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Short-Order Poetry, Great Works and DIY Poems

Athens poet laureate Jeff Fallis.

“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words,” said Edgar Allan Poe. April was National Poetry Month, but poetry is inspiring every month and day of the year. Whether describing the beauty of nature, the horrors of war or the light-hearted humor of our daily lives, poets can evoke universal emotions and stir memories from readers across a span of centuries.

When I was in high school, we were required to memorize poems and recite them in the classroom. It was not an easy assignment, but it paid off by showing the present relevance of  past writings, and by giving us an appreciation for the flow and structure of well-written words. To this day, I still enjoy poetry, and I still can recite many of the verses I learned in the classroom back when this nation and I were both much younger.

Poetry could even be found in some newspapers back in the 1950s and early ‘60s. For many years Atlanta’s morning paper, The Atlanta Constitution, ran poetry by Ollie Reeves, a former poet laureate of Georgia and Atlanta. His easy-going poetry was collected in a volume aptly titled It’s Nothing Serious.

A book that was a major influence on me is a slim little volume called One Hundred and One Famous Poems. The book was a fixture in American homes of the postwar 1950s, and it is still one of the best short anthologies of poetry. Along with the poems, the book included images of the poets and a supplement of such “poetic prose” as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In the classroom when I was a student, Laurence Perrine’s book Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry was a textbook that should be read by students and parents today as the shadow of book-banning falls across the American body politic.

Poet Walt Whitman was correct when he said, “To have great poetry there must be great audiences, too.” In this time of strife, disunity and uncertainty, poets and their audiences are needed now more than ever in America. 

Here in Athens, writer and educator Jeff Fallis serves as our city’s first official poet laureate. He promotes poetry and poets in the Athens area, and can be heard reading his own works on his Dial-a-Poem service at 762-400-POEM.

Readers who were in Athens in the 1970s may remember Ed Weeks, who called himself the unofficial poet laureate of Athens. Weeks was a self-styled “barroom poet” who published a booklet called Loving Time that included verses that were tender, touching or whimsical, such as his line about saving a turtle crossing a road before “some car might come hurtling and swiftly end your days of turtling.” Weeks was a true Athens town character whose pub poetry evoked a line from British poet A.E. Housman: “Malt does more than Milton can/ to justify God’s ways to man.”

When it comes to poetry, I’m not one of the pros, but I do appreciate the lessons poetry teaches about putting experiences into compact form with few words. In March I wrote “Moon and Venus shining bright/ as I walked back home tonight./ Crickets chirping, tree frogs, too./ Happy spring to all of you.” After hearing an owl recently, I took a cue from comic poet Ogden Nash and wrote “When hoot owls fly in darkest night/ they always try to travel light./ When buzzards fly in early dawn/ their baggage is just carrion.”

Noise pollution is a problem in Athens, which I mentioned with this poem: “Silence is golden/ so they say/ but Earth gets louder every day./ Loud leaf blowers, booming bass,/ noise pollution grows apace./ Motorcycle’s awful roar/ as noise annoys forevermore.” 

When Donald Trump was indicted in New York recently, I marked the occasion with the lines, “April is the cruelest month said T.S. Eliot’s verse,/ but Donald Trump has just found out that April could get worse.”

It’s just short-order poetry. You can do it, too. Just write down what’s happening with folks like me and you. Write down all the good times and people that you meet—the verses of our daily lives, the poetry of the street.