Mourning Song

Image by Joanne Van Leerdam. June 24, 2020.

I wrote this poem back in 2016.

These words have been in my mind again the past couple of weeks, following the death of my father and the passing of one of my closest friends on the day of his funeral. Losing them both within five days of each other was more painful than I can describe.

Photo artwork by Joanne Van Leerdam. June 24, 2020.

Tears fall,
Can’t stop them,
Can’t hide them.
You’re gone,
Can’t bring you
Back again.
Why am I always the one who is feeling
The pain of the wrenching and tearing of leaving?
Why must this pain be so raw deep inside of me?
My heart
Misses you
Desperately.
Please say
That you won’t
Forget me.
I can’t imagine my life without you in it,
Bereft of the light and the joy of your loveliness,
Every room filled with the echoes of memories.
Never
To be the
Same again.
Tears fall,
Into the
Loneliness.
You’re
Gone.

©2016 Joanne Van Leerdam

Mourning Song.
#poetry #grief #Emotions #poetrylovers #personal #ReadAWrite

This poem is included in my collection titled ‘Leaf’.

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The Best Maya Angelou Poems Everyone Should Read

I really enjoy the Interesting Literature blog. 
It’s well organised and curated, and has lots of excellent posts about all sorts of different literature. There are collections of poems or novels by theme, and various authors’ and poets’ “best of” lists. 

If you liked my Poetry Month or Classic Novels posts, you may well appreciate their posts as much as I do.  (If you missed them, you can find them easily by clicking on those tags on this post.)

This post about Maya Angelou’s poetry is a great example of the excellent content you’ll find at Interesting Literature. 

The Best Maya Angelou Poems Everyone Should Read

Poem: ‘Going to School’ by C.J. Dennis

I learned this poem when I was in 5th grade. My teacher loved poetry sand set us all a poem to memorise and recite. ‘Going to School’ was mine. 

Published in ‘A Book for Kids’ in 1938 with a collection of similarly excellent poems, this is a fun poem with a very musical rhythm and rhyme pattern that are instantly engaging. It conjures images of a time when kids in Australian country schools might ride a horse to school if they loved too far away to walk and didn’t own a bicycle or three. 

Dennis was a man of many talents: in addition to working as a journalist and poet, he also illustrated his own books with delightful pictures that were almost as much fun as the poetry. 

Image: C.J. Dennis working at his desk c.1938 . Public Domain via The State Library of Victoria 

Going to School

Did you see them pass to-day, Billy, Kate and Robin,
All astride upon the back of old grey Dobbin?
Jigging, jogging off to school, down the dusty track-
What must Dobbin think of it – three upon his back?
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Billy holding on behind, his legs out straight.


Now they’re coming back from school, jig, jog, jig.
See them at the corner where the gums grow big;
Dobbin flicking off the flies and blinking at the sun-
Having three upon his back he thinks is splendid fun:
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Little Billy up behind, his legs out straight.

Dennis’ images for ‘Going to School’ from ‘A Book for Kids’
Public Domain via Project Gutenberg

If you’d like a copy of A Book for Kids, Project Gutenberg has it available in a variety of formats, including for Kindle and other eReaders, free of charge. This is a legal download as the copyright on both the work and the illustrations included has expired. 

Poem: ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ by Eugene Field

When I was young, my parents had a set of World Book Encyclopaedia and a matching set of themed books, one of which was full of children’s literature. I spent many hours reading and re-reading the poems in one of those volumes, which is where I discovered the poetry of Eugene Field, Ogden Nash, Gelett Burgess and many other poets who became favourites.

‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ weaves together elements of fantasy, lullaby and Dutch heritage to create a delightful children’s poem. It is one that I remember fondly from my childhood, along with another of Field’s poems, ‘The Duel’ about a gingham dog and a calico cat. 

Wynken, Blynken and Nod

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night   
Sailed off in a wooden shoe–
Sailed on a river of crystal light,   
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”   
The old moon asked of the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!”                 
Said Wynken,                 
Blynken,
                And Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song,
    As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
    Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
    That lived in that beautiful sea–
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish–
    Never afeard are we!”
    So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
                  Wynken,
                  Blynken,
                And Nod.

