I’m currently stuck. No, not the kind that requires a generous dose of Phillips Milk of Magnesia. The other kind, better known in these circles as writer’s block. Since one of the symptoms of this dreadful scourge is a wandering mind, I have been wasting precious writing hours fixating on the poem and the poet that probably started me off on this writing adventure in the first place.
Let me explain (since I’m in no hurry to get back to the grind). My father loved poetry, and he was particularly partial to Edgar Guest. Never heard of him? Me neither, until one day in the fourth grade I was required to choose a poem to memorize and present before the class. I went straight to Daddy who readily pulled out a tattered copy of “A Bird and a Bad Day” clipped from the Detroit Free Press. It seems he and my mom exchanged these poems back and forth during the three years they were separated by my father’s World War II duties.
Daddy coached me through the excruciating experience of prepping for the oral presentation. (To this day I break out in a rash and a cold sweat but that’s another story.) And to this day, I can recite most of that poem on demand. (Teachers take note).
Now about Edgar Guest. He was called “The People’s Poet,” was the one and only Poet Laureate Michigan ever had, was often quoted by Edith Bunker from “All in the Family,” and was totally derided and mocked by other big names such as Lemony Snicket and Dorothy Parker. I think you get the picture.
But here’s the important part. Something in his schmaltzy sentimentality spoke to my parents’ hearts, which trickled down to me, and in fact, is speaking to me now in my “stuck” predicament.
Isn’t that, after all, what poetry is really about? I rest my case, and here follows “A Bird and a Bad Day.”
A BIRD AND A BAD DAY
Nothing to write about, nothing to say
And a printer shouting for copy today.
“Get busy, he wires, “you’re overdue now.
We must have your verses tomorrow somehow.”
So I sit at my desk and I twiddle my thumbs.
But the morning departs and a thought never comes.
Just out of my window a bird on a tree
Is singing a glorious lyric for me.
It may be an old tune, it may be a new.
But I wonder the while I am hearing him through.
Is that brave little fellow full pleased with his lot?
Does he, too, have to sing when he’d much rather not?
So sweet is his music, so liquid each note
Which comes with delight from his marvelous throat.
I wonder at times if he’d rather keep still
Than capture my ear with a rapturous trill?
Can a bird ever know such a soul-racking thing
As an order for song and have nothing to sing?
Oh! brave little fellow, I’ll struggle somehow
To get out that copy for Wednesday right now.
You were fashioned for singing, and though it may irk,
You sing with a brave heart because it’s your work.
My thanks for this lesson your courage has taught,
And also my thanks for suggesting this thought.
Edgar Guest, 1927
Detroit Free Press