In their own words
By Hugh Fisher
For the Kannapolis Citizen
In my other life, I am an English teacher. I’ve worked at two area colleges since finishing my studies at North Carolina State University, mostly in composition classes ó teaching people how to write good essays.
But I have also taught literature courses, and those are my favorites. It’s something else to watch people reading poetry and stories and seeing how those works affect their emotions and (in some cases) brighten their lives.
This is especially true with poems. You who are reading this may hiss at Shakespeare, not care a darn for Dickens or give a hoot for Hemingway, but I’m sure there is at least one poem that you call a favorite.
It might be a simple childhood rhyme. It might be a Psalm from the Bible. But every man and woman (and most children) have poems they call their own.
Poems can mark the highest and lowest points in our lives. Most of our favorite songs work reasonably well without the music, as verses on a page.
That classic Dr. Seuss book “Oh the places you’ll go!” is essentially a long poem that fits the occasions of graduation and promotion perfectly.
Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” ó which is far too long to even quote here, but which is well worth reading ó helped me through high school. It’s about the qualities a person needs to succeed in life, especially if he’s the sort of brainiac who reads poetry in high school and doesn’t try to hide it from the jocks and skaters.
Moreso even than French, and regardless of the tongue in which they’re written, poems are the true language of love.
When I didn’t know what to get two friends of mine for their wedding last winter, I picked up a small, hardbound book of love poems.
It was the best gift I could have given. The bride nearly cried, and ó there in the reception hall ó she opened the little book and read her smiling groom a classic poem.
Anne Bradstreet’s words in the opening lines of “To My Dear and Loving Husband” put her feelings into just the right words:
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
Poems can sum up the experiences of a life and pay tribute to people we’ve lost. My great uncle, after finishing school, enlisted in what was then known as the Army Air Corps.
On Dec. 7, 1941, he was working at Hickam Field near the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor when Japanese planes roared overhead on the attack.
It’s hard to take the movie versions of the Pearl Harbor attack seriously when you’ve heard one describe it who witnessed it with his own eyes. My great uncle was fortunate to survive. He went on to serve for years afterward, working on the bombers that played a decisive role in many battles to come.
When he passed away three years ago, I read a poem at his funeral. It’s a poem beloved of many fliers, and you might have heard it yourself ó “High Flight,” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, ó and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of ó wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Poems like these sum up who we are. And what always amazed me, in those English classes I taught, were the number of students who told me they had written poetry themselves.
They said it secretively, as if admitting to dumping their garbage in someone else’s cans. I always asked politely if they would bring their poems to class. Only one or two ever did; the other smiled shyly and left it at that.
I know from experience that many of you reading this ó and many of the people you have known ó have tried to write a poem or two of your own.
Why not let your friends and neighbors see the work you’ve done? I propose that some space be dedicated, every month or so, to presenting some of the best poems that people in Kannapolis have produced.
If you have written something from your heart, and you think it might touch someone else, send it to the address in the gray box above.
We’ll share the best ones with you, and perhaps find a poet in Kannapolis whose words can help carry this city into its second century.