No, there's no such thing as husband poetry. I mean my husband asked me to teach him more about poetry. My husband felt there were decided holes in his education, but I thought surely somewhere in junior high or high school a dedicated teacher must have taught him some famous verse. He swears he remembers nothing of the sort. Thus, three months ago, my husband picked up a volume of Emily Bronte poetry and determined to understand what he read.
He was already a decided Bronte sisters' admirer, so likability wasn't an issue. What did become an issue was rhyme scheme and syllable structure. So what to do? Consult with your English teacher wife of course. As he read poetry before bed each evening, he began to ask me questions like Why does this line have eight syllables and this one has ten?
I know, I know. Nerd alert. How many married couples talk like this before falling asleep? Anyway, I began by asking him not only to count syllables in every line, but to also determine if there was a pattern. How many lines are in the overall poem, sweetie? Did you say 14? So what type of poem is that? What was Bronte imitating? Pretty soon I realized we needed to start at the beginning. All the intelligent Rush lyrics of his youth bred a natural appreciation for poetry and the lyrical art, but that didn't mean he understood the required skills or genius of the poet's work.
This is what we've learned so far in the poetry journey:
STEP ONE: Read poetry you like, poetry you're drawn to. Each person has their own taste of course. Bronte did that for him as did Frost and Seamus Heaney.
STEP TWO: Break apart the poem skeleton. This is tricky because if you spend too much time identifying parts you can also remove the pleasure of reading for the beauty of the thing. At the same time without the knowledge of parts it's hard to appreciate the whole. Think of the human skeleton. Knowing the parts of the body that frame it and allow it to stand and move increases our appreciation of its overall appearance.
STEP THREE: Find a teaching text that's written at your level. Perhaps the most difficult creature to find, an instructional book is a necessary thing unless you already have an English teacher spouse at your side. From homeschooling curricula to college-level texts, there are too many choices. I've read quite a few that make poetry more difficult and even more that make it too simple. The trick is to find the one that fits you. As an adult learner, my husband didn't want a middle school beginner though he was willing. Instead we went entirely old school. Why not learn from two distinguished Yale professors?
MY TOP RECOMMENDATION
Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. It's no longer in print but is a valuable text if you find one. You can learn so much from reading just two chapters on narrative and descriptive poems. Brooks and Warren include plenty of examples AND include their commentary on how the poem works and what it means. So, so helpful to learn from their wealth of experience. Brooks also has his own poetry textbook titled The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry. Though I haven't read it yet, it comes with high reviews.
And as a bonus, read Dwight Longenecker's essay "Why You Need Poetry." He provides much needed motivation for why poetry benefits our minds, ourselves, as a creative outlet.
Romans 1:9-12 (CJB)
For God, whom I serve in my spirit by spreading the Good News about his Son, is my witness that I regularly remember you in my prayers; and I always pray that somehow, now or in the future, I might, by God’s will, succeed in coming to visit you. For I long to see you, so that I might share with you some spiritual gift that can make you stronger — or, to put it another way, so that by my being with you, we might, through the faith we share, encourage one another.
In verse 11, Paul simply says sharing our spiritual gifts make us stronger. In verse 12, Paul says his presence, that is being together and being of the same faith, encourages us.
We share our faith. We share our gifts with each other. We are strengthened. We are encouraged.
When I shared this message in our school chapel, I asked the littles on the first few rows how we encourage one another. One girl said she could offer a compliment, like how she liked my hair. A second grader said we could play together. I then asked how we can encourage someone who is sick or sad. One student said we could wait and then ask them to play when they feel better! It seems that play time is important, or I would add time together is.
In Romans 2, Paul speaks of a circumcised heart. It’s a heart that is actively listening to God, soft and responsive, not hard like Pharoah’s. It’s set apart for God, dedicated wholly to Him. It longs for what He longs for, and it is why I think we are able to encourage one another and respond to one another as He would.
Growing up, I would describe my older sister and myself as bookworms. In the summer, I brought home twenty books a week! Or at least, I think it was twenty. Once I was able to read chapter books, we could share and compare books. We both brought home stacks from our school libraries. Bobsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Narnia, Hardy Boys. I even binged my way through every Louis L’Amour in my junior high school library.
One afternoon I brought home a new Hardy Boys and left it on my bedroom desk for after chores and dinner. But when I returned to grab it, it was gone! I was positive I had left it on the school bus until . . . my sister emerged from her room with it. I reacted immediately in anger, with a flare of injustice I’m sure, and we promptly began a tug of war. In Hebrew react means to answer by hitting back or striking with words. I know I chose sin in that moment, and I am sure I sinned more than once with my mouth and my actions before our mom intervened. My heart was not responsive to God but quite hard.
In Hebrew, the word respond is hinneni or hinnen meaning “here I am.” It shows a yielded heart.
Consider young Samuel as a boy serving Eli the priest in the temple. In I Samuel 3:3-4, The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” Samuel did not act in fear or react in emotion.
In Exodus 3, Moses saw the burning bush. I’m sure he was stunned in the moment and possibly fearful. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
And after all the consequences Isaiah declared to Israel, he may have been weary and could easily have been embittered, yet he responded in Isaiah 6:8, And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Yes, response is a choice, and yes, we won't always choose well. But I do want to choose what God would choose for me because I trust Him. I trust His love for me. I choose to respond instead of react to people and things because I want to keep a soft heart, one that listens to Him every part of every day.