Rub-a-dub-dub ... three men in a tub ... the Butcher ... the Baker ... the Candlestick maker ... Those wonderful nursery rhymes!  I grew up on them and loved them.  Word-play and poetry were always a part of my life!

My mother had initially sparked my love of words, poetry and whimsical thoughts.  At times, when the drudgery of housework was getting her "down" ... or a visit from the nasty old landlord on the first of the month, my mother would steal away from the stress of the day, and to keep her spirits up - she'd write a bit of poetry.

While attending Herzliah High School in Montreal, I was fortunate to have a most dynamic and stimulating teacher, whose passion for poetry was a source of great inspiration to me.  On May 24, 1956,  exasperated by the "boorishness" of his students, this  teacher had asked us all to open our poetry textbooks to the blank page just inside the back cover - and to write the words that he would dictate.   These were his words:

People are rapidly losing the power of thought.  Radio, television, movies and newspapers are turning them into mere spectators and listeners awaiting passively to be entertained and amused.

Poetry demands from the reader the highest degree of concentration and demands from him the response of his total personality.  To read a poem properly means to be engaged intellectually,  emotionally and imaginatively.

The person with no poetry in his soul is a poor animal who has not yet begun to live.  He may be an efficient machine for producing and consuming goods but of the true and lasting delight of the heart and mind, he remains more ignorant and less blessed than the man-eating savages of Central Africa.

In this class of sixteen, perhaps one, and no more than two, will ten years from now be reading poetry for delight and profit.

Many years have passed since my teacher's "rant".   He'd be surprised to know that I'm one of the sixteen who does dabble in poetry ...  but certainly not to the same extent that he ever did!  My junior high teacher, Irving Layton, had established himself as one of Canada's finest and most respected poets.  Irving Layton passed away in Montreal on January 4, 2006, at the age of ninety-three.

I'm happy to share some of my own poems - some silly, some straight, some rhyming and some in free verse, followed by a number of my favourites from a wee old poetry book that my mother passed along to me many years ago - "Poems That Have Helped Me", collected by S.E. Kiser (P.F. Volland Company, Chicago, 1913). 


Clicking on any flower icon
below will bring you back to the list of poem titles.



(I didn't write this one - I wish I had!)


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

    -   Jenny Joseph


Plato was right when he said ...





I think that it might have been Jim or Rick
Who scrawled a nonsensical limerick
Spending so little time
On its rhythm and rhyme
But he managed to stick in a fifth line anyway.


Moonbeams and stars!
     Diagonal bars!
Circles of teardrops
     and apple-pie wedges!
Dinosaur teeth
     with grooves underneath
And a zig-zag of seagulls
     in flight at the edges.

We saw ovals and rings
     and squiggly things,
Some watchamacallits
     and diamonds and squares,
A half-dozen hexagons,
     oodles of octagons,
waffles and shamrocks
     in columns and pairs.

We thought it was neat
     to walk down the street
As we headed home backwards
    all in a row,
And that's when we found
     those designs on the ground -
Engraved by our boots
in the sparkling snow.


I hereby revere and salute
the computer chip, rather minute,
for it keeps all my data
devoid of errata,
and easy to find when I boot.


She winked and called them life-savers
and I stacked them all in piles.
Swaying castles. Tilting towers.
Wavy lines of railway cars
in the valleys of her quilt.
Gram would let me do it.
Long pink pills
and tiny shiny yellow ones,
brown pills, round and rubbery,
and blues and whites and greens.
My favorites were the plastic ones
that look like see-through bullets
filled with tiny coloured beads.
Some helped her breathe, she once explained,
while others dulled the pain
that grabbed her wrists and shook her
from a night of gentle dreams.
I often wondered how the pills
knew how to find their way

to fix her aching heart,
her knotted veins,
and wrinkled hands,
and hidden stuff
all jumbled up inside her
like broken old machines.
Today the pills stopped working ó
Grams' pills had let her down.
Now Gram can't greet her visitors
who creak across the floor
or reach to wipe their tears away
or hear their muffled whispers.
Gram canít hear the squawking gulls,
the hum of passing cars,
or children jumping rope outside,
or sparrows in her garden.
I watched them flush her pills way ó
those useless bits of colour
Through stinging tears I saw them swirl,
like memories of a rainbow
twisting in a whirlpool
to slowly disappear.


Grandpa grew hair
on his knuckles and toes,
some tufts in his ears,
and some right up his nose.
His bushy white moustache
tickles my cheeks,
and it dances a jig
every time that he speaks.
His eyebrows stick out
in a jumble of bristles,
his cheeks feel so scratchy,
like thorns or like thistles.
There's soft, curly hair
on his arms and his chest,
and he might have lots more,
but his clothes hide the rest.
He told me a secret ...
here's what he said -
I'd trade all this in
for some hair on my head!