All night long their nets they threw
   To the stars in the twinkling foam—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
   Bringing the fishermen home;
‘T was all so pretty a sail it seemed
   As if it could not be,
And some folks thought ‘t was a dream they ‘d dreamed
  Of sailing that beautiful sea–
   But I shall name you the fishermen three:
                     Wynken,
                     Blynken,
                   And Nod.

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
   And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
   Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
   Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
   As you rock in the misty sea,
   Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three: 
                   Wynken,
                     Blynken,
                     And Nod.

Goodnight.

Poem: ‘Meeting at Night’ by Robert Browning

This poem is something of a tardis – it’s bigger on the inside. It’s not very long, but it tells a story that takes the reader from the wide-angle scenery of the landscape at night and a small boat on the water to the intimacy of a cabin in which the secretive lovers meet. It’s Romantic, but it’s really all about the stealth and secrecy that was even more typical of Victorian England than its Romanticism.

The imagery is magnificent and the storytelling is clever: the meaning is clear, even though much is left to the reader’s own imagination. This is the art of poetry: to evoke what the reader already knows, and yet to make it new at the same time.

Meeting at Night


The grey sea and the long black land; 
And the yellow half-moon large and low; 
And the startled little waves that leap 
In fiery ringlets from their sleep, 
As I gain the cove with pushing prow, 
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.

II 
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach; 
Three fields to cross till a farm appears; 
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch 
And blue spurt of a lighted match, 
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears, 
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

The Difference Between Poetry And … Everything Else.

A post about what is, or is not, poetry.

Excuse me for a moment while I climb onto my soap box again. 

A few months ago, I wrote a post in which I complained about books which claimed to be poetry, but were actually just a collection of sentences arranged with one word on each line. 

Today, I’m going to indulge my poetry-nerdiness yet again, in response to another trend I’ve observed on social media.  

As both a reader and a poet, I get really annoyed when pieces of writing are labelled as poetry when they’re not. 

This is rife on Instagram, where some folks take a pretty picture of a sentence or a paragraph and call it poetry. They use the hashtags like #poem, #instapoem, #poetry, #poemsofinstagram… you get the idea. I’ve bitten my tongue – or my virtual fingertips – so many times when I’ve wanted to comment that what is pictured is not a poem. 

I’ve seen letters, paragraphs, and even short stories presented as “poetry”. I’ve seen single sentences tagged “poetry”. In fact, there are books out there with a sentence on each page, which the creators have classified as ‘poetry’. 

This is where I beg to differ.

A sentence, a letter, a paragraph… an entire book may be written in highly poetic language. It may use conventional poetic techniques such as imagery or alliteration, but is it poetry? Everything within me screams “NO!”. A letter is a letter. A sentence is a sentence. A paragraph is… prose, not a poem. 

The issue is one of form. 

Poetry as a form has conventions of its own that set it apart from a letter or a sentence, or anything else. While it’s true that poetry can take any number of forms or styles, those are forms and styles that are recognised as being poetry. They are not forms that are instantly recognised as something else. 

I totally accept and agree that a sentence or any other piece of writing can be beautiful. I’ve read individual sentences or paragraphs that have taken my breath away with the imagery or the power of the writing. They can be poetic. But, according to the conventions of one form as opposed to another, they’re not poems. They’re. Just. Not. 

I’m not trying to be a poetry snob here— in fact, it’s taking no effort at all. I realise I may be coming across as a pretentious git, but let’s look at this from another perspective. 

I don’t get to call myself an author if I don’t write and publish anything. I don’t get to call myself a doctor because I am not, in fact, a doctor. In terms of professions, we don’t get to call ourselves something we’re not. 

Alternatively, I could choose to start telling people I’m a cheeseburger. I’ve eaten a few cheeseburgers, I know what they taste like, and I can list the ingredients. And they do say you are what you eat. However, people will fairly promptly tell me I’m not actually a cheeseburger. The more I make that assertion, the more strident people will be in assuring me I’m not. Even if I went to McDonalds or Burger King and sat in the food warmer, it wouldn’t make me a cheeseburger. I am quite obviously not a cheeseburger. 

If we pretend to be other than what we are, that very quickly becomes a matter of integrity. At first people laugh, then they get frustration, and then they get angry. Trust is broken, and often, walls go up that are not easily dismantled. 

