The Reluctant Poetry Reader


I told you yesterday about being a freshman and going to see Mr. May, the high school speech coach, to ask about joining the speech team.  I felt I had much to offer as a humorous speaker, because I was just (self-analysis here) a very funny kid.  But then I was blindsided by Mr. May’s smooth-talking ways and before I knew it, I was walking out of his room as a member of the speech team all right . . . but as a poetry reader!

I do have to say, that Mr. May may have “tricked” Karen and me  into being his Poetry Reading team, but he didn’t just abandon us after that.  He sat down with us and talked to us about a plan for what poems we would use.

In Karen’s case, he took one look at her big, innocent eyes, little girl voice and sweet demeanor and suggested that she recite A A Milne’s children’s poem, Vespers.   (Milne created Winnie-the-Pooh.)

But when it came to me, despite my assertion that all of my bones were funny bones, to him, I apparently looked serious (maybe depressed or, worse yet, depressing!) because he came up with a plan for me to recite poems that talked about alienation.  It’s hard to think of a subject he could have picked that could have been any further from funny than that.  So, the poems I recited were deep, solemn poems like Robert Frost’s An Old Man’s Winter Night, which ends: 

The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man — one man — can’t keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It’s thus he does it of a winter night.

I can’t remember enough about two other poems I recited to look them up, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they were about people being alone or alienated from other people too.

And then he had me end my recitation on a “happier” note of reconciliation with a poem by Edwin Marcum:


He drew a circle that shut me out . . .

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout

Ahh, but love and I had the wit to win . . .

We drew a circle that took him in.  

Okay, there you have it.  Karen and I go in and asked to be funny.  We are diverted by a devious old guy down a path we had never anticipated — poetry reading!  And  then he gives Karen a sweet poem about a little kid’s bedtime to recite, but he gives me dark, brooding poems.  Karen was okay with all this.  Me, not so much.

But you know, something “funny” did happen.  Somewhere along the way, after I’d practiced those poems for a while, and really “got’ their meaning, I was okay with the poems he had picked for me.  They kind of spoke to me.  Huh, almost sounds like he knew me better than I did.  I hate it when that happens.

I learned alot from competing in speech meets in Poetry Reading, some of it about myself.  One thing I learned was that I actually like poetry!    Go figure.

Thank you, Mr. May.

5 Responses to The Reluctant Poetry Reader

  1. Hilary says:

    Somewhere, somehow, Mr. May is beaming. Lovely story, Sandra. You’re such a treat! 🙂

  2. Beth says:

    I tend to be too impatient to spend time analyzing poetry. But when I’ve been in classes where it’s been required…it’s really been rewarding.

  3. Sandra says:

    Hilary — I’m glad you enjoyed it. I worked on this post off and on today and it just went on and ON and never gave me a spot for a conclusion. So, I finally cut out all the stuff specific to the speech tourney’s, because it was just toooo much. So, then I had to change the title and the emphasis. But, I was kind of pleased (and surprised!)when an actual point to the story showed itself at the end. You know, this blog writing stuff is harder than it looks! 🙂

    Beth — I have to say that this experience gave me a “like” for poetry. Not that I read it every day, but I do feel I can appreciate most poetry, and sometimes even enjoy it.

  4. Linda says:

    I’ve never really been a poetry buff; but, several years ago, I discovered “Evangeline,” by Longfellow. It was in a very old book (over a hundred years old) that had been on my bookshelf for years, handed down from my mother, I think. There’s an inscription on the flyleaf, dated 1903, from someone whose name I don’t recognize. Anyway, the poem is actually a beautiful love story. I highly recommend it as a good starting point for anyone who wants to delve into a little poetry.

    Now, if you would just take a Hallmark card to Mr. May, telling him how he changed your life by steering you into poetry reading, you just might find yourself in a commercial airing during a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie.

  5. Sandra says:

    Linda — Ha! Now that you mention it, that guy DID remind me of Mr. May a little bit! Unfortunately, Mr. May and his wife moved to Texas about 10 years ago to be closer to their two sons and their families, so I’ve lost touch with him.

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