One day my son up and told me, “Hey, Dad, I know a good job for you.”
“Yeah?” I said. “What’s that?”
He said, “A writer. You know, like a real one.”
I didn’t mind. He was ten years old, and I knew what he meant. He meant a novelist, someone he’d heard of, someone like Rick Riordan, with minotaurs and lightning thieves and some real money earned from his work.
Poets—at least most of us—don’t get paid, and not because we’re purists about it. We wouldn’t say no to dollars, pesos, euros… even drachmas if those are still spendable. Try it; offer a poet some money sometime, and then clock how many tenths of a second it takes to hear “Yes” and “Wow” and “Thanks” and “You’re amazing.” Probably one.
I started thinking about this back in January, during the Australian Open—I like Federer—because they kept running this Visit Melbourne TV commercial: a montage of iconic scenery along with a recitation of some ballad stanzas by E.J. Brady. It made me think 1) From now on, every commercial has to be like this; make TV stop it with its Dave-and-Buster’s-type screaming, and 2) Melbourne’s got to be raking it in off this ad.
The secret to what makes it good isn’t secret; it’s just rhyme. How do I know this? Because sometimes people ask me, “Why don’t you use rhyme?” My answer isn’t defensive, but I tell them that I use it a lot. And not just in sonnets, in free verse too. Take one of my poems from December, for instance—it rhymes, though maybe it would help if I slowed down and highlighted where:
“What Are Your Skills?”
Every year at Sea School we were taught that glacierspurr
and ice floes, huge below the surface, were sunning cats.
Call ours a failed education. If it makes you feel better,
call our hymns under night skies cracked.
But for thirteen years we sailed on bluer water.
And all of us know well how to arch our backs.
Or take this short poem, for instance, so short that the rhymes can’t hide, and yet they almost do. How come? Because internal rhymes are like those color-changing lizards. And even end rhymes can hang around naked and go unseen if there isn’t a metrical pattern there, nudging us to look.
“TellUsYour Favorite Time of Year”
Not April with all that dynamite sugar.
Not Augusteither— too siesta.
I’lltake the flung javelin of fall, please.
Lock up the rake shed. Just watch it arc.
“But what if we like our rhymes naked sometimes? What if, now and then, we want a poem that sounds like we expect it to?”
I say, “I agree.” Kids aren’t the only ones who respond to rhyme and meter. I’m evidence of that myself. After hearing it a half a dozen times, I looked up Brady’s “Far and Wide,” the poem they’d taken those stanzas from. It’s in his book called Bells and Hobbles (1911). It’s got 12 more stanzas than the two in the commercial. And I was right about poets and money; even Brady made his living from something other than his writing—first as a clerk, and then as a journalist. Anyway, I doubt this will get me any airtime in Melbourne, but here goes:
What would you do with a mini canoe? And where would you keep it when you were through?
Would you shrink yourself down and find a big puddle and paddle around way out in the middle?
Would you shrink yourself small to the size of a bee and go to the tide pools at the edge of the sea
where the starfish and crabs will look larger than you? What would you do with a mini canoe?
You could float in your alphabet soup, and each letter would be so much bigger and taste so much better,
or float in the bath tub—as wide as the ocean— and paddle real fast, or row in slow-motion.
These are just some of the things you can do when you’re mini enough for a mini canoe.
But where would you keep it when you were through
and changed back again to your own normal size with your regular feet, hands, mouth, nose, and eyes?
Maybe you’d put it away in your pocket, or into a drawer with a keyhole and lock it,
or up by your toothbrush next to the sink, in the dish on the floor where the cat gets a drink,
or under your pillow so all night you’ll dream of the oceans you’ve been to, and the puddles, and streams.
A mini canoe can fit anywhere. There’s plenty of room up here, or down there.
But be sure to remember the place that you choose… because it’s no fun to look for lost mini canoes.
Rob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.