Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Location: North Carolina, United States

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Little Idyll

Definition pull:

i‧dyll [ahyd-l]
1. a poem or prose composition, usually describing pastoral scenes or events or any charmingly simple episode, appealing incident, or the like.
2. a simple descriptive or narrative piece in verse or prose.
3. material suitable for such a work.
4. an episode or scene of idyllic charm.
5. a brief or inconsequential romantic affair.
6. Music. a composition, usually instrumental, of a pastoral or sentimental character.

Also, idyl.


Sorry, had to do that; it's a nice word. Anyhow, thought I'd post one of my better works as of now (it made Vers Magnifique, which was a nice surprise since I doubted I had written anything sharp enough yet), that being this:


A Difficulty In Parenting

A wrinkled lump of faithful skin
Lay curled at my daughter's door.
The dog was tired; I took her kin
And tucked him in; he didn't snore.

When she awoke, "Oh, where is Spot?"
I said he pulled a Peter Pan.
For after all, a dirty cot
Cannot compete with Neverland.

A foolish hoax, I must admit,
An act that kindles no applause.
My daughter beamed; and I regret
I've yet another Santa Claus.


It's concise, which is nice [/rhyme], and it runs along a style I'd really like to do a lot of work in; it's in somewhat of a "fairy tale" or "nursery rhyme" vein. I've always loved both, especially the former, so naturally I enjoy writing in a similar fashion (not to mention reading; there's a reason I'm a huge Lewis Carroll supporter). Anyhow, moving on, a little idyll with Idyll in the title [/nearrhyme]:


Atlantic City Idyll

Come bet with me and be my luck
and bring me gimlets tart with lime.
We’ll chase the wily holy buck
and toss the dice and sneer at time.

And we will dazzle in our clothes
and neon dazzle us as well.
We’ll strike a sleek and moneyed pose,
we’ll yell a blithe, ecstatic yell

until at last we’ve squandered all,
shot the wad and maxed the cards,
until we’ve quaffed till dawns appall
and hoarse are velvet-throated bards.

Come stroll with me and be my muse
of feckless hope and vain desire.
On the boardwalk the huckster woos
and Armless Annie tongues her lyre.

By Kate Benedict


Dandy poem, isn't it? Great rhythm, and the poem is oozing with extravagance and prodigality (Note to self: never use "oozing" when describing poetry ever again.). In the second-to-last stanza the momentum starts letting up, in preparation for the very effective eeriness of the last stanza. Fun stuff~ If you have the time, be sure to pay a visit to Kate's website sometime; it'll do ya good and whatnot. Take care 'til next time,


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cullin' Cullen

A short feature for today, highlighting Countee Cullen, whom I discovered on Cosmoetica. Mr. Cullen, 1903-1946, is... oh, heck, I'll just pull this bio from Cosmoetica, it's short and to the point:

Black, male, homosexual, devout Christian, & remembered more for his famed feud with Langston Hughes over whether a black poet is a poet first (his position) or a black first (Hughes's position). But he is, along with John Donne & Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of the best theistic poets in the Western world- as well a devastating lyricist. Note the sublime child-like majesty of Incident- & how his purposeful dictive flaws accentuate such.

Though I've yet to read more than 4-5 of his works, he's written a couple shorter poems that are favorites (great poems in simple quatrain form, a type that I favor), these being Incident and A Brown Girl Dead:


(for Eric Walrond)

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

By Countee Cullen


A Brown Girl Dead

With two white roses on her breasts,
White candles at her head and feet,
Dark Madonna of the grave she rests;
Lord Death has found her sweet.

Her mother pawned her wedding ring
To lay her out in white;
She'd be so proud she'd dance and sing
To see herself tonight.


Incident is positively riveting, its effectiveness superb in its childish simplicity- about as poignant as racism gets. A Brown Girl Dead creates a melancholy but beautiful image of a funeral, then switches to the sacrifice made in order to pay for the service. The last line is very effective and somewhat discomforting- the girl, more beautiful in death than in life? Count on Cullen for fine poetry~ 'Til next time,



Saturday, September 16, 2006

Foray Into Teaching Poetry

Ah, yes, the poetry unit. Every year in America we spend one approximately six-weeks on the study of poetry. I consider this a good thing, naturally, but there are certain changes that need to be made in order to create an effective curriculum. Seeing as to how I've recently experienced poetry units (I'm currently in the 10th grade), read poetry sections in generic textbooks, and had teachers "enlighten" me on the art of poetry, my position to comment is rather good, wouldn't you say?

*~LAEvaside: These criticisms and suggestions are directed towards honors/Pre-AP/AP courses. Not regular courses; they can do what they please in those classes. Really, who cares? ~_^[/laevaside]~*

*~LAEvaside: Please let us note that my 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Hall, did a great job introducing myself and my peers to poetry (7th grade is the first grade where we actually get a unit on it)[/laevaside]~*


The Textbook

All right! Behold, the multifarious book of doom that crams fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, etc. into a neat little package that costs $59.99 if you lose it. The typical poetry unit in a standard textbook will feature a conglomerate of gold and its fools thrown together as equals (after all, education can't judge in publication: it's politically incorrect!). This effect is similar to certain poetry anthologies published in the last couple decades, and, safe to say, it's a terrible one.

