I’m Not a Poet (and now I know it)

My six-year-old is a poet.

Over the past year, Faramir has been working on his poetry skills. After counseling him that poetry is not a suitable career for the father of our grandchildren (come on, the boy wants ten kids! He’s going to need a STEM salary), we’ve been aggressively encouraging him to pursue it as a hobby. I for one am a big fan of his work.

Also, his handwriting is fantastic.

So for Valentine’s Day this year, I had this great idea to write Faramir a poem. It just seemed like a great way to connect with him and show interest in his hobbies. So I set about trying to put my appreciation for our amazing and hilarious boy into verse.

Until recently, my poetry consumption began and ended with Ogden Nash. However, the kids’ homeschool curriculum has us working through William Blake, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Sara Teasdale, and A. A. Milne, and I guess you could say I was feeling inspired. After all, I am a writer-type, and although I generally lean more toward the prose side of the spectrum, I dabbled in poetry a bit in high school as an outlet for teen angst. These poems were hilariously awful, but they were in iambic heptameter, dangit! And having spent the last ten-ish years trying to improve my writing skills, I assumed my efforts would yield better results. Plus I’ve…read…books since then! Yep, read much book with big wrinkle brain. Much book make rhyme words sound good for son.

The first problem appeared quickly: I couldn’t just write a poem for Faramir. Curdie, his older brother, has reached the calculating age of almost-nine, and has a finely-honed ability to detect discrepancies in time and effort when it comes to gifts. So I’d need to write him one, too. And three-year-old Jane is just learning to read! Wouldn’t it be cool for her to read a poem about herself, written by her very own mom? Lucy would probably just eat anything I gave her, so she didn’t need a poem. But Valentine’s day is supposed to be about romantic love—I realized I should probably write one for Tom, too. So, with a few weeks before the big day, I committed myself to writing four poems.

Well, with apologies to Uncle Ben, with Much Book come Much Standards. Poetry is hard, y’all. My first efforts to sit down and compose verses worthy of the English poetic tradition (or at least good enough for my kids) yielded little more than staring open-mouthed at a blank word document and typing and deleting the same few words for hours. Then Baby Lucy got really sick and I didn’t have the mental energy to write for a few days. And then Jane got whatever Lucy had, plus a double ear infection. Parents of multiple small children know how this goes.

This brings us to the evening of February 12, when I was still dejectedly plunking out iambs and pushing Rhymezone.com to its limits. I brute-forced my way through Faramir’s and Curdie’s poems, but they were clunky and pretentious, and I was starting to regret the whole thing. But with Jane still running a 105-degree fever, it looked like we weren’t going to make it to either of the Valentine’s Day parties we’d planned on, so I at least wanted to make sure the kids got something special from their mom. Rather than stare at the empty page where Jane’s poem was going to go, I put my head down on my desk—and a tantalizing little line ran through my head…

“I have a little Chungus that goes in and out with me.”

No, my shoulder angel chided. That’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s “My Shadow.” That’s plagiarism, and plagiarism is bad.

But it’s in the public domaaaaiiiiin, my shoulder-devil crooned. Everybody uses that poem.

Meanwhile, the poem had started to write itself, and it was much better than anything I’d written so far. So, with a deadline looming, I surrendered to the devil. Really, only the first stanza was stolen from “My Shadow.” Once I’d pulled my brain out of the sick-kid-parenting swamp where creativity goes to die, I’d apparently gotten into a good enough mindset for the words to flow.

Still, I didn’t end up finishing that night, and the next night after taking Curdie to Activity Days, picking up Jane’s antibiotics, and spending eight minutes inside Hobby Lobby browsing the sad Valentine’s clearance leavings, I had about half an hour to put the finishing touches on the poems and package the kids’ Valentine’s offerings before bedtime. (I never did end up writing anything for Tom. Sorry, dear—consider this an IOU.)

In the end, Valentine’s Day was a bummer, but the kids love their poems (even the clunky, pretentious ones), and Faramir and Jane are still carrying them around the house, which is adorable. The antibiotics are kicking in, and it’s back to business as usual around here.

I guess if I’ve learned anything, it’s not to schedule time-sensitive creative projects during cold and flu season when I’m already overwhelmed with homeschooling, a baby, and the day-to-day demands of four kids who are home all the time. And also, I should probably stick to prose and leave the poetry to the professionals—and Faramir. And also, plagiarism is bad—but it can also be fun!

(No, that is not a good lesson to learn. -Shoulder Angel)