Little Boy Blue By Mother Goose Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn; The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn. Where’s the boy that looks after the sheep? He’s under the haystack, fast asleep.” Will you wake him? “No, Not I! For if I do, he’s sure to cry.”
How did I become a poet? What made me scribble singsong verse as early as third grade? Cleaning out some drawers I rarely open, I found at least part of the answer. Buried among the hair ornaments I no longer have enough hair to use, I found a stack of books from way back in my childhood. Most are pretty beat up from frequent fondling by children. Among them were:
- A Book of Famous Poems compiled by Marjorie Barrows (Mom’s), published 1931
- One Hundred Best Poems for Boys and Girls, also compiled by Ms. Barrows, published 1930 (mine, a gift from Grandma Rachel Fagalde in 1963)
- The Winkle Twinkle Pup and other stories (Uncle Bob’s), published 1941
- Hickory Dickory Dock and other poems of childhood (mine, a gift from Grandma Rachel Fagalde in 1960)
- Uncle Wiggily and Baby Bunty (Uncle Bob’s),
- Poems for the Very Young Child (Mom’s), published in 1932
I also found a collection of nature books for kids and Writer’s Digest magazines from the 1960s when Grandma Rachel was grooming me to be a writer. A poet herself, she kept feeding me poetry books, among them the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Browning, Marianne Moore and The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World. Being the odd teenager that I was, I read them all and wrote poems of my own. Sixty years later, I’m still at it.
Tucked inside One Hundred Best Poems for Boys and Girls, I found a poem of my own. Written in pencil, the words are barely visible. Great art? Lord no, although I might have had a successful career writing greeting cards.
Don’t Forget to Think of Me Summer is coming very fast. Soon it will be here at last. It’s a time to your hobbies pursue, A time to find the real you. A time to let your thoughts go free, A time, I hope, to think of me. Summer is a time of fun. I wish no sadness to anyone, A time to go to brand new places, A time to see old and new faces. I’m wishing now, a lot of fun And joy and peace to everyone. When summer days are gay and free, Don’t forget to think of me.
It’s doggerel, yes, but this is what some of us were reading in the 1950s and early 1960s. We shared Ogden Nash’s humorous verses, Rod McKuen’s sentimental offerings, and the plain-spoken poems of Robert Frost. Poetry progressed from rhyme and rhythm into free verse, rap, and slam poetry. We might roll our eyes as the singsong verse of my childhood, but it got me started.
From One Hundred Best Poems: Barefoot Days By Rachel Field In the morning, very early, That’s the time I love to go Barefoot where the fern grows curly And grass is cool between each toe, On a summer morning-O! On a summer morning! That is when the birds go by Up the sunny slopes of air, And each rose has a butterfly Or a golden bee to wear; And I am glad in every toe– Such a summer morning-O! Such a summer morning!
The stuff I grew up on, that my mother read to my brother and me every night, and Grandma Rachel bestowed for every Christmas and birthday, exposed me to the joys of playing with words and sharing them out loud. It was a valuable gift that resonates today as I sit down to write a new poem on my laptop in Google docs. We no longer use fountain pens or fat pencils, but the goal is still the same: to capture what we see and experience in a compact collection of words using imagery, rhythm, word play, and yes, sometimes rhyme.
When I meet people who don’t read, it saddens me. My brother and I were lucky that our mother read to us, and she took us to the library every two weeks to pick up another stack of books. If parents don’t read to their kids and set an example of reading for pleasure, how will their children pick up the habit? Will they ever be exposed to poems and stories that don’t appear on a screen?
When they hear “hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock” or “Jack and Jill went up the hill,” will they know the lines that come next or shrug and go back to their phones?
We have an obligation to pass our poems and stories to the next generation. That’s how writers and readers are born. This Christmas, buy a child a book. They’re easy to wrap, easy to mail, and might stay with them all their lives.
PS: You can find my adult poems in my chapbooks Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Poems by a Distracted Catholic.
PPS: Oregon Poetry Association is hosting a “Holiday/Anti-Holiday” poetry open mic on Zoom on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. PST. You don’t have to live in Oregon to join in. Click here to register. (Click to December on the calendar, click on the event, and you’ll see the registration screen).