November 27, 2006

Poem and Explanation


God rot it! was too salty once, became
like darn, Od rat it! turned into Drat it!
but that had naught to do with rats, roof and sewer,
conquering every latitude of the planet
stowing away on ships, more the omnivores
than we with their growing teeth five inches a year
needing gnawing to keep them down to eating size
on wood, concrete, brick and mortar, materials
we use to keep them (among others) out,
eating us literally out of house and home
inch by inch, were we not quick to patch
and batten down our hatches.
Jack Black, Royal Ratcatcher tamed
a vari-colored Rattus rat for Queen Victoria.
Rumor has it that Beatrix Potter got another;
that there is one rat per every person;
that rats have navels but no tonsils;
that Petaluma’s Roger Dier was overrun
by rodents, a thousand strong, the brood begun
when he took pity on a dinner rat supplied
to his pet python; that Brando, Nixon, Tolstoy
and my father all are Rats, quick-witted
but quick-tempered; that the Indian temple
in Deshnoke to Karni Mata, female rat god,
hosts 20,000 holy rats, which priests attend,
feed milk and grain, which same the pilgrims eat
who think to eat what first a rat has touched
much blessing from the selfsame god.

This poem is different from my usual. I wrote it to play with rhyme and rhythm and meter, though I confess (ET, help me here!) I have no idea what meter I am using...only that I seem to be using something regular, though with variations to keep it interesting. The subject matter also interested me, just for play. Here, for the reader, I want to go through the poem to point out the various internal rhymes and near rhymes (I don’t know all the technical terms for various sorts of rhymes so I will stay with rhymes and near rhymes) and alliterations and niceties of rhythm that help the poem move along to the ending.

First you see the word ‘God.’ Keep that in mind. ‘God rot it’ was too salty, too much the swear words so you had to say ‘Od rat it’, like we say ‘Darn it’. Now, ‘darn’ in the poem is a near rhyme with the ‘turn’ of ‘turned’ and of course ‘rat’ rhymes with ‘Drat’ and moving to the next line an almost-rhyme with ‘naught.’ Then you come to ‘sewer’ which is echoed in ‘conquer’ and then ‘latitude’ repeats the ‘rat’ rhyme. ‘More’ and ‘omnivore’ rhyme of course. Then we have vowels or assonance, that is the “rhyming” of vowel sounds in ‘teeth’ and needing’ and ‘keep’ and ‘eating’ and ‘concrete’ and you can find the rest of those. All of these things matter as you read the poem, especially if you read it out loud when they jump out at you, with the rhythm as well. ‘Patch’ and'batten' and ‘hatches’ continues the rhyming. Then we have the delicious sequence, which I cribbed from reality, “Jack Black, Royal Ratcatcher” which is part rhyme and part technically assonance or near-rhyme, but it is the variant on the ‘ack ack’ that makes it work. It would not be as effective if it were “Jack Black Royal Rack Cacker” or at least it would smack (no pun intended) of a joke that way. Royal Ratcatcher also continues the near rhyming of ‘rat’ from above, which is continued below it. Then another pleasing sequence ‘Beatrix Potter got another’, which combines the rhyme of Pot and got with potter and another, a rhyme, so to speak, of rhythm (ET, what is that called?).

Moving right along, we have ‘one rat per every per son’ the repetition of per being striking and “rats have navels but no tonsils” the rhythm of navels and tonsils sounds like a rhythm-rhyme once again and it pleases the reader (or that sort of thing usually does...) ‘Overrun by rodents’ is alliteration of a sort, or at least the repetition of R’s that one notices while ‘overrun’ then rhymes with ‘begun’ just below it. ‘Pity’ has the same vowel sound as ‘dinner’ and ‘supplied to his pet python’ has the repeated Ps that should be noticeable and pleasing to the ear. In this whole second section, from ‘Rumor has it’ on, the use of meter is even more important than in the first half, though it is used there as well. You can feel the beat as you read it out loud, with variations making it more interesting. You have to read through it though, not singsonging it, but read as the sentences demand, being careful that you not stop on the end of each line. That is the trick of reading poetry, not to fall into the mistake of listening only to the meter and de dum de dum de dumming it all the way through. Words vary the meter invariably and you must read them as they are, without reference to how you think the meter demands they be read, and you must pay attention to the punctuation, how the lines run, whether they continue onto the next line or stop at the end. Above all read the lines naturally, as if you were reading anything else. Don’t try to force the poem into a ‘poetic’ or versified rhythm.

Anyhow, to continue. Hmmm, where was I? Ah, at ‘python.’ which rhymes with ‘Nixon’ sorta, from here the poem gets more serious and so the rhyming gets less. As to the people named as Rats, you’ll have to figure out why...Still, ’feed’ nearly rhymes with ‘eat’ which is repeated and ‘touched’ rhymes with ‘much.’ Finally, note that the poem ends with the word, in small letters, “god” repeating what it started with in caps, “God.”

