December 2, 2012

Max’s Musings

By Max Molleston

We are past one seasonal celebration, Thanksgiving, which aims toward culinary delight (in moderation). I hope that was your journey and destination, whether you hosted the meal or traveled some distance to participate. Now our heading is towards more family and, in most cases, presents we did or did not expect. I can look at a poem as a present, read aloud or written and presented in an envelope or something like that.

At the end of October I traveled to Des Moines, with Coralville colleague Richard Wallarab, for the semi-annual poetry critique held by the Iowa Poetry Association. One of the folks hired to do written reviews of each poem, or maybe half of them, announced to the attendees he was more interested in the poem, than the poet. He meant on the larger scale of knowing the poet, too. He was Jonathan Stull, of Cedar Falls, who is retired from his teaching career, but continuing to do some work with students at Northern Iowa University. I thought, “Why not!” Even though I urge you readers at times to get to the library or book store to follow up on a poet I have featured. I am with Jonathan Stull, urging you to stay in that comfort zone of a poem or poems you like, whether or not you know the poet or care who wrote a favorite poem of yours.

We are at the season when “The Night Before Christmas” poem comes to mind. It is one we know, learning it from hearing it at Christmas. It is such a delightful poem. It drops all the walls, constructed around poetry, so we can enjoy. Words we know, strung together to tell the timeless story of a visit by that ageless gift giver, Santa Claus.

” not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

How could anyone, especially young children, resist reading on or, in most cases, listening intently and having fun as “visions of sugar plums” (probably cookies, candies and such) caught their ears.

I reflect on the skills and successes of two dead poets, Robert Frost, and Carl Sandburg. When I was growing up, then in college, they were alive and writing and making appearances, mostly at College and University halls, where they could be listened to and respected.

Gwendolyn Brooks, the bookish black youngster whose reputation built and spread from her Chicago roots, speaks for me and to me in most of her work. From her Selected Poems, published (my issue is paperback) by Harper and Row, at that time with offices in New York, London AND Evanston, Illinois, well within Brooks’ influence. This one may or may not be new to you.


I shall not sing a May song.
A May song would be gay.
I’ll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.
I’ll wait until November.
That is the time for me.
I’ll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.
And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
“That is the crazy woman
Who would not sing in May.”

I do not know how that poem happened to be. Most likely Brooks saw it take place. The subject may be far-fetched, depending on how you read it, but as she works with her muse, rhyme pops in, neatly concealed in the message it creates and carries to conclusion.

My conclusion is, “If you don’t have a favorite poet GET ONE! If you do, go to your library or a bookstore and get reacquainted. If a poet has written one poem you like, others will appeal to you as you read on.”

Join me here as the new year presents itself in January.