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Go ahead, write a poem (04/06/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

April is National Poetry Month, kicked off with April Fool’s Day, probably because trying to write a poem has made fools out of a lot of us. Even blank verse can be a difficult proposition, and trying to follow a rhyme scheme is positively grueling.

So why bother? To be romantic, for one thing. Poems are considered romantic, since so many of them are about love. There’s nothing that softens up a girl more than a poem, unless it’s a diamond ring. Lucky for would-be poet-suitors, women are much less fussy about a love poem than they are about an engagement ring, so many men think the poem is definitely worth a try.

Women, for some reason, are more likely to write a poem after a love affair has gone bad. There’s something about writing out how they’ve been wronged that is cathartic. Many country western songs start out as poems about some jerk who stole her heart.

But courting days — for most people — are limited to our relative youth. What about our more mature years, why should we bother writing poems then, when love affairs are a thing of the past, and most people have made their beds and are lying in them (or maybe even in separate beds)?

Poems are a good way to comment on our lives, short snapshots of how we are feeling as we travel the road we’ve chosen, of what life has taught us. Plus, writing poetry is a great way to improve one’s vocabulary.

To write a good poem, you have to either be a good poet, or own a thesaurus (no, that is not a type of dinosaur). A thesaurus is a book full of words, followed by their synonyms and antonyms. So if you’ve used the word “love” way too many times in the poem you’re writing to that gorgeous blonde who sits in front of you in Chemistry class, you grab your thesaurus and find love, or the word “love.” And there you find such wonderful substitutions as “passion,” “ardor,” “amour,” and “adoration.” There are also a few you’d be wise to ignore, such as “esteem,” and “brotherhood.” And for the blonde in Chemistry class who’s just been dumped by some guy, there are the opposites of love — “hate,” “repugnance,” “ revulsion,” and the ever-popular “loathe.”

As a side note, I once picked up a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus at a yard sale and bought it because it had Dorothy Leicht’s name engraved on the cover. Miss Leicht was a newspaper editor at Leicht Press in Winona many years ago, and I thought it would be neat to own her thesaurus. But it was published in 1937, and the words, rather than being organized in alphabetical order like my college thesaurus, were organized by classes of words — abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition and affections. You had to look under the affections section to find love, where synonyms included “affaire de coeur,” “gallantry,” and “rapture.”

So go ahead, write a poem or two this month — a love poem, like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee?” or a life experience poem like Robert Frost’s “Birches.” You could even try a funny poem, like Shel Silverstein’s “Messy Room,” or kids’ poems like Dr. Seuss.

But in a search for the perfect word for a poem, one must be careful to not choose such an arcane word that your reader won’t understand it — such as “ruthful,” the opposite of “ruthless,” and meaning full of ruth, or full of tenderness. My advice is don’t use it, even if it does rhyme with truthful.

I wonder if you could help me with a poem about my last meal at the Chinese restaurant. Should I say that getting an empty fortune cookie was “unfortunate,” or a “misfortune”? 


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