Day 6 of National Poetry Month: The Velvet Hand by Phyllis McGinley

A while back I wrote the ode below about pint-sized con artists persuaders and the folly of attempting to remain resolute against their well-intoned whines:

The Art of Persuasion

You can flatter me with niceties
Until my ears turn numb;
You can threaten me with misery
And yet I won’t succumb.

You can tie me up and tickle me
From end to giggling end;
Deprive me of all chocolate,
And still I will not bend.

For if you really want something,
And I answer firmly, “No.”
Well then, my dear, you heard it here:
A whine’s the way to go.

Now, whimpering won’t do it,
Nor a mere plaintive cry,
You must surround me with a sound
That reaches to the sky.

The higher-pitched, the better;
Yes, make it long and LOUD—
And I must say, you’ll get your way
If you can draw a crowd.

(Oh, I know I shouldn’t give in,
The experts make that clear;
But could they ignore this child of four
Whose pleas assault my ear?)

Indeed, my sweet, Lord only knows
What riches you’ll attain,
Depending on how lengthy
Of a yell you can sustain.

I won’t resist if you’ll desist
From that sound that you are making:
Candy? Cookies? DVDs?
They’re all yours for the taking.

–Carlotta Eike Stankiewicz

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Just last week, I learned that I wasn’t the first parent to commit such thoughts on that subject to rhyme. I found the poem below in a collection of comic verse that I snagged for a song at my neighborhood Goodwill:

The Velvet Hand

I call that parent rash and wild
Who’d reason with a six-year child,
Believing little twigs are bent
By calm, considered argument.

In bandying words with progeny,
There’s no percentage I can see,
And people who, imprudent, do so,
Will wonder how their troubles grew so.

Now underneath this tranquil roof
Where sounder theories have their proof,
Our life is sweet, our infants happy.
In quietude dwell Mammy and Pappy.

We’ve sworn a stern, parental vow
That argument we won’t allow.
Brooking no juvenile excess here,
We say a simply No or Yes, here,

And then, when childish wails begin
We don’t debate.
We just give in.

–Phyllis McGinley

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I was intrigued to find that another mother had chosen domestic travails as her subject matter – albeit 60 years ahead of me. Further research revealed that Ms. McGinley, like me, found her life as a suburban mother a fertile source of material for her poems. But the uncanny similarity doesn’t end there, for it turns out that My New Favorite Poet and I have even more in common. To wit:

  • She was an advertising copywriter (I’m an advertising copywriter!)
  • She was a poet from the age of six (I’ve been a poet since age six!)
  • She was the mother of two daughters (I have two daughters!)
  • She was a children’s book author (I’m an aspiring children’s book author!)
  • She was featured on the cover of Time magazine (………………..!)

Okay, no cover of Time for me….yet. Nor have I won the Pulitzer Prize, which Ms. McGinley did in 1961, for her poetry anthology Times Three: Selected Versed from Three Decades. Winning the Pulitzer is incredible in its own right, but what makes her achievement even more striking is that she won it for a collection of light verse.

How wonderful for this particular art form, often dismissed like some red-headed stepchild of the upstanding Poetry family, to be recognized in such a manner. I also appreciate Ms. McGinley’s take on what an appreciation of light verse might inspire. In her interview from the Time magazine pictured above, Ms. McGinley noted, “At a time when poetry has become the property of the universities and not the common people, I have a vast number of people who have become my readers. I have kept the door open and perhaps led them to greater poetry.”

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I, Volunteer

Zombie mom.

As a parent, I’m about midway through my daughters’ school years. Which means I’ve seen their elementary school holiday program eight times, I’ve been to approximately 16 open houses, I’ve attended more than a dozen parent-teacher conferences, and I’ve reviewed close to 30 report cards.

And I’ve volunteered.

A lot.

I truly enjoy it, and for the most part it’s been immensely fun and rewarding. I’ve given a presentation on advertising to an audience of rapt fourth graders. I’ve painted henna designs on the hands of ticklish third graders. And I’ve manned many a concession booth at countless carnivals.

But I’ll admit that I’m getting tired. And I’m happy to see light at the end of the tunnel, as kids get older and more independent and parent involvement in school activities lessens.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think there’s as much call for parent volunteers in middle school, right?

And probably not in high school, right?

And most definitely not in college….right?

Right?

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I, Volunteer

When the Kindergarten teacher
Needed help with story time,
I quickly said I’d come and read
A tale told in rhyme.

When the first grade needed cupcakes
For their Valentine’s Day fete,
I baked six dozen toothsome treats
No dentist could forget.

The second graders needed drinks
To serve on Field Day;
So out I brought five coolers full
To wash their thirst away.

The time the third grade farm trip
Was short a chaperone,
I spent the day ‘midst sheep and goats
and smelled like it, once home.

The fourth grade had a haunted house
And sought some spooks to scare,
So guess who dressed in tattered rags
And worked her zombie stare?

And when the fifth grade studied
Ancient Aztec lands and lore,
A giant painted pyramid
Obscured my kitchen floor.

For sixth grade, when the silent auction
Needed slews of signs,
Of course the hand that flew
To offer services was mine.

At times I’ve reconsidered
When reaching for the pen;
I’ve done my share, it’s only fair
To take a break – but then…

My youngest still has grades to go;
And so for seven years —
Who’ll sign the sheets to bring in treats?
Of course: I volunteer.

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©2011 Carlotta Eike Stankiewicz


Days 2 & 3 of National Poetry Month: Litany by Billy Collins

As you may or may not know, it’s National Poetry Month. And for those of you who may consider poetry an inaccessible or overly “intellectual” pursuit, please reconsider.

After all, there’s poetry everywhere in our lives – from the songs we enjoy on the radio to the Dr. Seuss books we read to our kids to the dialogue we hear spoken on tv and in movies.

Because I so fervently believe in the power of poetry, throughout April I’m going to attempt to post a poem every day – some of them mine, and some from other sources.

I’m always on the prowl for new sources of poetry, and a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a site that collects poems illustrated via video/film/animation. I discovered this charming video of a three-year-old reciting “Litany” by Billy Collins – 2001 Poet Laureate of the United States.

I was amazed that a three-year-old could recite this lovely poem from memory, and even more appreciative of the fact that his mom had encouraged him and helped him to achieve this feat. Obviously, poetry figures prominently in that family’s life, as the boy’s mother notes that her son loves this literary form and welcomes suggestions of other pieces for him to memorize. While he may not understand the meaning of all the words at this young age, he’ll be developing an appreciation for the sound and the rhythm and the feel of the language. And if a three-year-old can do that, I have no doubt that anyone can.

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Addendum 4.4.11: For those of you who might be interested in some interpretations of the poem, read the comments section of this blog post from another poetry site. I found the insights very compelling.