Justin: In the Feast of Being Able to. Amen.

About February

Thursday Morning

Yesterday a friend asked me for some poetry recommendations. She’d been writing a bit, which is often motivation to read as well, but her own favorites were seeming a bit tiresome.

You don’t get that kind of invitation often, so I was excited to run to the shelf to review my own favorites for writings my friend might enjoy.

Poetry, like music, is sometimes enjoyed by the category of “author”. But more often it is the case that my favorites in music are just individual songs, and my favorite poems are single poems by various authors who have plenty else I don’t particularly care for.

If poems were songs, a poetry anthology would be a compilation cd. Ok, or a thumbdrive.

So I turned to my ragged, book-mark bulging, highlighted and heavy “An Introduction To Poetry”, a creation of X.J. Kennedy, a renowned and accomplished poet and author. It was first published in the 1960’s, is currently in it’s 13th edition and still widely utilized today by both undergrad and graduate level students.

I began thumbing backwards through this spectacular book and placing yet another layer of post-its on works I would forward to my friend. And after a couple of hours, I reached page 1. Which is where I need to divert my story for a moment.

Some recent time ago, a friend began to process a thought aloud: “How many days are in November again? Oh yeah, 30.”

To which I promptly responded with a little poem I learned long ago, I don’t know when or where.

“Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have 31,
Except February which has 28.”

My buddy hadn’t heard this, and laughed, which is precisely the aim. To laugh is to remember.

So back to the anthology / text book: I reached page one and found myself staring right at this little poem. How did I not recall this being on page 1!? Excited, I began reading the intro above it.

“Approaching a thing written in lines and surrounded with white space, we need not expect it to be a poem just because it is verse. Here, for instance, is a specimen of verse that few will call poetry:”

I was indignant. Who was this X.J. Kennedy to declare one of my life’s little mnemonic staples as NOT POETRY? I read on.

“Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have 31,
Excepting February alone,
To which we twenty-eight assign
Till leap year makes it twenty-nine.”

I sat in silence. What… was… this? Was this what my little favorite was actually supposed to be? Who had told me wrong? Had I just forgotten the real ending and inserted my own too many years ago to differentiate the truth from my own creation? If so, was this a deeper issue? What about other things I thought I knew? Was about Frost, stopping in the snowy woods for so long that his little horse thought he was queer? What about Chidiock Tichborne’s breathtaking elegy, written with his own hand in the tower before his electrocution? For that matter, what about Emily Dickinson? Had she really not written the Yellow Rose of Texas? I drew a breath. WHAT ABOUT HIGHSCHOOL?

I was moderately astonished. Kennedy was right. This wasn’t poetry. This was nothing more than a conveniently rhyming mnemonic device that held nothing deeper for the soul. My version had a laugh because it betrayed your expectations with a non-rhyme that was as much a let down as time itself. My version didn’t care about stupid leap year or the banal issue of a grown adult celebrating their 9th birthday on a February 29. This version was merely rhythmic drabble.

Unfortunately, there are some things that can’t be unseen. After all these years, I have read page 1 and I can’t take it back. I’m a bit awash in a lyrical sea right now. My heart bleeds and I feel as if grade school teachers, like sharks, are circling.

Tuesday Evening

Ok, well, I’m still not over it, but I guess I have reached a sort of mental island that I’ll just call my happy place. I folded over page 1, after clearly noting in the margin that X.J. Kennedy is a stupid head.

Thursday Night

I have reached within the deep recesses of my mind and discovered where I learned my poem. My late friend Brandon said it aloud while we were bank fishing long ago. I remember his delight at my laughing, and the poem stuck. I think I can still see his face just then. Either that or I’m just remembering his smiling face. I don’t know where B. learned it, or if he made it up. It seems there are many versions of a poem that is hundreds of years old. I like Brandon’s.

I’ll post a few of my favorite poems, not because anyone else particularly cares, but because even a happy place can be lonely, and I don’t own a soccer ball.

  • Wasn’t Wilson a volleyball?

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