That is exactly where I am with other pieces of writing masquerading as poetry. I’m well past the point of frustration. If I pick up a book because it says it is poetry, and the contents are nothing more than pithy sayings or observations of life in sentence form, I’m going to be annoyed, no matter how beautifully they’re written. If I wanted a book full of meme-worthy of proverbs and quotations, that’s what I would have gone looking for. 

Poetry takes time and effort to craft and shape. It isn’t easy to condense the meaning and message into imagery and forms that require skill to master. To write something beyond trite rhyme or greeting card verses is more difficult than many people realise. The ability to do that, consistently and repeatedly, is what makes someone a poet. Poetry is a craft that I take very seriously indeed. 

That’s why I refuse to “like” posts on Instagram, or anywhere else for that matter, which present one thing as something it’s not.  It’s why I am very choosy about what poetry and poets I review and promote on my book blog.  It’s why I’m on my soapbox, ranting furiously to anyone who will listen – or read, as the case may be. 

It’s hard enough getting people to take real poetry seriously these days. We certainly don’t need to confuse people any further. 

Ambrosia.

I remember as a child going to visit friends of my parents’ for dinner, and being served a dessert called Ambrosia. I had never heard of it before, and I remember being amazed by how sweet and delightful it was. The sensation of wanting more when the little dish set before me was empty is still a very clear memory.

When I was a bit older and started reading about history, I discovered that ambrosia was a mythical substance that, having been brought to the Ancient Greek Gods by doves, became their food of choice, along with their favoured drink, nectar. Ambrosia and nectar may have even originally been the same thing, but Homer and  Sappho both distinguish between them. Given that they were present in Ancient Greece and I was not. their authority on the matter is something I am willing to accept.

Ambrosia was understood to be fragrant, powerful and reserved for the gods, who adored it because of its healing and cleansing powers, and because it took years off their physical ages. It filled them with passion and made them desirable. Little wonder, then, that they wanted to keep it for themselves! 

In time, ‘ambrosia’ was a term that became popular among the Romans as any delightful essence or concoction of food or drink, and then may have given rise to the idea of “the elixir of life” that people have been searching for ever since. 

It was the concept of drinking something that resulted in passion that lasted for eternity that caused me to write my poem Ambrosia about the power of a lover’s effect on one’s life and soul. I wanted to capture that heady, addictive feeling between lovers that makes them believe nothing and nobody else matters, and that their love transcends time, place and physical limitations. 

Anyone who has experienced those feelings will relate. Anyone who has landed hard on their posterior after doing something stupid for love will probably relate, but may also mutter uncharitable things about love and romance under their breath. Those who haven’t experienced it may scoff. 

Yet the feelings and experiences described in the poem do exist, and they are what the celebration of Valentine’s Day has come to be all about: it’s the kind of love that everyone wants to find and experience, although it’s fair to say that not everyone does. 

We must remember, after all, that the legend of Valentines Day was never about flowers, candlelight dinners and fairy-tale, kissy-face wedding proposals: it began with a man being executed for something he believed in. 

At any rate, I wrote Ambrosia in honour of the love of my life who, after many years together, still hasn’t driven me to drink. I have, however, been known to do take a risk or two for the love of him from time to time, so it’s an appropriate poem to share on Valentine’s Day. 

If you appreciated this post or my poem, please click “like” so that it becomes visible to more people.

Ambrosia is publshed in my book, Smoke and Shadows.

‘Smoke and Shadows’ – Multitasking With Genre

This new release book is more than “just poetry”.

One of the questions authors are often asked is “What do you write?”

I used to simply answer “poetry”. Then I turned my hand to horror, so my tagline became “Poetry with soul and horror with none”. Then I wrote a couple of fantasy novellas for the Once Upon A Time Anthology.

As my 11th book hits the stores, it’s fair to say now that I am a multi-genre author. While my poetry and horror only occasionally converge, they certainly did so most effectively in A Poet’s Curse.

‘Smoke and Shadows’, though, really is a genuine multitasker when it comes to genre. It’s much more than “just poetry”.

In the pages of this book, you will find:
Fantasy
Fairy Tale
Magical realism
Allegory
Mystery
Tragedy
Humour
Reflection
True stories

Whatever genre you prefer to read, you will find ‘Smoke and Shadows’ a refreshing change of perspective.

I’m really proud of this book, and I hope you enjoy my work.

