Franke: A Love of Poetry (Provided It Rhymes)

February 16, 2022

by Mark Franke

One enjoyment I get out of life is to engage someone in a conversation over a topic I know absolutely nothing about. If my interlocutor can make his point in grammatically correct and non-exclamatory sentences, I will listen and question him up to and past the point my wife gets embarrassed.

A case in point. My wife is from Terre Haute and most of her family still resides there. It wouldn’t be accurate to describe her as an outcast but her family tends to look askance at me for inducing her to relocate permanently to Fort Wayne when we got married. Maybe sojourner best describes her status in the family.

Even though we live 200 miles away, we have always made a special point of attending as many family gatherings as we can. This was most important when our son and daughter were young. They had more than a few cousins of similar age and it was important to give them time with these cousins.

This past Christmas the family gathered as usual. For some reason I can no longer remember, one of my wife’s nephews and I had an extended discussion about poetry. He follows a poetry genre which was new to me. He called it “angst” or “emo” poetry.

I admit that I am not an aficionado of poetry but, to be fair, neither am I reduced to playground limericks. I actually have read and admit to enjoying Victorian and Romantic poetry. “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold” and “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” are lines from two of my best-loved poems.

My favorite poets tend to be British. In addition to Shelley and Keats, I enjoy reading Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Rudyard Kipling. Scott’s “Unwept, unhonored, and unsung” must be one the best ending lines of any poem. Then there is Burns’ admonition to “see ourselves as others see us.” Kipling’s are so enjoyable for their simple verse structure and for saying so much in so few words. And he gets a bonus in my book because he is a poet who irritates the woke cultural barbarians.

One grade school memory I have is when the Library of Congress appointed Robert Frost as poet laureate. That made his work required reading by my teacher. I won’t say that I loved reading him at the time but his words stuck and I remember many of them to this day.

“Good fences make good neighbors” must be a New England thing. We don’t have fences in my northeast Indiana neighborhood and we freely walk across backyards to get from one house to the other. But then Hoosiers and New Englanders are different in many ways.

Of course the Psalms were required for recitation at my Lutheran grade school but I never quite understood them as poetry. You couldn’t use any oral cadence when you recited them and, most objectionable of all, they didn’t rhyme. Every other poem I memorized back then rhymed. Isn’t that what poems are supposed to do?

The Psalms were meant to be sung, which brings me back to my wife’s nephew and his preferences. He certainly educated me. Emo (emotional) or angst poetry is non-conformist with a heavy dose of anger. He told me it is generally not political like the protest poetry of the hippie era. Rather, it focuses on our culture and the real and perceived problems with it.

It is written mostly as song lyrics, or I should say used to be written as song lyrics. It has died out, according to this 40-something nephew, because it is too generational. In other words it does not appeal to Millennials. He doesn’t think too highly of what passes today for emo poetry, but that is the way of all flesh as we age. Kids, today!

It is quotable, though. “I would rather drink hemlock than be like you.” That’s anger all right, but not a quote I intend to use anytime soon.

I’ll stick with Robert Frost and the nineteenth century poets I read in high school. “But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep” sits better in my soul.

Why do I recall so much of Frost’s poetry 60 years after memorizing it? The answer is quite simple. I like poetry which speaks to the better part of our nature or teaches a lesson in easily remembered phrases. And it rhymes.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

A good piece of advice for living a life of curiosity and intellectual fulfillment. But another poet from my childhood, Yogi Berra, said it better. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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