Saturday, June 21, 2008

Poetry Especially for Seniors? A Book Review

When I first encountered Ed L. Dorsey’s book Real Poetry for Seniors ((Noble House, 2007), I wondered why seniors would need “special” poetry. Most of us are certainly alert and intelligent enough to read and appreciate poetry of all types on all subjects, although perhaps few of us do.

When I read the book, I discovered that Dorsey believes poetry needs meter and rhyme. I don’t necessarily agree, but I understand his point. In his short poem “Books Out of Balance” he writes, “Our books are out of balance at present time / and we’re much poorer than we might suppose; / Missing from all accounts are metre and rhyme / and the only measure left to poetry or prose, / Alas, is simply the length the line goes!” Elsewhere he says that poems lacking verse and rhyme “are like a song with the music gone, there’s just no place for the words to belong.”

My own poems (mainly rictameters) do not rhyme, but they have a regular syllable pattern and a shape. I’ve always preferred to write (not necessarily to read) poems that do not too closely resemble prose. A senior reader of one of my poems commented, “I thought poems had to rhyme.” So perhaps seniors relate better to poems with rhyme (and/or pattern) to find some sense of order in this rapidly-changing, often confusing world. It’s an idea worth thinking about: I believe that seniors should read poetry and feel confident enough to write some themselves. It’s a great way to express one’s thoughts and describe one’s life.

Real Poetry for Seniors should appeal to anyone dealing with aging or the aged. As a fellow senior, I found myself enjoying retired trial lawyer Dorsey’s many insights into common fears, his reflections on growing older, and his thoughts on the present state of society.

Dorsey has a wry sense of humor. In the first stanza of “Sausage and Eggs” he writes, “Some doctors say it’s cholesterol in foods we eat / that robs the heart and head of blood’s supply; / Others claim it’s caffeine in coffee or sugar in sweets, / or smoke or booze that causes us to die.” The poem ends with “Throughout this trek our doctor gladly bills us-- / when probably it’s just the living that actually kills us.”

Many aspects of life, especially senior life, appear among Dorsey’s poems: appreciation of nature (“That Soothes my Soul”), a transition to more realistic expectations (“I Wanted To Be”), “Growing Old,” a poem that begins “It’s the fear of growing old and small / that seniors make such fuss; / But it’s only when we stop growing at all / that old catches up with us.”

In one of his few longer poems, “To the People of Jerusalem,” Ed L. Dorsey dreams that God is speaking to all current residents of the city. “All who pray to Yahweh, Allah, or by name / Lord, Most High, The Creator or God, pray to Me the same!” God has some strong warnings for the warring factions: “How can your tongue say: I am the One True God, / that you put no other god or idol before Me, / When with your heart you covet the idols of war and revenge?” There’s more.

This is not “great” poetry, but I heartily recommend it to everyone, especially the senior who likes rhyming poems and personal insights from a voice of experience. In “True Poetry” Dorsey laughs at the kind of poetry that is “Written for only the intellectual / With a Princeton dictionary at their bed; / Appeal reserved for the highly sophisticated, / The ivy-clad, elegant, the well read, / Who claim to know that never meant nor said!” He asks that his readers “Hold high the saintly poet prized, / who writes for the common casual read, / And freely reveals to the lean learned head-- / the gist of what he really said.”

When you have a spare moment, pick up this book and read a poem or two. Rhyme or the lack thereof is not the main issue here. Real Poetry for Seniors is well worth reading.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne


Barbara J. Davis said...

As an elder amateur writer and poet, I took your suggestion and ordered this book of poetry. Can't wait to receive it for this summer's exquisite pleasure of reading.

Lydia said...

When I first saw the title to this post I thought about greeting cards. It's a really balanced review, Marlys. By the time I got to the end I was thinking how much fun it is to read a little rhyme; they're hard to find and I sure can't write them! When my ex was in law school we rented a big old house and painted the downstairs 1/2 bath white, put colored markers in a basket on back of the toilet and what came from that was a wall-full of limericks (some off-colored) written by exhausted law students and friends. I'd forgotten how much fun it was to find a new one to read.
As I have four books stacked to read, yours on top, I won't be ordering his book just yet. But it does actually sound good!

seniorwriter said...

Thanks, Barbara and Lydia. I used to sniff at "amateur" poetry, but I've come to see how much fun it is to write and read. Perhaps in this age of brief attention spans and short sound bites, poems are an efficient way of expressing thoughts in just a few words.