Saturday, July 29, 2006

On quilts and "bad" poetry

Margaret C. just posted this to the Alternative Quilt List, and I'm probably the last to see it...even though I love Jigzone. They used Carol Taylor's Convergence quilt from the wonderful Confetti series.

Pepek asked about a maudlin poem I mentioned about a dog named Rags. I used to check out a poetry anthology from the grade school library, but I could never finish that particular poem without tears.

I decided to Google the poem and was a bit surprised that I found it and that it has been taken up by many animal rights groups. Written by Edward Vance Cooke, and possibly based on this real life Rags (who had a happier ending), the title is They Called Him Rags. My mother would throw up her hands when I came home with that anthology because of the quite uncharacteristic sobbing she had to endure. This poem and Eugene Field's poem Little Boy Blue always made me cry. The only place I ever saw the Rags poem was in that anthology of nearly 50 years ago, but Little Boy Blue was a frequent sorrow. I couldn't even read it to my children.

So...both poems are overly sentimental and manipulative. Not great poetry by any stretch of the imagination; yet both contributed to my life-long love of poetry and, perhaps, to a form of empathy that could be a good thing. Although after finding They Called Him Rags again, I am doubtful if anyone would encourage children to read the poem (as I say Mother was frustrated by deliberately caused grief).

What is the importance, then, of the maudlin or silly or overly rhyming poems that we loved as children? They captured our imagination, they encouraged the love of language, they helped form our opinions. Another "bad" poem by Edward Vance Cooke that I loved as a child was How Did You Die? With lines like "Oh, a trouble's a ton, or a trouble's an ounce? Or a trouble is what you make it," the message is that you have more control than you think over your life and the way it affects you. How you live is more important than how you die.

I'll be thinking all day about the poems of my childhood; I was a voracious reader and poetry was a large part of what my reading. What are some of the poems that have stayed with you over the years?


  1. Oh, God! That is a SAD poem. I hope my maudlin Granddaughter Mandy doesn't ever find it.
    I can stand seeing people hurt and killed better in movies than animals, and my kids always cried when the horses got killed in "Gone With the Wind."

    I'm going out to enjoy the goldfinches some more.

  2. I think that sentimental poetry helps in childhood the way that scary folk tales do: they test out the emotions within a safe environment of a loving family. The repetition is just a love of sound, form, and meaning. I think that children savour language in all its aspects if they are able and encouraged to. I was brought up biligual and still remember enjoying similarities and differences in the two languages - indeed I still enjoy it with other languages I added later.

    I think in this particular poem the reader knows that there probably goes each one of us. I love the line 'and slit like a full-dressed fish' for it's dramatic imagery - I can understand why animal activists and vegetarians might take it up.

  3. Ah, Jen, maybe it's our age (I'm 58). I loved weeping my eyes out as a child when I read (and memorized) "Little Boy Blue." As an adult I can be critical and see the manipulation. But children see so much of their world in black and white, joy and tragedy. I loved the cadence, the rhyme, the visual images. My late father and my late MIL were educated in the era that required children to learn the social grace of "recitation" and I was always amazed at their ability to spout verses and stanzas of all types of poems, appropriate to many occasions. Kids today could do a lot worse than to memorize maudlin poetry. Thanks for the memory.

  4. Jane Ann: I thought about the importance of cadence and rhyme as well. It is the sort of thing that makes a poem especially attractive to a child and easy to remember. Memorization (and its gradual decline over the years to the point of non-existence) is a loss to present-day education, both formal and informal, school and home. Encouraging children to memorize and recite is such a marvelous tool for so many reasons, and it's a shame that it has become regarded as a negative.

  5. So glad you found "Rags" again! Happy Thursday! (And hugs to Max)


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