When Andy ate spaghetti -
he mooshed it in his hair,
and the long squishy noodles
did a tumble here and there.
They slinked off his ears
and slithered off his nose,
and dangled from his shoulders
and his knees
and his toes.
With tomato-sauce fingers
Andy painted on his chair
He drew a giant circle,
and some squiggles
and a square.
Then he crunched up a cracker
with his fingers and his thumbs
'til all that he had left
were a thousand little crumbs

Andy's dinner ended
with some berries for dessert
that dribbled off his chin,
leaving spatters on his shirt.
Then Daddy got him ready,
and sat him in the tub
for a sudsy little soak
and a hardy scrub-a-dub.
Now he's wrapped in a towel
looking spotlessly clean -
but everything he touched
is in the washing machine!


A poet whose life was perverse
had his days and his nights in reverse
He awoke every night
with a yearning to write
Thus going from bed .... to verse!


Tiny brown sparrows
perch in a row
on an overhead wire
and look down below
to a tangle of traffic
of buses and vans,
big transport trailers
and sporty sedans,
with engines a-whirling
and grinding of gears.
Their fumes reach the sparrows
to fill them with tears.
Tiny brown sparrows
rise with a flutter
escaping the noise,
the smoke and the clutter.
They flee from the city
to corn fields and trees,
through marshes and meadows,
in a wildflower breeze.
Tiny brown sparrows,
How chipper and spry!
Lucky brown sparrows
can rise up and fly.


I loved
when your grandfather
came out to dance -
stepping each foot twice
to the beating of the drum -
soft leather moccasins
digging in the dust,
fringes, like the sweet grass
whipping in the wind.
Shaded by the evergreen,
the drummer-men sat,
and pounded hollow thunder
that echoed through the wood.
A chant ripped the air
like the talon of a hawk -
a clear voice - a calling voice
of sadness and of joy.
It softened as the circle grew
with Moms and Grandmas
brightly clad
in dresses of a thousand bells
and silky fringes trembling.
Beads of black and greeny-blue
jingled with each twirling step.

Swinging braids.
Waving feathers.
Shades of early fall.
Children danced in celebration -
soared and swooped
like wolves
and eagles.
Soon I felt the rhythm
of the dance I'd never seen.
As daylight turned to purple haze
the drumbeat drew me in at last.
Shameless now,
I stepped in time
with you
and Silver Cloud -
whirling, reeling,
dipping, arching,
heart-beat charged with
booming drums,
while night-time breezes
rippled my imaginary feathers.


        -  Thomas F. Porter

What if the morn no joy to you shall bring,
No gleam of sunbeam shine across your way;
What if no bird one joyous note shall sing
Into your listening ear through all the day!

What if no word of comfort you shall hear
As though the hours long you toil and strive;
What if to you no vision bright appear
To keep your hungry heart and soul alive!

What if the blest companionship men crave
Come not to you through all the day's long length,
But, bound and fettered even as a slave,
Within yourself you have to find your strength!

And if, when you have toiled and wrought alone,
The sweet reward you sought you do not gain,
And find the hoped-for bread is but stone,
In that sad hour for grief, should you complain?

Ah no!  It matters not if shade or sun,
Or good or ill, your efforts shall attend;
In doing you have but your duty done
As best you knew - and should do to the end.

          -  Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)!
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold;
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?"  The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord,"
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay not so,"
Replied the angel.  Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still, and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men."
The angel wrote and vanished.  The next night
It came again, with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo!  Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

-  Rudyard Kipling

When earth's last picture is painted, and the tubes
     are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colors have faded, and the
     youngest critic has died.
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it - lie down
     for an aeon or two
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall set us
     to work anew!

And those who were good will be happy; they
     shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with
     brushes of comet's hair;
They shall find real saints to draw from -
     Magdalene, Peter and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never
     be tired at all;

And only the Master shall praise us, and only
     the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one
     shall work for fame;
But each for the joy of the working, and each,
     in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of
     Things as They are!

        -  Sheridan

Believe not each accusing tongue,
As most weak persons do:
But still believe that story wrong
Which ought not be true.

 -  Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again
I shall not live in vain.

    -  William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud;
Under the bludgeonings of Chance
My head is bloody, but unbow'd.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

       -   S.E. Kiser

I have hoped, I have planned, I have striven,
To the will I have added the deed;
The best that was in me I've given,
I have prayed, but the gods would not heed.

I have dared and reached only disaster,
I have battled and broken my lance;
I am bruised by a pitiless master
That the weak and the timid call chance.

I am old, I am bent, I am cheated
Of all that youth urged me to win;
But name me not with the defeated,
Tomorrow again, I begin.

        -   Goethe

We must not hope to be mowers,
And to gather the ripe gold ears,
Unless we have first been sowers
And watered the furrows with tears.

It is not just as we take it,
This mystical world of ours,
Life's field will yield as we make it
A harvest of thorns or of flowers.

        -   Wilbur D. Nesbit

The good we meant to do - the deeds
     So oft misunderstood;
The thwarted good we try to do,
     And would do, if we could,
The noble deeds we set upon
     And have accomplished none -
Write them - and with them credit all
     The bad we have not done.




What rhymes with purple?
What rhymes with orange?
What rhymes with silver?