UP NOLAN CREEK: Poetry
Monday, 25 February 2013 by Wayne Carpenter
Searching through the rows of Valentine's cards on display at HEB the other day, and reading their well intentioned romantic sentiments, I was reminded of those silly little Valentine's "poems" which appeared in the cards we gave to our classmates back in elementary school. The old "roses are red, violets are blue, don't you know so and so loves you" kind of doggerel commonly used in the tiny cards our teachers instructed us to give to everyone in class so no one would have hurt feelings. Of course, we always saved a certain card for someone special, and someone always got their feelings hurt. It was all part of growing up and preparing for the ups and downs of romances to come. For me, those cards were as much poetry as I wanted until I learned to really enjoy reading poetry in high school. But when I watched the poet Richard Blanco read his work at the inauguration ceremony last month, it made me stop and think of poetry in a fresh perspective.
Since then I dug out a few old poetry books, which have been gathering dust on the back bookshelf. In addition to rereading Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, and Nikki Giovanni, I had the opportunity to attend a writer's conference at UMHB where I heard some excellent writers from various parts of the country read from their latest works of poetry and fiction. One of the writers, Belton's own Brady Peterson, impressed the listeners while reading from his latest book of poetry, Between Stations. I enjoyed the event at UMHB, and it reminded me of the first time I ever saw an actual poet on television. The image of Robert Frost reciting his poetry at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy has stayed with me for over fifty years. I can't say I was a big poetry fan at the time, I hadn't been in Mrs. Barnes' senior English class yet, but I had at least read something by Frost, so I knew who he was. At the moment I was really only interested in seeing the new president. But once Frost started speaking, I was very impressed by the words and image of an eighty-five year old man standing in the January chill, his fine white hair blowing in the wind and matching the snow on the ground. He captured the interest and imagination of the assembled crowd and the millions of television viewers around the nation. For those of you who remember the occasion, you may not know that Frost did not recite the poem he had written especially for the event. Up until this time, poets had not been a part of the inauguration ceremony, but Frost, who had been an admirer of Kennedy before the election, was invited by the president-elect to be the first poet to participate in an inaugural ceremony. At the time it seemed a very novel idea to bring art into politics, but since Frost, four other poets, including Maya Angelou, have participated in inauguration ceremonies for our presidents. Kennedy requested Frost read his poem titled "The Gift Outright" which Frost himself had described as a brief history of the United States in a dozen (it was actually 16) lines of blank verse. Instead, Frost decided to write a new poem to celebrate the occasion, "Dedication" and later retitled "John F. Kennedy, His Inauguration". The opening line of the poem is: "Summoning artists to participate,/ In the august occasions of the state,/ Seems something artists should celebrate." Frost ended the poem with the line "a golden age of poetry and power,/ Of which this noonday's the beginning hour."
Unfortunately for Mr. Frost, his eighty-five-year-old eyes could not read his typed copy of the poem in the bright glare of mid-day winter, so he recited from memory the original poem Kennedy had requested. Obviously, Frost handled the situation well and demonstrated the importance of always being able to quote a few lines of poetry; one can never be sure when a poetic emergency will arise.
I wish all of you a Happy Valentine's Day, and remember: "Roses are red, violets are blue, the Journal and I love readers like you!"