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"The Correspondence School of Poetry" from Leslie's Monthly

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Leslie's Monthly
The Correspondence School of Poetry
by Ellis Parker Butler

It has always seemed a pity to me that so much time is spent by pupils of the public schools in learning arithmetic and so little in learning the rudiments of poetry. Speaking as a poet, I can say that very little arithmetic is necessary in life. As a poet, I have never been called upon to deal with sums larger than twenty dollars, but the questions of rhyme, meter and versification in general are of great value.

It is to supply this needed poetical education that I have opened the Hanna Correspondence School of Poetry, through which any one of ordinary intelligence can, in twenty lessons, learn to write a pretty good article of poetry. I charge only ten dollars for the entire course, which includes odes, sonnets, lyrics, epics, plain and fancy poetry, blank verse and Kipling. Each lesson is neatly typewritten and includes diagrams, and I correct all poems constructed by the student, and return them with a printed blank, just like a real editor. Everyone finishing the course receives a beautifully printed diploma authorizing him to claim that he is a child of the muses. I have often mourned over the present decay of the poetical art. I use the word "decay" because it is more refined than the word "rotten," and I think poetical subjects should be treated in a rather refined manner, no matter what Kipling thinks. "Rotten" is a better word than "decay," because it has good old Anglo-Saxon blood in its veins, and it applies to nearly all the poetry of today, but I am not one of those who think only Anglo-Saxon words are fit to use. In my own poems I use any words that fit in. For example, in the couplet:--

"The greatest nations pass away,
E'en as the strongest oaks decay,"

it is evident that the lines would lose much of their rhythm and beauty if we substituted the word "rot," thus:--

"The greatest nations pass away,
E'en as the strongest oaks rot."

Even the poorest sort of a critic would see that "rot" and "away" do not rhyme, and it is always best to get the rhyme as nearly correct as possible.

This brings me to my subject and the first lesson of the Hanna Correspondence School of Poetry. I teach by what may be called the Rapid Method, which is similar to the Phonetic Method of learning foreign languages.


Ordinarily poets spend much valuable time learning the rules of meter and rhyme. This is unnecessary. Every rhyme and every style of meter has already been used. It is a waste of energy, then, for the poet to hope to create new rhymes or new meters. It follows, therefore, that he cannot do better than to use the rhymes and the meter of some dead poet who cannot sue for damages. Let the beginner get a book of poems and open it at random. Take the first eight lines at the top of the right hand page, and construct your poem, using the meter and rhymes of those eight lines. This, in one moment, does away with all necessity for filling the mind with tiresome rules, and assures the use of rhymes sanctioned by eminent authority.

For example I open my "Anthology of English Verse" at random and read:--

"A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears;
She seem'd a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Roll'd round in earth's diurnal course
With rocks, and stones, and trees!"
-- Wordsworth.

If we analyze this we find that the meter runs regularly in this manner:--

Te tum, te tum, te tum, te tum,
Te tum, te tum, te tum,
Te tum, te tum, te tum, te tum,
Te tum, te tum, te tum.

And that the rhymes are:--


Now when we want to write a poem we look at these rhymes until they suggest something to our minds. The first word, "seal,"suggests a poem about that animal for the children's page of a Sunday paper, so we write the rhymes on a sheet of paper, one below the other, in their regular order. It is evident when we again study the rhymes that the "seal" "fears" to "feel" the "years," but that when something comes in "force" the seal "sees" and thinks its best "course" is to take to the "trees."

Having thus secured our idea, all that is necessary is to fill in enough other words to keep the "te tum, te tum" running smoothly. This will be the result:--


"Unto the musk ox thus the seal
Expressed his greatest fears--
'I hope I'll die before I feel
The pains that come with years.'
Just then the sealers come in force--
Then said the seal -- 'One sees
Too late that schools should have a course
To teach seals to climb trees!'"

This is not good poetry, nor good sense, but one of the first things the poet should learn is that the editors of the Children's Pages prefer verses of this sort. Their position is logical. "Adults prefer good poetry; children are not adults; therefore, children do not prefer good poetry."

But let us suppose we have an order for a poem for a religious publication, instead of for a children's page. We write down our rhymes as before.

Ah! We "unseal" something that has something to do with "fears" and makes us "feel" something about "years," and this gives us the necessary "force" so that something "sees" a "course" that brings in "trees."

We have here the motive for a fine poem. When we pad it out we get:--


"Who would not willingly unseal
Pandora's box of fears,
If Faith came forth to bid him feel
More sure of future years?
For Faith alone supplies the force
To strengthen him who sees
His errors, marking all his course,
Like dead and withered trees."

This variety of poem does not mean as much as it seems to, which is a great point in successful poem writing. I give the two following poems as examples of the political ode, which are always salable in political years. In making these we proceed as before: --


'Come drink his health in good White Seal--
Here's to the man who fears
No foe; who makes the Demmies feel
Worse than they have for years!
Our Ted's the boy who has the force
To win. We bet he sees
Another presidential course
Among the White House trees."


"The fate of Theodore we shall seal
And calm the nation's fears--
The tyrant trusts our wrath shall feel
Four Democratic years--
So let our donkey go full force
Until the goal he sees--
We'll win this presidential course
Or bust our axle-trees."

These four examples will be sufficient to give the student an idea of the noble possibilities of poetry done by the Rapid System. Remember that practice makes perfect. Do not despair. Keep at it. Above all do not fail to remit ten dollars for the succeeding lessons.

The further lessons treat of the Poem of Passion -- how to write passionately although you owe two weeks' board -- how much passion the public will stand -- passion as an advertisement. The Kipling style -- how to write dialect ballads -- how to make folks angry -- how to realize on their anger. The Humorous Weekly Poem -- how it differs from really humorous poems -- why it should not be humorous. The Love Poem -- how to write as if you were in love when you are not -- poems to accompany gifts -- poems to send when the gifts are returned -- how to continue writing love poems after marriage, etc.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:12:23am USA Central
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