I was lucky. I was told early on that I held the promise of writing greatness by Miss McKay, my third-grade teacher at Coffeen School in Sheridan, Wyoming. Or at least I thought that was what she was implying that day when she handed back “The Mountain Bluebird,” my first poem ever, her sparkling sapphire eyes twinkling in some bemusement. “This poem,” she said in that quiet, intimate voice of hers, “certainly does demonstrate quite a commitment to meter and rhyme, dear.”
The heart in my scrawny chest swelled with gratitude. I was wearing my favorite red polka dotted cotton dress and remember that one of its back ties had been torn loose during recess by some boy who didn’t even know how to play dodge ball fair. But that didn’t matter now because Miss McKay recognized my greatness!
I idolized my tiny teacher–only inches taller than I, and surely one of the Deity’s more tactful beings. She was an incandescent spirit whose pure white hair seemed spun from cotton candy into the snowy knot atop her head, and her approval was so profoundly received that even today—lucky you!–I can still recite “The Mountain Bluebird,” in its entirety.
Back then, I may have been a little overly focused on the inspiration of the rhyme, and perhaps a little less committed to doing the hard research we were meant to be doing before we wrote our bird poems, but, bless her! Miss McKay found something to praise.
See what you think: The mountain bluebird is like most birds. It can’t talk and it can’t say words. (Before you get too critical of my content here, take a moment to notice the perfect meter) But it does sing a beautiful song, and things hardly ever go wrong. (Well, maybe a little weak on fact integration, but don’t the “song” and “wrong” line up nicely?)
In years subsequent to that day in the polka dot dress, I would often experiment with my newfound gift, using poetry to purge my soul through righteous indignation, excoriating the unfairness of my parents (and probably yours, too) as I poured out my sorrows onto the page in some of the most revolting, meaningless verses ever written. Still, as you may have surmised by now, they were always perfectly rhymed and endowed with excellent meter.
For example, after the shocking, unexpected death of my cat when I was ten, I used my pen to lambast the Fates : Where did you take her? Why did she die? Oh, Tulip, Tulip, is your head held high?(I know, I know. A cat named Tulip? Cut me a little slack here, will you? I was only four when I named her. Tulip was yellow, and her promiscuous white Persian mother, Daisy, who lived a few doors down, was the real inspiration.)
I continued to express myself and my protests through poetry even after I became a young mother. (Miss McKay, what hath thy approval wrought?)
A POEM WRITTEN ON DOING THE DISHES FOUR HOURS AFTER DINNER
Manicotti, four hours old,
should not be bought,
should not be sold,
should be outlawed and the remainders
kept in reserve for torture chambers
It would take a great writing professor when I went back to grad school and a lot of help from my peers to actually help me channel that passion for expressing myself on to the page into something worth reading.
Incidentally, something you might find interesting. The poem I wrote after the inspiring “Mountain Blue Bird” in the third grade was “The Redwing Blackbird. The red wing blackbird is red, black and yellow. He is a most appealing fellow…
Okay, okay, I quit. Go read my novel. You know it has to get better! ☺