If the book is the cause, the effect is confusion. A priority in poetic education should be flat-out exposure to greatness; only great poetry should be taught. When good and bad combine, I doubt students will learn to discern one from another. While the actual analysis or grading of poetry is not something everyone is capable, I do believe most students could be taught to separate the blatant doggerel from the blatantly divine.

Poetry selections also seemed to often be divided up into examples of certain poetic aspects: a poem for rhyme, a poem for rhythm, a poem for analogy. Instead, there should be great poems from different genres to demonstrate the rather large circumference of the poetic sphere. A great war, nonsense, coming-of-age poem, etc. should all be presented to cover a variety of interests, possibly sparking some sort of verve in a percentage of the students.

Also, while more easily interpreted poetry should be used since the average ability of deciphering isn't very good, difficult poetry should at least be presented to those taking English III/IV. At least give students a *shot* at something like Wallace Stevens' Yellow Afternoon or T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: it brings an even further realization of the complexity of poetry, not to mention the fact that poetry does indeed go past Hallmark.

Finally, teachers: never make a comment you're not sure about; it's bad for your health.


Aspects of Poetry

Naturally, the basic aspects of poetry (i.e. rhythm, rhyme, stanzas) are taught and retaught year by year. That's fine. However, I believe a look at what weakens poetry should be given. Teaching students that clichés are no-nos and continuous couplets (aabbcc form) are more often than not a bad thing would push the students to *gasp* attempt to avoid these things (assuming that the teachers grade hard enough)!

Doing a basic run-through of different forms would also prove beneficial; it's important to understand that there's more to it than rhyming and free verse. Actually, forms are taught; but it needs to go past limericks, acrostics, haiku, and "special" forms just for teaching. Show students how sonnets, sestinas, and villanelles work. Heck, watch them metaphorically writhe in mental agony as they actually try *writing* a sestina or villanelle in English III/IV; not only will it be somewhat amusing, but it will bring appreciation for how difficult advanced forms can be.


It's Time to Write!

Ah, yes, the part where the quills hit the oh-so-despised parchment. Let's get this straight; most students don't like to write poetry. Also, they're not good at it. The ones who *do* like doing it still usually aren't good at it. While this is realized, we're grading on a teaching scale here, not a "normal" scale. As mentioned before, there are certain things that the students need to be pushed to avoid, lest they get a bad grade:

  • clichés
  • annoying rhyme schemes (think repeating couplets)
  • repetition without meaning
  • bad punctuation

These are things anyone is capable of eventually avoiding through revision. Restrictions like these will not cause students to write *good* poetry, but they will better realize the difficulty in writing even a mediocre work.

Also, writing can go one of two ways: a) the teacher has kids rhyming/writing in form all the time, which causes a lot of forced rhymes and sing-songiness, and b) the teacher has kids write everything in free verse so as to let them easily express themselves, which causes ceaseless prosaic ranting about love, boys, girls, dogs, and cookies. What to do? Do both. It's not that hard, but it's a common mistake.

Another example of extremes in poetry units is the subject matter. This can also go one of two ways: a) the teacher always picks the topic or has the students write about the same topic as another poem, giving them no chance to write within their interests, and the less common b) the teacher lets kids write about whatever they want the whole time, causing them to stick to similar topics, often the trite subjects mentioned above (gotta love writin' 'bout love), and failing to push students outside of their comfort zone (an important task from time to time). As said in the previous paragraph, moderation is needed; assign some poems to be written with a specific subject, but also give'em a chance to go wild... heh... "Okay, kids, it's time to go wild writing, guess what, poetry!" Yeah right...

For middle school students, I can understand sticking to easier things, like [abab] quatrains, limericks, and haiku. However, the difficulty should slowly ramp up; in 9-10th grade, make'em write a Shakespearean sonnet to give'em a taste of writing in stricter form. 12th grade? As mentioned before: villanelle (and, if they want bonus, let'em write a sestina!). "But Neil, that's way too difficult!" Hey, I didn't say write a *good* sonnet or villanelle, I just said a sonnet or villanelle. With enough sweat, blood, and erasers, I have confidence that anyone in an honors/AP course can write, at the very least, an incredibly banal and crappy villanelle ~_^ That's fine; they went through the experience, that being the point.

Finally, students should be shown great poems and the techniques therein, and be encouraged to attempt mimicry. I'm not going to go in-depth on this one; let's just say that it's a good idea and leave it at that.



I'm actually going to leave this one alone: there are some fairly effective acronyms that represent various aspects of writing, such as DIDLS (Diction, Imagery, Details, Language, Syntax) and a longer one that's specifically for poetry (I can't remember it at the time). If there's a problem with this part of the standard poetry unit, it's minor compared to those mentioned previously. Honestly, I've experienced little/no frustration with this area of poetic education, so I'm done bashing.



