Dear Miss Snark,
It's so funny that you brought up Emily Dickinson. My sister emailed me Friday morning, commenting that on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" show, they had claimed that ALL of Dickinson's poems could be sung to the tune of "Yellow Rose of Texas."
A little bit indignant, I immediately countered with, "Nuh uh, you can't sing 'I'm Nobody' to that tune; it doesn't fit."
My sister called me and felt that I was taking it a little too seriously (and personally), and I replied, "I'm sorry. But don't you be messin' with Emily Dickinson. I'm just sayin'. Is all."
Pick on Robert Browning all you want (if you can), rant about Al Purdy and Bukowski and all the Beat poets, spend weeks trying to shred anything that e e cummings didn't punctuate, but leave the Belle of Amherst alone.
Some things are best left unsullied, dagnabbit. ;)
A few years ago, when a certain quiz show was popular on TV, she called me to ask me if I knew the answer to a poetry question, and not only did I know the answer, I could quote the poem. That was the first time I realized my own sister -- a certified genius -- didn't have a clue who Sylvia Plath was or why her work was so important to so many people. Dear sister just hasn't been exposed to this stuff (she was a math major).
*Most* people haven't been exposed to this stuff. When my high school class was organizing its 20th reunion, a Yahoogroup was bursting with clever emails and posts. They started trying to outwit each other with clever haiku. But that seemed to be the only poetic form they knew. I introduced them to acrostics, limericks, and sonnets. Sonnets, for crying out loud. (OK, a couple of my old classmates were masters of hilarious blank verse, but they were not the norm.)
A few weeks ago, I went to a convenience store in a neighboring town (because my rural town has no 24-hour emporium of any kind), and the clerk at the counter asked me to help her with an essay that she was writing for her GED classes. English is her second language. Her biggest problem in the essay was vocabulary -- she hadn't been acquainted with the word "attain," for example, although she knew the words "obtain" and "contain." I asked her if she had a thesaurus, the single most useful tool in a writer's arsenal, and she said no, so I dug up a spare dog-eared Roget's for her. Then I asked her if, in her GED classes, she was reading ANY poetry. The answer again was no.
All I can think is, how can anyone expect to know and adequately manipulate a language if they are never, ever exposed to the best examples of it?
I took her a dog-eared copy of Norton's Anthology of Poetry. I had to go to a used book store for that, because you couldn't pry my college-days copy from my cold, dead fingers.
I guess what I'm saying -- nearly incoherently -- is that I love the poetry you've posted lately. I love that you advised the Snarkling to read Lord Byron and Emily Dickinson. I would probably just tell him/her to get a Norton's Anthology for a good dose of Blake and Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, too, but you really can't go wrong with Lord Byron and Emily Dickinson. You are one smart & tasteful Miss Snark.
But of course, you must surely already know that.
(Well, I know Grandmother Snark loves me but I still like to hear her say it; thank you!)