I do love trivia; it is always fabulous to have a few cool bits of information to state at random times, as ice breakers, or simply because! So here are 14 (I counted) fascinating facts about poets and poetry for you; to add to the poetic potpourri I am sharing with all of you. And perfect for you to share with someone you meet who loves poetry; or someone who loves trivia too for that matter; or well, simply because it is cool….
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14 Fascinating Facts About Poets and Poetry
E. E. Cummings and his book No Thanks
14 rejections from 14 publishers later, E.E. Cummings finally self-published this book (originally titled 70 Poems) with a loan from his mother. And he did so with two noteworthy revisions. First, he changed its title as a reference to all those dismissal letters. And the dedication which Cummings placed at the beginning of the book lists all the publishers who turned him down – their names arranged carefully to form the shape of a funeral urn. (from the Introduction of the book). In addition, the book is unconventionally bound not on the left but rather the top, like a stenographer’s pad. (Source – various)
A Poet and the Letter ‘R’
Gottlob Wilhelm Burmann, a German Romantic poet and lipogrammatist, despised the letter R so much that it does not appear in any of his 130 poems. He is even said to have removed (oops) eliminated it from his daily speech, refusing to say his last name for over seventeen years. (Source)
Neruda and the Color Green
The Pulitzer Prize-winner, Pablo Neruda, wrote in green ink as he considered it the color of hope. As a tribute, a book about Neruda’s childhood titled The Dreamer is printed in green ink. Some of the early printed and rare editions of his work have also been printed in the same green as the ink he used for writing. (Source – various, including Wikipedia)
Poetic Battles? Historic, Literally!
“Spoken word” battles have existed as long back as the 5th century, where poets would engage in “flyting,” a spoken word event where poets would insult one another in verse. The Norse god Loki is noted as having insulted other gods in verse. – Source
Poets and Presidential Inaugurations
Speaking about the spoken word reminded me of Amanda Gorman’s brilliant recitation earlier this year (but seems so long ago already, right?) And that brings me to the next cool fact. Of another poet at another presidential inauguration.
The poet: Robert Frost. The president: John F Kennedy. In fact, Frost was the first poet to read at a presidential inauguration when JFK asked him to recite a poem at his inauguration in 1961. So Frost wrote a poem for the occasion but was unable to read it because of how bright it was outside. Instead, he recited The Gift Outright from memory instead (Source)
The “Relation” Between Epic Poems and Facebook
Unfriend: I hope that word has not needed to be part of your own experience; in either direction. And while it seems to be a word that certain social media companies brought about into existence, that is not the case at all. It has a long history; almost ancient, well, as long back as the medieval times! Unfriend was used as a noun first around 1275. It meant ‘one who is not a friend’ in Layamon’s medieval epic poem, Brut. (Source)
Funny how words return from the past, right?
Funerary Tales: Ep 1: Shelley Frankenstein-y?
It is rumored that when Percy Bysshe Shelley, husband to Mary Shelley, died of a drowning accident at 29, Mary held onto his heart, literally. According to the story, the organ did not burn when the rest of his remains were cremated. And Mary Shelley ended up with a part of her beloved husband until she died. Nearly 70 years later, Shelley’s heart was finally buried in the family vault with the couple’s son. (Source- various including this one!)
Funerary Tales: Ep 2: Filing Cabinets Sometimes Store Ashes
After her cremation, an attorney collected her ashes and left them in his filing cabinet for nearly 20 years because Parker had failed to mention her final resting place. Only after a request to visit Parker’s grave did anybody realize.
Funerary Tales: Ep 3: Virgil’s Housefly
The Roman poet Virgil kept a pet housefly, and upon its death, he held an extremely extravagant funeral for it. He even built it a mausoleum (Source)
Funerary Tales: Ep 4: The Lonely Funeral
In the Netherlands, when someone who died has no family or friends to claim them, city poets research each deceased person and write a poem. tailored to that person. (Source)
Funerary Tales: Ep 5: Benches and Final Resting Places
Having spent years at the cemetery where his parents were buried, Conrad Aiken (poet, author, and editor) wanted his tombstone to be a bench for others to relax (and maybe enjoy a poem or two). (Source)
If funerary tales are bringing a frown to your face (though they were not mostly the frown-inducing kind), then here is a change of mood for you.
Lasting Relationship Advice From the First Century
In 2 AD, the Roman poet Ovid published the Ars amatoria (English: The Art of Love). This three book series gave men and women relationship advice. For example, books one and two, aimed at men, covered topics such as “‘not forgetting her birthday” and “not asking about her age”. And his advice has surely withstood the test of time!! (Source)
Female Power-“Palindrome-r” From the Fourth Century
Su Hui, a fourth-century Chinese poet, wrote a poem in the form of a twenty-nine by twenty-nine character grid. Each line can be read forward or backward, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. This arrangement allows for 2,848 different readings (Source) I recall reading about this when I was researching magic squares for a previous Poetic Sundays post.
One Pseudonym (aka False Name) Too Many? Or Not?
The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa wrote under at least seventy-two heteronyms, most of them with different personalities and writing styles. (Source)
Freedom Over Me
Title: Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
Author/Illustrator: Ashley Bryan
Length: 56 pages
Genre: Children’s Poetry (6 – 10 years, and up)
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (September 13th 2016)
Source: Library copy
Description: Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a person with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away.
Author and illustrator Ashley Bryan narrates the story of eleven individuals through a thoughtful thought-provoking combination of stunning collages and powerful words. When Ashley Bryan acquired a collection of slave-related documents dating from the 1820s to the 1860s, he was moved by the information (or rather lack of it) in them. People just like any of us listed for sale like property, with nothing else known about them except name and gender.
Bryan chose to give them their own stories; and he brought those stories to life through this book with vivid colors and by lending voices to those unknowns. Each of the eleven is brought to life through two poems in free verse; one that is biographical while the second is about their dreams. While the true stories behind all these names will never be known, Bryan’s fictionalized accounts can easily be visualized as the true story of so many who never saw their dreams come true.
Considering what this book deals with, there is of course tragedy, lost hopes, downtrodden dreams, and more; but there is also light shining through this darkness. It is truly emotional, inspiring, and heartbreaking all at once; with an all important lesson that always needs to be remembered and taught (to ourselves and our children) – that we need to treat people simply and foremost as people.
“May our songs and stories
keep alive in us
the will to grow in learning.
The longing to be free!”
And did I mention that the artwork is simply stunning, frame-worthy indeed?? I did not? Well, it is!!
I am so very glad I read this book and was introduced to Ashley Bryan as a result. As of this review (in April 2021), he is 97 years old; he wrote this book when he was 92 and was awarded the Coretta Scott King Honor for writing and illustration as well as the Newbery Honor for this book. I have to say I am not surprised. And I know I will be looking for more of his books soon.
Powerful visually stunning must-read, one that is sure to bring about rich discussions no matter where it is read.
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And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, as always, and always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well as recommendations. Have you read the featured book or any similar reads? Do you have any further fascinating or fun facts about your favorite poets or poems, or just poetry/poets in general to share? I would love to hear them.
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