Category Archives: Poetry

The Poem That Defined Santa and Christmas Present

I’ve known Santa for some time and he hasn’t changed a bit…

At four I knew just what I wanted, and I still do!2pamsanta

2grppamsanta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone knows that Santa is a plump, jolly fellow with a long white beard. It’s common knowledge that he circles the globe every Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer. You get bonus points at Christmas trivia contests if you can name them all. Stomping on your roof and the jiggling of bells indicates that Santa has arrived. Hopefully you have a chimney for him to climb down—there are various explanations of how he enters homes that are lacking in that department. Of course, his suit is red. Hasn’t that always been the case? Well, actually, no. Father Christmas, one of his predecessors, usually wore green. The historical Saint Nicholas, most likely the inspiration for Santa Claus, probably wore a Grecian toga.  That good saint went through periods of favor and disfavor, taking a major hit during the English Reformation, and later in Puritan America. However, Colonial Germans in Pennsylvania kept the feast of St. Nicholas, and several later accounts have St. Nicholas visiting New York Dutch on New Year’s Eve. New Year gift giving had become the English custom in 1558 and this English custom lasted in New York until 1847). “

Washington Irving published the satirical Knickerbocker’s History of New York in 1809 in which he made numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character who smoked a clay pipe. Then, in 1821, The Children’s Friend, was published. The first lithographed book printed in America, it contained an anonymous poem in which “Sante Claus” arrived from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by one flying reindeer. This Sante Claus rewarded good behavior with books and safe toys (no toy guns or sabers), and left a birchen rod with which parents were instructed to punish the naughty. It was S. Claus’ first appearance on Christmas Eve, rather that December 6th. The seeds of Christmas present were planted, and sprouted into full bloom with the publication of A Visit From St. Nicholas in 1823. The poem is now better known as The Night Before Christmas.

Who Actually Wrote the Night Before Christmas? moore-livingston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                Clement Clark Moore                                                        Henry Livingston, Jr.

The poem was first published anonymously and later claimed by Clement Clark Moore, a professor of biblical languages at New York’s Episcopal General Theological Seminary. However, in 1859, 36 years after the poem first appeared in print, the children of Henry Livingston, Jr. came forward and asserted that the poem was actually written by their father around 1807. They claimed to remember him reading the poem to them as children. There has been extensive literary research on both claims and opinions are divided. However, opinion seems to be tipping toward Livingston.

Regardless of who wrote the poem, the effect is the same. The Night Before Christmas has solidified the secular image of St. Nicholas, (AKA Santa Claus) as a jolly old elf who flies through the air every Christmas Eve dispensing gifts to good little children all over the world. The image was reinforced by political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in 1881 and continues to be celebrated today through song, television, children’s books, movies, and advertising (think Coca Cola). Santa still makes my heart swell when he makes his first magical appearance of the Christmas season at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he’s looking good!

In Defense of Rhyme In Poetry

poetry-typeTo rhyme or not to rhyme? That is the question. At least, that is the question for me. Many literary critics feel that question has already been answered…rhyme is out, blank verse and free verse is in. When it comes to rhyme, they admonish poets, “Just don’t do it!”

So once again, we have the guardians at the gate defining for the rabble below what is “good” and “worthy.” We have turned our backs on the old guard. Farewell Shelly, Keats and Byron. Oh, we allow students to study them in school, but be sure to tell them that, if they have poetic aspirations, they better not submit rhyming poems to any of today’s prestigious journals.

I happen to love GOOD rhyme. I capitalized “good” for a reason. It’s important. There is a lot of bad rhyme our there. Good rhyme is hard to do. Maybe that’s why so few poets try it. They just aren’t very good at it.

There are rumblings out there that rhyme is gathering a few friends in the literary world. There are still some journals that accept it. Don’t send any to the New Yorker, though. In fact, if your poem is understandable to the average guy in the street, you might think twice about sending it to the New Yorker. (OK, it’s a great magazine. My bias against literary snobbishness is showing.) Continue reading

Farewell Leonard Cohen, Poet Extraordinaire

leonardcohen

I am not a musician. I did not know Leonard Cohen personally, and I discovered his genius rather late in my own life. So I was surprised at the depth of my reaction upon hearing the news of his death. This week, I find myself listening to his songs, some of them over and over. I also listened to his last interview. It made me want to be in his presence. I don’t find it trite to say that he will live on in his work. I am satisfied with that.

The first Leonard Cohen song I ever heard was Suzanne. I loved it. It made me long for an authentic counter-culture life instead of my decidedly straight one. It was amazing poetry set to music…

There are heroes in the seaweed

There are children in the morning

They are leaning out for love

And they will lean that way forever…

(From Songs of Leonard Cohen – 196

I don’t remember the first time I heard Hallelujah, but it was the song that made me fall in love with Leonard Cohen. If you asked me, “Who is your favorite singer…your favorite musical group”…I would be hard pressed to answer. How to choose when there are so many greats? But if you asked me, “What do you think is the greatest song ever written,” Hallelujah would fall off my tongue without even thinking. And it is his spare, gravelly rendition that captures, for me, the essence of the song.

Maybe I do like it dark. I think of myself as neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I tell myself I’m a realist. I see the beauty in impermanence. Life is full of longing, of love and loss, defeat and new beginnings. The “dark troubadour” put all that and more into his work and I responded.

Leonard Cohen captured, for me, the mystery and humor and pathos of life. Perhaps he was a seer as well. Given all that is happening right now, these lines from Tower of Song seem prophetic…

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter, but of this you may be sure


The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor


And there’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong


You see, you hear these funny voices in the tower of song.

 (Tower of Song from I’m Your Man1988)