In the past I didn’t write introductions to my poems.  I wanted to be a little mysterious and let the reader try to decipher what I was talking about.  Maybe that will change.  Why change my habits?  Because I’m a more mature writer and understand that some of the best writing stands out like a sore thumb.  As one author said, “The reader has to look at your words, translate the written letters into words, the words into sentences, the sentences into ideas, and then change the feeling of what you write into a mental picture he or she can related to in his or her mind.  That miracle takes enough energy.  As a writer of fiction you have to make things so obvious that they cannot be overlooked.  You can’t let your characters hide their thoughts.  They have to be bigger than real life.”

 

            So, I’ll tell you the story behind this poem.  This one is based on a few words I heard on National Public Radio a few days go and my reaction to those words.  A Libyan was released from prison in 2011 after 20 years of unjust imprisonment.  He called his nephew who was being interviewed on National Public Radio.  The nephew said, “Every sentence he [his freed uncle] spoke on the phone as we talked for an hour stated with “Do you remember?”

 

            This is how many of my poems start.  I get a strong feeling from a story or an experience.  I capture that experience in a poem.  In this poem I attempt to capture the feeling one gets by remembering good things that happened in the past.  My goal is to make the reader remember things that happened in their lives and to treasure those memories while life lasts.

 

 

Do you remember?

 

April 30, 2011

 

 

Do you remember?

            when you were small?

                        remember your mother?

                                    remember at all?

 

Do you remember?

            the house where we live?

                        the garden we grew there?

                                    can you relive?

 

Do you remember?

            the sound of the rain?

                        the wind and the snow there?

                                    working in vain?

 

Do you remember?

            your grandpa’s old shirt?

                        the quilt that your grandma

                                    filled with black dirt?

 

Do you remember?

            the fall of the tree?

                        the sound of the chain saw?

                                    can you still see?

                                   

Do you remember?

            the swim in the creek?

                        the rocks that we found there?

                                    the fun we seek?

 

Time quickly passes.

            it passes and gone.

                        left only its memories.

                                    out on the lawn.

 

Yes, I remember.

            I think you do too.

                        let’s treasure our memories.

                                    they melt like dew.

 

 

            I want to add a postscript for this website about this poem and about writing poetry in English.  I learned only a little about writing poems from high school, but I remember it well. 

 

            First, there is what is called “poetic license.”  Poetic license allows a poet the freedom to write without rules.  Some poems follow very strict rules.  “Free prose” is written with very few rules.  This poem is somewhere in between.

 

            For example, the words “the house where we live?” could easily be written “the house where we lived?”  But writing poetry is not about writing perfect English.  It is about writing beautiful and moving words.  The word “live” is used for two reasons, it brings the past into the present and it rhymes with give and makes a better word for this poem as a result.  I could have said “lived” but that throws the memory into the past.  Using “live” bring the poem alive. 

 

            I’ve also not used capital letters in places one would expect to see them.  This is also done to make the poem read more freely and smoothly.  My goal is not technical correctness, so I use my poetic license to make the feelings of the poem rise to the surface so you can eat them.

 

            Lastly, the poem has a distinct pattern.  Did you notice it?  The English language is not like Chinese in that it is not tonal with four or five tones like Mandarin or six tones like Hong Kong Cantonese or seven tones like Guangzhou Cantonese.  But it does have patterns.  I’m thinking about teaching a few lessons on writing poetry in English to help you feel those patterns better.  Look back at this poem and see if you notice the patterns.  Then, after you look at the poem, keep reading this note!

 

            In English, some syllables are stressed (indicated by !) and some are unstressed (indicated by ~), much like the use of the fourth and first tone in Chinese, respectively. 

 

            Let’s look at the first stanza of the poem.

 

Do you remember?

            when you were small?

                        remember your mother?

                                    remember at all?

 

            Now let’s look at the “tones” or stressed and unstressed syllables.

 

!`!!`

            !``!`

                        `!``!`

                                    !`!`

 

            If you look carefully, you’ll see this poem follows that pattern.  Instead of conveying meaning like tones in Chinese, the stressed and unstressed syllables give English poetry a pattern.  As you read aloud, you can feel the vibration of this pattern.  In my poem “Do you remember?” I use this pattern to build a feeling for the reader.  As you read, you come to expect the pattern.  For a native Chinese speaker, practicing reading English poetry will help you get the feeling of how natural English is spoken.

 

            Another famous pattern used in English poetry is called “iambic pentameter.”  What is iambic pentameter?  It is a pattern of five pairs of syllables in a poem that have this pattern:

           

            !` !` !` !` !`

            !` !` !` !` !`

 

            !` !` !` !` !`

            !` !` !` !` !`

 

            In another blog, I’ll write a new poem in iambic pentameter.