Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Poetry

Sometimes the best gifts are those that come from the heart. Or the kitchen. Homemade gifts take little money and a little time. Bake cookies. Make a clay pot. Frame a picture. Write a poem. If you don't have a knack for poetry (few people do, you know), perhaps you could give the recipient the tools to write his or her own poetry.

We've had a Magnetic Poetry kit for more than 13 years. When we occasionally scrape the tiny words off the refrigerator and put them in their tiny case, it's only to hide the distraction that consumes little people, makes their eyes cross, their days fly by.

More than once, we've stood looking at a group of tiny Howard Hughes-look-alikes. They're unkempt, greasy, in need of a good meal and a manicure. They don't know what grade they're in, or what year it is. We have to reintroduce them into society, holding their hands and guiding them to the front steps. "These are TREES. And that right there? That is the SUNSHINE." Then we guide them back into the kitchen and calmly put the Magnetic Poetry in the drawer. They nod quietly, without protest. They know we have to do what's best for them. And it's not always easy.

This cycle of removing Magnetic Poetry is not entirely their fault. Magnetic Poetry is like a legal addictive drug. You stand at the kitchen counter while, say, making spaghetti. You shuffle tiny magnetic tiles around and around for what SEEMS like only a few minutes, then someone walks into the room and asks, "What's burning?" Then you sputter a few expletives and try to undo the damage. While you're doing that, someone has assumed your place at the counter and is scrambling and unscrambling your hard work and before you know it, you're both yelling at each other and screaming, "Where is 'shadow'?! I had 'shadow' RIGHT HERE!"

And the next thing you know, you're standing in a room in the back of a community center wearing a name badge and drinking strong coffee. "Hi, my name is Joe. And I play Magnetic Poetry."

"Hi, Joe," the room says in unison. And they all wave a weak wave before launching into a 60-minute session designed to rescue you from the throes of Magnetic Poetry addiction.

In Magnetic Poetry, which is part game, part hobby, part full-tilt OBSESSION, everything is in small caps, as if the spirit of e.e. cummings descended upon your house and threw all grammatical and editing rules right out the window. But the absence of capital letters lets the creative juices flow more readily and removes nagging questions, like "Shouldn't 'fall' be capitalized?" No, "fall" should never be capitalized, unless it's part of a title or a headline, but that doesn't stop people from violating that word and the other three seasons all the time. So, thank you, makers of Magnetic Poetry, for leveling and simplifying the playing field.

But as I'm looking at my own refrigerator, I see that "TV" merits capital letters. And it doesn't look especially odd, since it's an abbreviation of sorts. But I digress. Every couple of days, I take a moment (or two hours) to examine the side of the refrigerator to see if any additions have been created. Some phrases are combined with others, which can be good, but it's usually distracting and infringes on somebody else's creativity, and we really should be more respectful of other people's work, don't you think? But most often, I find a sweet little phrase, usually near the bottom, where the shorter people work.

Some excerpts from today's refrigerator:

mother needed smooth fluff

fiddle is easy like you

sad language is mostly staring at a TV

my weak friend felt like elaborating

together shine through singing like a dream (This one is my personal favorite.)

stop the symphony music

white winter storm

cool spring water

hot summer sun

frantic fall leaves (With a little rearrangement, we may have a seasonal haiku on our hands. Good work, guys!)

essential apparatus of a diamond

iron sweetly

read the tiny picture without some rocky egg

why ask about our lazy goddess butts (This one is mine. I know; great, right?)

cry to live (Not pointing any fingers, but this, at times, seems to be a mantra around here.)

please avoid their bitter chant (I should cross-stitch this on a sampler and hang it in our home. It would go a long way toward peace negotiations at the dinner table.)

some sordid man is whispering deliriously from behind the gorgeous woman (Now, I don't know about you, but I believe this one has the makings of a made-for-TV drama. Perhaps on Lifetime. Nobody, however, will admit to assembling this poem. But I have my suspicions.)

And then, the more concerning entries:

red lake lust

manipulate one mad drunk

smearing blood

incubate true scream beneath

must heave on an enormous leg

We're not here to incite violence, or to tear appendages. Maybe we've just run out of good words and have only prepositions, linking verbs and conjunctions left in the box. Spare parts, you could say. So, an intervention may be called for. Maybe some counseling. Or maybe just a short hiatus from Magnetic Poetry. You know, for my, I mean their, own good.