Today, August 18th, is Bad Poetry Day. Apparently, it’s a day for people who don’t do poetry to give it a go. I don’t do poetry as a rule. But, I did write and publish a poem a few years ago. Bad Poetry Day got me reminiscing.
When I say I don’t do poetry, I mean it. I don’t write it or read it on purpose. It’s not that I have anything against poetry. I even run into a poem I like from time to time. In general, though, it doesn’t hold my interest.
I have a group of friends, language geeks like myself, who like to give me challenges. Many of these challenges have involved some form of poetry. They might ask me to rewrite a Shakespearean sonnet as a haiku or have me explain the categorical imperative as a limerick, things like that. While I don’t like poetry, I do enjoy a good challenge, so I do my best. By far, the most challenging challenge came a few years ago.
One of my oldest friends, who happens to be in this same group of friends, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course I wanted to help her in any way I could. So, naturally, she said I could help her by writing (and illustrating) her a poem, in the style of Dr. Seuss, called “What Happened To Mommy’s Boobs?” This was a challenge I couldn’t refuse, but it was one of the hardest writing experiences of my life.
First, how on Earth can I imitate the inimitable Dr. Seuss? The man was a genius. I decided to go with the classic formula of two characters, one of whom annoys the other one like Green Eggs and Ham or Fox In Sox or Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! I might not have the capacity to get the language right, but at least I could get some of the Seussian spirit.
Next, I had the issue posed by the title I was given. It certainly sounds like a child asking someone about her mother’s cancer. That’s pretty heavy. But Dr. Seuss is never heavy. It took me a while to make this work. Finally I arrived at euphemisms. I think euphemisms are fun in general. I realized I could make this topic somewhat light by focusing on a dad’s uncomfortableness trying to talk about boobs with his daughter. There’s humor there, so I went with it.
After that, I had to figure out meter and rhyme. I don’t naturally think this way. This is the part of the poem I’m least satisfied with. I found something that worked, but it doesn’t feel Seuss-y to me. It’s too sing-song-y. As I said before, Dr. Seuss is inimitable. So, this was the best I could do.
Finally, I had the illustrations. I am less of an artist than I am a poet. I knew I couldn’t get Seuss-like drawings. So I went with sight gags. I drew some stick figures and used clip art to show what the daughter was picturing every time her dad used a euphemism.
When it was all done and I was sort of satisfied, I sent a copy to my friend. She loved it, which was gratifying. After her reaction, I decided to publish it and put it on Amazon. And, in keeping with the spirit in which it was written, I decided to give any money I make to a breast cancer charity. I haven’t sold a ton, but it’s done better than I ever thought it would.
So, that’s my story of a non-poet writing a poem. I like to think it’s not really bad poetry and someone might actually have some fun reading it. Or if someone just wants to give some money to a good cause, I’d love it if you checked it out.