I gotta say, it'd be great if they took my advice and made some changes. Unfortunately, I would need a *lot* of academics behind me for something like that to happen, which I doubt is possible (maybe in my next life?). Maybe I can bribe them if I become rich (and not in a filthy fashion, mind you). Or, if I become a dict... actually, come to think of it, I don't want to be a dictator.

Perhaps I should address the parents instead; expose your children to nursery rhymes. Then step up to a little humor or nonsense verse (read them Lewis Carroll, please; if for no other reason, do it for me). When they're old enough to understand it, expose them to great poems that have a more basic level of understandability (that's not to say such a poem isn't an onion; merely a more agreeable onion to the young folk, y'know, sweeter or something of that sort). From here, slowly ramp up the difficulty until they become teenagers and inevitably stop paying attention to you. This is the part where you pray, or cram poetry down their throats in some form or fashion. Your call.

Okay, so I got a bit off-topic the past couple paragraphs. Point in case... wait a minute. Strike that, reverse it; poetry is being taught in an incorrect manner, which contributes to the lack of concern/interest for poetry in students. Shame, isn't it? We can only hope that some slow reformation will eventually occur...


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Double Shortie Quickie Thingie

In short, a double entry of small/quick light/humor poems I wrote. It's all I can give right now, hopefully I can manage some more in-depth entries soon. Now, carrying on... wait, things! Had to throw that in since I had all the other roots of my title in this paragraph ~_^


The Attack of the Breadthirsty Cannibals

The attack of the breadthirsty cannibals
Would involve the gingerbread man, I’m sure.
However, the difficult question to answer
Is how one can drink one’s bread.

By Neil Hester


Englishical Improv

Be vigiling when you use a nonsensing word
In this poemish literature you may have heard,
Opinioning on this gibberish will vary, be wary,
For englishical improv is skillingly scary
To englishical teachers quite intentful to
Give a seriousesque teaching to me and you.

By Neil Hester


Yay for nonsensingness and whatnot~ It's best to have fun with words occasionally, lest you fall into the abyss of seriouness. We don't want that to happen, now do we? ~_^

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Short Frostian Entry

Okay, so I've been busy lately. I apologize for the lack of updates, as well as the lacking length of this update. Today I am featuring a poem most of you have read, probably more than once. I don't care, read it again:


Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

By Robert Frost


I'm not a fan of Robert Frost, but this poem is absolutely wonderful, a divine work of art. The rhyme scheme is pulled off without forcing anything, and the language is simple and delicate. I'm going to stop describing it because merely reading it renders most of my commentary useless; its greatness is evident, wouldn't you say?


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The First Non-Structured Free Verse Entry *gasp*

Yes, yes, I write without set structure and rhyme occasionally. Stop looking at me like that, I know some of my readers aren't much for free verse ~_^ As of now, everything I've posted has had structure and/or rhyme involvement. However, I'm intent on learning how to write good strict verse *and* free verse, and I have read some very nice poetry in free. Here's one of my better looks (there are a few that are superior, but I think this is decent work).


We Are Baptism

We are death. Our flaws are means
To reach the end; mortal faults are ends
Upon ourselves. A failure to proceed,
Corrupted flesh, waning breath,
The laws which have no bypass;
Ceasing hearts, too weak to stir,
We can’t awaken ever daily.
Lack of strength, our human vice,
Like original sin without baptism.
Or with, perhaps.

Death is baptism. Dipped in soil,
Purged of bodily confines,
Enter the purity of azure
Or the iniquity of sable;
This cleansing knows no religion.

By Neil Hester


It's a bit strange, I'll admit, to call our human frailty "flaws" and "mortal faults", but it's a somewhat interesting premise. By the way, later on I may do a writeup on the difference between true free verse and prose broken up into lines; a lot of contemporary free verse isn't poetry, it's prose with enjambment. That's a problem.

Two other quick things: firstly, remember to check out the John Singer Sargent article two entries down. He's important~ Also, I hope you folk like the Word of the Day addition in the sidebar; I tried to get as close to the background color as possible (I wish they had the option for an "invisible" background). That said, take care 'til next time~


Friday, September 01, 2006


Well now... it's September. Here's a few little facts about September pulled from a convenient source called Wikipedia:


~September begins on the same day of the week as December every year.
~September's birthstone is the sapphire.
~In Latin, septem means "seven".
~The origin of the name may also be attributed to Vedic culture. In sanskrit, Sapta refers to "seven" and Ambar means "sky". "Sapt-Ambar" referred to the seventh sky or month in the Vedic culture. September was also the seventh month of the Roman calendar until 153 BC.
~The autumnal equinox occurs between the 21st and 24th of September.
~Counterintuitively, the German Oktoberfest and the Chinese August Moon festival (more correctly called the Mid-Autumn Festival) both occur in September.


I'm sure I could go into something more political, but I don't feel like it. If you want to read more about September, go for it. Even though I've already featured half of that article, I don't feel like looking up anything else. Sorry. But hey, here's a short, three-minute humor poem for the heck of it:


Ec Septembers

The embers accept chilled and wintry Septembers,
But tend to decease at the fall of Decembers.


Woo! I'ma be gone 'til Labor Day; take care 'til then~