanding of “living word” does as well for poetry as for scripture, and that “poetica sui ipsius interpres” works just fine as a motto.

      It would be a poorer world without humor — no question about that. It helps to keep things in perspective. For example:

      There once was a poet enthused
      by the choice of fine words to be used.
      “I’ll scribble,” he said,
      “from this day ’til I’m dead —
      after all, I’ve got nothing to lose.

      1. Ha! Very nicely done, and I like very much the poetry interpreting itself piece. By the way, in his Psalms lectures, Luther describes the Holy Spirit as the best poet of all!

        1. I don’t remember ever reading those Psalms lectures. Maybe I need to; his writing is so rich, there’s always something new to discover. Besides, the psalms are poetry of the best sort. Their imagery, like that found in the best hymns, just shines.

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