“A Poem for My Friend Luther”
My friend Luther says we should all write a poem
And then read it to some kids.
But I’m not really a poet, I say.
I write mainly stories for grown-ups, you know.
Plus I don’t have any kids
Just some nieces living far away
And a dog that’s a German Shepherd.
I’m sorry, but I don’t feel I meet
The minimum qualifications for this project.
Fiddlesticks, Luther says. Anyone can write a poem.
All it takes is imagination.
Okay, I say, I’ll seize the day!
I’ve wanted to try this anyway.
Hold on, he says, I’d like to say, in my opinion
The best poems nowadays generally don’t rhyme much, if at all.
It’s nice to build rhythm into the lines, of course
And paint wonderful pictures with words
But save the rhymes for holiday cards.
And even then, I’m not really a fan of rhyming.
That guy Shakespeare rhymed
And I thought he was pretty good at it
I say, under my breath, as he walks away.
That was then and this is now, he calls back over his shoulder.
Get with the program!
Okay, I’ll try. But what if I cry?
Oh, dang it! There I go again.
Those pesky rhymes keep popping in.
I phone up some friends who know about these things.
Try looking in nature to make a poem, my friends tell me.
Just write about the things you see.
About the sky, or that one tree.
Or a blackbird. Some people around here
Find blackbirds to be very inspirational.
Well, okay, I say
But I’m not having a very good day.
I go outside to look for a blackbird
But all I find is a brown water lizard
That got caught on my patio in the rainstorm last night.
It looks all gooey and squishy, like it’s dead
But when I poke it with a stick, it jumps.
Oh! Excuse me, I say, but I thought you were dead.
I would never poke a lizard with a stick if I knew it was alive.
Why should I believe you? says the lizard. I don’t even know you.
And the polite term, by the way, is salamander, he adds.
At least I think he’s a he.
I’m not exactly sure how you tell with a salamander.
Excuse me, but are you a Mr. Salamander or a Ms. Salamander?
I don’t know why you think it should matter
The salamander says, looking quite shocked.
Would you like me any better if I were one or the other?
I guess not, I say, slowly.
I should think that either would be
A wonderful thing to be, says he or she.
And anyway, these days gender is a matter of personal choice.
I could be either or neither, and still be me.
And I’m a very wonderful me, I might add.
I can see that you are, I say.
You do have a most lovely tail.
And I’m truly very sorry if I’ve offended you.
I was really just looking for a blackbird
So I could write a poem that doesn’t rhyme.
Can’t help you there, my new friend tells me.
I prefer mysteries myself. Sherlock Holmes and such.
Oh dear, I’ll never be a poet unless I learn to un-rhyme, I say
Watching the salamander hop away.
Next I look in some books and what do I find—
Some very nice poems that don’t need to rhyme.
Poems about cotton candy, and omelets, and librarians
And also some about dinosaurs
Which were pretty cool creatures from so long ago
And also an egret, which I learn is a type of bird.
I also find some that rhyme all the time.
Like one about wishing on a star
Or a girl who met a witch and a giant
But still continued self-reliant.
I like them all, but it’s very confusing.
Do the best poems rhyme, or don’t they?
Will those kids like mine, or won’t they?
I make a cup of hot tea.
I for one think much better over a nice cup of tea
(Green mint is my favorite.)
I sit in my favorite chair, the one that’s blue
And have a long think.
Finally, I have an important idea!
To rhyme or not to rhyme
Is a matter of personal choice.
That makes me happy. Yay, hooray!
All at once, it’s a very good day!
Luther is Luther, and I am me
And we both can be right, you see.
Right for him, and right for me
And still be friends, and share some tea.
And his poem won’t rhyme but mine will.
And we will both have fun writing them.
I was delighted and honored to write and perform this poem for SpeakEasy 16, an event on April 12, 2015, celebrating poetry by and for children, a joint venture of SpeakEasy and Poetry CHaT. Produced by local poets Luther Allen (author of The View from Lummi Island and the blog other mind press) and Judy Kleinberg (author of the blog chocolate is a verb), the popular SpeakEasy series is now in its seventh year. Many thanks to Luther and Judy for inviting me to be a part of this unique event and as well to Luther for reading the lines of Luther and to Kevin Murphy for reading the part of Sully the Salamander. Kevin’s amazing drum poem “Room with No Walls” closed the show. And thanks to my dear friend and writer Alicia Jamtaas for taking pictures. SpeakEasy 16 was held in Mount Baker Theatre’s spacious Encore Room and played to a packed house!
Sully the Salamander is the artwork of New Jersey–based author/illustrator Mike Allegra (author of the delightful children’s book Sarah Gives Thanks). Known as “Writer Fellow”—his blog is called heylookawriterfellow—Mike generously created and gifted one of his famed “doodles” to pair with my poem at SpeakEasy 16.
Of course, there’s a fun back story to exactly how that particular doodle came about, which you can find on Sully’s very own Web page! It was fun to go back and read everyone’s zany FB posts when I was putting together Sully’s page.
The true stars of SpeakEasy 16 were the amazing young poets, ages 7 to 16, who enchanted us all with their poise, talent, and range of poems, which were displayed behind the poets as they read or recited their poems. Props as well to the wonderful teachers who nurtured these fine young poets and were in the audience to support their students. The supporting cast of adult readers, who were also pretty amazing, included Lois Holub, Rena Priest, Chuck Robinson of Village Books, Jessica Gillis, Kevin Murhpy, and Yours Truly, with special guest Pamela Porter, author of The Crazy Man. You can read more about the SpeakEasy series, including the poetry, on Luther’s website other mind press.
XO Laurel Leigh
Image credit: Child’s silhouette image from img.kid.com