Now, what all this means, I dunno! I will leave the analysis up to others, if there is anything beyond the facts I have given about rats to analyse! Sometimes a poem says what it says, means only that and no more, no? Hey, Kate and ET, what do you think? Do I mean more than I know in this poem?

Posted by pamwagg at November 27, 2006 04:46 PM


Ah, Paula, you ARE the master of the compliment . . . Your own children are the lucky ones, I think, their mother being about as far from floozy-dom as a woman can get. (If you have only one child, rather than several, please ammend the last comment to the singular.)

With respect and gratitude--


Posted by: Cynthia at November 29, 2006 07:55 PM

Dear Paula,

You are not some "alien creature". You are one of us, a valuable member of Pam's site. I am sorry that you can no longer actively teach but don't throw away all your knowledge because of that. I think we come here to share and learn and to take pleasure in each other. I enjoy you and am always glad to read your comments. As for teaching, well, I see us all as both students and teachers; that's part of the joy of life. So don't disparage your experience, for I'm sure none of us ever will. And thank you for all your kind and supportive words about me. I don't feel quite deserving of the compliments but they did put a smile on my face.

Fondly Yours,


Posted by: Kate K. at November 29, 2006 04:53 PM

Cynthia, my dear,
Your astoundingly profound poem not only includes a perfect rhyme scheme(aa bb cc)and syllabic meter of exactly eight syllables per line(otherwise known as iambic octameter-a far rarer device than the much overused iambic pentameter),it so touchingly reveals a mother and great-aunt who utilizes the time usually wasted in getting from point A to point B preparing to delight and enlighten her beloved children with entertainment in the form of language instead of burgers and fries. It is never too early to introduce those little sponges we call our children to the beauty and the fun and the enormous power of language, be it spoken, sung, or written. One of my personas is that of a mother, one who loves until it hurts and cries until the sun reappears. You are a mother of such rich and deep dimension that I am honored to be a member of your "club", and I am profoundly grateful that Pam's siren call brought us together to admire,to learn, and to experience each other in a manner so different from the usual that I can call you a poem nestled like a jewel in the center of a sea of prose.
Thank you for your kind words, Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at November 29, 2006 03:03 PM

Paula, I appreciate you in your several personas. I had long ago forgotten what iambic pentameter is, if indeed I ever did know, and I am genuinely appreciative at being able to tuck away (though for how long, goodness knows) this little tidbit of knowledge.

Kate, Pam, and Paula, all of you, I am always humbled by by the force of your intelligence and the bounding range of your thought.

Pam, I had to smile when I came upon this post, for on Sunday, while driving, I was mentally creating hard de-dum, de-DUM nonsense rhymes for children, my great-niece among them. If ever there's a place for this sort of rhyming it would have to be in verse for young kids, who are usually delighted with it and are also just learning about the complexities of spoken emphasis and how it contributes to rhythm and beat and so forth. Then, as well, very young readers can be fascinated by the way in which English words with widely variant spellings (sleigh, stay) rhyme perfectly. While you were using alliteration to create sophisticated poetry for a mature audience, I was, well, writing on my own level. Still, I think both of us were having fun. With apologies, a goofy excerpt:

When your mother is a floozy
heaven knows, she's hardly choosy.
She'll let you guzzle Purple Rain
then pack you, woozy, on the train.
"You're off, my Chickadee," she'll croon
to Camp Adrift, and none too soon!"

Then follows a rhyming discussion of the potent beverage Purple Rain and its qualities, etc.

Again, with apologies--

Posted by: Cynthia at November 28, 2006 09:01 PM

Hi all,

Glad you liked the poem! I analyzed it myself last night, and realized that there was a strange movement from God as part of a curse to profane (profane in the sense of not sacred but earthly) rats as animals, through pet rats to human Rats (in the Chinese zodiac sense) to animal rats again but holy animal rats this time back to god as in Karni Mata the female rat god. For whatever that is worth...

Anyhow, I think, Paula, that you underestimate your words worth (pun intended) and how much your experience as an English teacher adds to this site. People really appreciate your knowledge and understanding of these technicalities, even when we, yes, we don't get them, even after "explanations kind." You can of course limit your discussions to e-mails to me and I respect your right to do so, if you prefer. You were always free to do that. But I think people here might feel cheated of your expertise...You were much loved and admired by your high school students, were you not? What makes you feel that people here think less of you? Or for that matter need you less?

Samantha and Kate, thanks so much for your comments. I really wasn't so sure about this poem...I kinda liked it myself. But wasn't sure anyone else would!

