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December 5, 2012

For a variety of reasons, I’ve had poetry on my mind. It’s Sinterklaas today, which means all over the country people are currently reading satirical, mocking poems that their friends and family have written about them. Because it’s Sinterklaas, I have also asked one of my classes to write a poem in English, as part of their homework. Though we mainly work on grammar, presenting skills, summarizing and the like, so EFL skills more than creative writing, I find that doing something creative can help take the (often just a  touch boring) edge off the more business-y side of English. Because these students are applied physics majors, I asked them to write their poem about something physics-related and so far the ones I’ve seen have been just as excellent and intriguing as the ones I received from students last year.

After years and years of studying literature and poetry in an academic setting (and, let’s get real here, mostly avoiding poetry because my taste is very particular), it’s been refreshing to see how technical students approach the problem (if I may call it that) of discussing a theorem or principle not in terms of science and equations, but in terms of, well, more everyday language. I’ve greatly appreciated reading the ones that were given to me yesterday and I’m sure I’ll greatly enjoy the ones I’ll get from my other two groups on Friday.

But honestly, this was just a way for me to introduce what I really came here to discuss (or rather, state), and that’s that poetry doesn’t have to be difficult. Now, as someone with a Master’s degree in literature, I should know this, but sometimes I forget because sometimes, especially as a student of literature, you are made to read poems that are so out there, so convoluted, that take so much effort to read, that one (one being me) is seized by the tendency to swear off poetry altogether. And that would be a very sad development indeed, because there’s so much great poetry out there. Anything by Maya Angelou comes to mind, Emily Dickinson (naturally), Margaret Atwood’s Circe/Mud Poems cycle, Anne Bradstreet’s “The Author to her Book” (so sassy for a Puritan!), and of course Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.” Those are some of my poetry staples.

But today, I was introduced to a new poem, written by someone I’d never heard of before: Oliver Herford. He’s listed as the “American Oscar Wilde” on Wikipedia (I highly doubt that) and seems to be mostly known for his cutting wit(ticisms) (hence, I suppose, the Oscar Wilde comparison). The poem I speak of, however, is not Wildean at all:


I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember:
“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

Short, to the point, simple, clean, and hopeful. It’s really all one might want on a chilly December night.

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