Why is the Laughing Rainbow Blue? Conducting a New Poetry Workshop

Our Director, Rachel Ramirez, thought that my Poetry Appreciation and Writing Workshop was the first one held on that subject at Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia (www.LLIChesterfield.org). Nine students were registered for the class and seven showed up;  it was held during the first full week of classes after a severe snowstorm closed our school.  I handed out a brief overview of the class and mentioned that we will learn to recognize to appreciate and create various types of poetic forms ranging from classical to modern. We would also discuss poetic tools that are used in poetry, such as connotation and denotation, imagery, allusion, tone, rhythm, and points of view.  I would be using several books as guides to help me teach this workshop, including The Poetry Readers Toolkit by March Polonsky and Poemcrazy by Susan Wooldridge. Toolkit  is a craft-methods book, whereas Poemcrazy is a cookbook of ideas to prompt and inspire poetry writing.  I have set the class for the benefit of beginners as much as experienced poetry readers and writers. I will try to make it as encouraging as I can for the inexperienced poet. I mentioned to Nancy, who was a little hesitant about endeavoring to write poetry, that I hadn’t written much poetry. I told her that I had completed some graduate level courses in my recent Master’s Degree program at VCU, that I am currently editing a book of poetry, and that I am a great appreciator of poetry.  After she heard that I am  a novice writer, like her, she gained more confidence that she could participate in the class. She also seemed assured that I was knowledgeable enough about the subject to facilitate the class. I showed the participants my LitChatte.com blog and asked them if there were any objections to my posting summaries of their discussions or poems on my Blog. As no one offered any objections, I proceeded to discuss poetry.

Reading or writing poetry is different from processing or forming prose or scholarly writing. Whereas formal writing tends to constrict and narrowly define word meaning, poetry strives to expand ways of expressing words, images, and feelings.. Polonsky defines poetry as “the words best-chosen to inspire imagination” (2).  People do not read poetry like they used to, as they are busy, and don’t have the patience to try to detect meanings from poems. Many people think that only experts can understand poems. However, a poem cannot be decoded like a cryptogram.  “Authorities” are quick to point out that most poems are not written to be totally understood.  Instead, readers may ask, after reading a poem several times, how and if the poem speaks to them. After a thorough consideration of a poem, the conscientious reader may be left with as many questions as well as insights.  Even the most diligent reader will not like all poems; however some will stay with us forever. Class participants said how they learned poetry in high-school or college; the Norton reader was used by several students. They mentioned the poetry of Coleridge, Robert Frost, and Mary Oliver as being among their favorites. I noted that I loved the poems of Emily Dickinson and wrote about her in a previous posting. Pat read the third verse of “To Autumn” by John Keats. She said that the nostalgic way that Keats wrote about how the seasons changed into autumn is very powerful to her. Charlie read the “Sycamore Tree” by Wendell Berry. Charlie said the poem is meaningful to him because it speaks about the “wondrous” healing qualities of the tree, which reminds him of the regenerating power of his brother to overcome obstacles. Another participant said that she was reminded of the importance of the sycamore tree in the Bible. Zacchaeus, in the Gospel of Luke, climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus.  Jesus asked him to come down from the tree, even though Zacchaeus was a tax collector and not trusted in his community. However, Jesus honored him by dining at his home. This story, like the Berry poem, was used as an illustration of the power of faith. See illustration of the poem below:

 

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Four workshop participants read from poems they had recently written. Nancy read from “Words,” which made clever use of alliteration and repetition. Nan read “Smile,” which was about her observations of her three-year-old granddaughter posing for a photograph. Lydia read a poem of remembrance about a beloved friend who had recently departed from this life. She said that her elegy is so new that  she had not showed it to anyone yet. Bob read from his poem about last week’s powerful “Winter Storm.  That storm had finally been “vanquished by the steaming sun.” I pointed out that these lines illustrated the poetic technique of personification, where words or images assumed human qualities.

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I proceeded to discuss the poem, “Over the Rainy Day Mountain” by Patty L. Largo, as found in the Polonsky book:

Over the rainy day mountain

Past the laughing blue rainbow

Gliding in the cloudless ivory sky

The young Happiness Bird

In the freedom of quiet solitude or

With a loved-one friend

Always follow the beauty road

Gliding in the cloudless ivory sky

Past the laughing rainbow

Over the rainy mountain

Forever in happiness

Forever in happiness

Always

This poem spoke to our poetic listeners in different ways. We began our most important work: sharing our interpretations with each other. Lydia thought that the bird needed to go beyond the present physical world, and into the spiritual realm, in order  to reach happiness. Others thought the poem was about the need for struggle before we can obtain peace.  Pat noted that the poem was written in two parts: The first describes the young Happiness bird, whereas the second part gives advice to a friend, i.e., “Always follow the beauty road.” Several wondered what the “beauty road” meant. Charlie questioned whether lasting beauty was ever obtainable. We decided that there was no true meaning to a poem since each person experienced it in a different way. On the surface, this poem is about how a young bird finds Happiness. As in many poems, what is on the surface only gives the connotative meaning of the  deeper symbolic meaning. Everyone agreed that the bird is a metaphor pointing toward another idea the poet is trying to express. Readers may not take away the same meaning from a poem as the poet intended. Once she/he writes the poem, it belongs to eternity. It may even have different meanings in different time periods. This poem leaves us with several unanswered questions to dwell on. We can open up and let our imagination run wild. What is a laughing blue rainbow? Why is the rainbow blue? Can that line be a paradox? Can a rainbow both be laughing and blue? How so? Why is the ivory sky cloudless? Is ivory the color or texture of the sky? Why does the bird need to take a journey past the rainbow and over the rainy mountain to meet Happiness? Why does the bird’s journey begin and end in the same place? What is the significance of the word “Always?” Isn’t it a word that mortal humans can’t comprehend? Then, who is the young bird and how does she know the route to Happiness – the goal of life?

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Since Today is Groundhog Day in the United States, I offered participants some prompts on writing poetry about the saw-toothed creäture. I also suggested that they write their lines down in a journal and bring them to class next Tuesday. I noted that they also had the opportunity of writing about ideas they kept in their journals, or on any other subject that they  choose. The class was scheduled to end after ninety minutes but ran to almost two hours. I promised that it would end earlier next time and that we would spend more time reading their poems next week – the ones that they liked of published poets and the ones that they will write.

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Please feel free to share any comments via this Blog  or to Murray at bluemeur@verizon.net

 

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