Pam BD

Posted by: Pam W at November 28, 2006 08:43 PM

Dear Kate,

My intent in commenting on Pam's blog is to share my opinions with her, and if she should ask me to clarify something, I try my best to do so. It has never been my goal to teach any of Pam's readers anything. You, darling Kate, in my opinion, are light years ahead of me in perception, articulation of complex ideas, and especially in courage, for you never seem to avoid a challenge. You give it your all, and your all is very fine indeed. As I said when I ended my comment, I don't want to be this alien creature ET(pardon the pun). As painful as it may be, I am no longer an English teacher, and I must find a new identity of which I can be proud. Yesterday is gone. I live in the now, and as such, I just want to be Paula, an ardent admirer of Pam's talent, just as you are. I'd so much rather have you think of me as a person, just Paula, and hopefully a person whom you consider to be a new friend, encountered by chance while enjoying all the Pam gives to the readers of her blog.
With deep sincerity,just Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at November 28, 2006 08:26 PM

Dear Pam,

The first time I encountered your poem, I read it aloud and found myself stumbling, but after reading your explanation, I read the poem aloud again and found it much easier to read. I like this poem. I can't think of a poem of yours I don't like. Again,the subject matter is very interesting. Who would think to write a poem about rats but you did and you did it well. The words feel good as I read them but I really was not that aware of the meter and rhyme which I think is perfectly fine. And yet, I think you paying attention to it is part of why the poem works. But then, I'm finding I like all that stuff too. It would be fun to read a poem you've written that is an out and out rhyming poem. GOD'S RATS certainly has rhymes and rhythms to it but they are more subtle to my ear. Both are good, heavy rhyme and slant rhyme. Where did the seed that germinated into this poem come from? I find the origins of poems are almost as interesting as the poem itself...the writer's mind at work and all that. Thank you for the poem Pam, you take me to new places. And Paula, you are a valuable person with worthwhile instruction to give and I appreciate you. Thanks for being an esteemed teacher and trying to teach us.

Posted by: Kate K. at November 28, 2006 06:13 PM

Dear Pam,
Here comes Paula's alter ego, ET, to the rescue. First of all, I must begin by saying that this poem was a technical exercise that you created in order to experiment with rhyme, rhythm, and meter, which you thoroughly enjoyed doing, and which resulted once again in a very fine and intricate poem. These three terms are among a plethora of technical devices used by poets, past and present, and while I do know all the terms and ins and outs of the whole scenario, I have to say that for the most part, poets and even fusty old ET types rarely examine poetry for the precise technique or pattern a poet employs. Even the publishers to whom you have sent your manuscript are far more concerned with the meaning and impact of a poet's work, although they certainly are aware of a poet's "style" of writing and this plays an important part in their decision to "publish or not to publish".
In any event, you asked me what specific meter you were using in your poem. Briefly, meter is usually defined as belonging to three major categories.(I should mention here that you were correct in saying that meter was concerned with the flow of sound or the "beat" one might hear rather consistently throughout a poem.) One form of meter is called syllabic. In this form the poem creates a rhythm by making the number of syllables in each line more or less consistent. The second form concerns itself with the stress one places on a chosen syllable. An example might be that the poet continually puts emphasis on the second syllable of most of the words in the poem. Last, but far from least and the most archaic type, is when one creates meter using poetic "feet". There are numerous forms of this, but the most famous, if you will, is called iambic pentameter.( I realize I must define my terms before continuing.) In poetry a foot is a unit of two or more syllables.Bringing into play some terms I've already used, an "iamb" is a two syllable foot with the "stress" falling on the second syllable. The definition of iambic pentameter is when a poet creates a piece of work in which each line contains five iambs or, putting it into different terms, ten syllables with the stress repeatedly being on the second syllable. Shakespeare's sonnets, for the most part, were almost always written in iambic pentameter. All of this ET jargon is only the tip of an enormous iceberg, and I am already freezing, as you and your readers must assuredly be as well. To answer your question concerning the meter used in your poem, quite frankly, I cannot detect a consistent formal type of meter, although your poem certainly has an unescapable
rhythm. At this point I must passionately assert that to concern oneself or to limit oneself to any technique, just for the sake of doing so, effectively hobbles a poet's natural creative style. This is why I said that meter is really no longer so precise and predictable, and certainly a person who reads poetry does so because he or she loves the way a poet takes the ordinary(i.e.prose) and expresses the same theme in an extraordinary way(the essential definition of a poem, if a poem can posssibly be defined).
You asked, therefore, I attempted to answer. I knew in advance that this would bore anyone reading it to tears, and for this, I apologize. In truth,Pammy, I really wish you would not ask me to do the dirty work.(I'm kidding in using the term, but I am serious about what follows.) Your readers are only interested in what you are writing. They almost universally applaud you work for the pleasure it provides them, and although you have a true interest in technical issues, your readers probably do not. "I am myself though, not an ET" to rephrase Juliet's comment about Romeo. I would rather just spontaneously react and comment upon what you have written in you blog like your other fans. Any questions on certain specifics that you may have, I'll happily answer in an email or on the phone, okay Feebe? Meter, shmeter, I loved your poem without needing to concern myself about the poetic techniques you may have used. You are clearly far beyond that laborious stage!
Lovingly, Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at November 28, 2006 12:05 PM

I love this poem. I keep coming back to read it!

Posted by: Samantha at November 28, 2006 12:50 AM

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