Wednesday, April 22, 2015

NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Apostrophe/Poems of Address

An apostrophe is a poem which directly addresses a person or thing that is generally absent, hence the more common name of poem of address. There are many days when I want to talk to someone who isn't here, to ask questions, to wonder. Poems of address require poets not to write about something, but to imagine what they would say if they could speak to the person, place, or thing being addresses.

The word apostrophe comes from the Greek for "turning back." Apostrophe has been a part of storytelling since Greek drama. Because there is a clear speaker and change of addressee, apostrophe is often found in plays. However, it also occurs in prose and poetry. Here are some beginning lines from classic poems that use this form.

Edgar Allen Poe - To Science
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?

Percy Bysshe Shelley - 
Ode to the West Wind
O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

John Pierpont - The Fugitive Slave’s Apostrophe to the North Star
Star of the North! though night winds drift
The fleecy drapery of the sky
Between thy lamp and me, I lift,
Yea, lift with hope, my sleepless eye
To the blue heights wherein thou dwellest,
And of a land of freedom tellest.

William Shakespeare - Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.

You can learn more about apostrophe at literary devices. This apostrophe is not the same as the punctuation mark. For more on that, read this poem.

Apostrophe to the Apostrophe
by Eric Nelson

Small floater, you stay above the fray,
a wink at nothing's nod, a raised brow
watching p's and q's, a selfless mote
between I and m, a little horn of plenty
spilling plurals, disdaining the bottom line.

Read the poem in its entirety.
Hey You!: Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes, and Other Fun Things (2007), selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Robert Rayesky, is an anthology entirely filled with poems of address. Here is how it begins in the section entitled Imagination on the Loose.
Have you ever spoken to your sneakers? Or talked to your mailbox? Sounds wacky, doesn't it? Well, this book is filled with poems that were written to things. What kinds of things? How about poems to a fork or an octopus? They're in here. So are poems to mosquitoes and a skyscraper. There's even a poem in this book to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 
Why would anyone write a poem to a thing? Because it's fun! And it can also be a challenge. You need to really observe the thing and discover what  you might say to it. Then, of course, you'll need to find the right words to make it come alive.
Here are two examples.

To An Astronaut
by Beverly McLoughland

When you're in space
So far away
With darkness all around,

And you see the little Earth
Do you miss its windy sound?

Do you feel alone
With endless space
The neighbor at your door?

Do you miss the Earth
So far away?
Do you love it even more?

Poem ©Beverly McLoughland. All rights reserved.

Straight Talk
by Nikki Grimes

Look, Bee
Fair is fair.
I don't burst into
Your honeycomb
Or interrupt you
While you feed on
Rose and Lily
So leave me alone, drone
Show yourself the door
And don't come
Buzzing round here

Poem ©Nikki Grimes. All rights reserved.

You'll find poems of address sprinkled throughout many a poetry collection. Here are a few I particularly like.
Dear Hot Dog (2011), written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, is a collection of poems that show the joy of childhood over the course of a day. The poems follow three friends from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. Many of the poems are written as poems of address. Here is an example.


Where do you go
when it's dark?
Back into lightbulbs
when I turn them off?
Do you hide in closets,
under the covers,
or in refrigerators?
Why can't I
fill a bag with you?
Where do you
go at night?
You have to be
Maybe tonight
I won't sleep.
I'll just stay up,
the darkness,
till I find

Poem ©Moridcai Gerstein. All rights reserved.
Eric Carle's Animals Animals (1989), is a collection of poems by various authors, illustrated by Eric Carle. From classics to modern poems, there are a number of poems of address here. Here are two classics.

The Octopus
by Ogden Nash

Tell me, O Octopus, I begs,
Is those things arms or is they legs?
I marvel at thee, Octopus:
If I were thou, I'd call me Us.

Bee! I'm Expecting You
by Emily Dickinson

Bee! I'm expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due—

The Frogs got Home last Week—
And settled, and at work—
Birds, mostly back—
The Clover warm and thick—

You'll get my Letter by
The seventeenth: Reply,
Or better, be with me—
Yours, Fly.

Now that you've read a few examples for inspiration, here are some useful resources for reading and writing poems of address.
That's it for poems of address. I hope you'll join me here tomorrow for another form.

1 comment:

  1. Oh poet, who addresses things,
    like wind and rockets, diamond rings,
    like ocean waves, like Grecian urns,
    like pimples, pustules, healing burns,
    can you address yourself and say:
    "Oh poet, please just go away!"

    --Jane Yolen ©2015 all rights reserved