‘Smoke and Shadows’ is widely available as both paperback and ebook.

Current Status: Anticipation

There is a very particular thrill in waiting for a new book to hit the shelves.

There is something extraordinary about seeing a book you have written hit the shelves on release day.

Months of work. Writing. Refining. Painstaking editing. Preparing a marketing plan and creating ads.

And then the day comes, and you wait for the clock to tick over. Because time is a contrary beast, it drags its heels and makes you wait.

The waiting, though, is as exciting as it is tiresome. It really is a lot like waiting for Christmas or a birthday,

There is another layer of joy in this anticipation for me. After several really challenging years, it feels as though 2019 is starting in a very positive way that closes the door on those painful chapters.

That’s because while there are still poems in this collection that explore the darkness and the shadows that can plague us, there is a greater focus on looking at experiences and challenges with the clarity of hindsight that enables us to see through the deceptions and illusions to which we so often fall prey.

I see in many of these poems a fulfilment of the desperation expressed in some of my darker work. There is, quite frankly, more light and more hope .

It is that positivity and hope that I intend to carry into the new year.

So that’s where I am at this point in time.

New year. New book. New beginnings.
Bring it on!

Songs and Poetry

Songs and Poetry: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

2015-07-18-17-11-28-warrnambool-breakwater-blog-e1523956844938.jpg

In an earlier post, I referred to song lyrics as being a form of poetry.

There are many songwriters who write deeply poetic songs. Elton John and Bernie Taupin, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Billy Joel— they are among the greats. Today, singer/songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry are among the artists whose songs contain some incredibly powerful poetry.

While it might be fun to come up with more examples, I have no desire to try to list them all – I don’t even think that’s really possible. Chances are, some who make my list might not be included in yours. I just named a few to get you thinking.

While many songs rely on a catchy hook or a beat that makes people want to dance, it’s the poetry of others that gives them the power to move a person emotionally, or to profoundly affect someone’s thoughts and actions.

Consider the influence John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ had on an entire generation. Similarly, Simon & Garfunkel touched hearts and lives worldwide with the soaring power of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, while the poignant emotion of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” or “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is still hard to resist.

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but poetic songs seem to attach themselves to part of my soul and remain there, indelible and timeless.

This line of thinking led me to trying to work out which song contains my favourite “song poetry”. That’s actually a really tough question, so I decided I’d listen to a few of my favourites and try to narrow it down.
A week later, I think I have an answer. (Disclaimer: this answer is likely to change at any moment.)

I am a rock 2018-04-17 11

This song is a brilliant extended metaphor about identity and finding one’s place in the world. The contrast between a rock or an island with the vulnerability of being human, and the paradox of isolation being a form of sanctuary, are ideas which should be jarring, yet they are delivered with such finesse that we’re left thinking, “I totally get that!” They’re ideas and images we all understand, and the poet communicates uses a depth of emotion and human experience to say things that many other people could never bring themselves to verbalise.

The clincher for me is the final verse. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” That’s exactly what I do! I retreat into fictional worlds. I write stories and poems that help me to deal with life. I use poetry to crystallise my thoughts and feelings, and use my writing to communicate what it’s hard to say any other way.

As I was reflecting on that final verse, a poem I wrote last year came to mind. I’m not suggesting that I think I’m as good as Paul Simon, but it does explore similar ideas of hiding behind – or within – the books and words I have written.

Poem Safe 2018-04-17 13

It was written during a time of great personal conflict and turbulence, and expresses the refuge I found in my writing. In different poems written during this period, I portrayed myself at different times as a fighter, as a hostage, and as a traveler. At no time did I portray myself as willing to surrender to the storm that raged around me, nor to anything else that tried to do me in. In my writing, I was strong. I was safe.

When I went back to read that poem as part of the process of writing this post, I was stunned to discover the similarity of the ideas to those explored by Paul Simon, even though my poem was neither based on nor drawn from his lyrics.

I was also confronted by the warning of the last two lines. I have to take care when I feel or experience something, or when I write something powerful, that I can’t afford to unpack and live there. I still have to live my life and be who I am, and I still have to deal with whatever life throws at me.

After all, I am neither a rock nor an island, no matter how much I might sometimes wish I were.


‘Safe’ is published in my book, ‘The Passing Of The Night’.

 

 

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