Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

In honor of National Poetry Month

Kate has a wonderful idea (do check it out) for celebrating National Poetry Month that requires a little more than just posting a favorite poem:

"The challenge is simply to post about poetry at least once in the month of April. The post could be a review of a collection of poetry, a broader meditation on the work of a favourite poet, or a detailed analysis of a single poem. Simply posting a poem doesn't count unless you go on to say something about that poem. The idea is to dare to be critical (as in analytical, not necessarily negative) and venture an opinion."

I love poetry. I love John Donne and Emily Dickinson; Yeats and Dylan Thomas; Peter Meinke and Stanley Kunitz; Edna St. Vincent Millay and Galway Kinnell; Naomi Shihab Nye, Muriel Rukeyser, Anne Sexton, Denise Levertov; James Stephens, Theodore Roethke, W. H. Auden, Basho...

Here is a poem that will fit into the Once Upon a Time and Twisted Fairy Tale challenges:

How to Change a Frog into a Prince

Anna Denise
Start with the underwear. Sit him down.
Hopping on one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait,
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up.
This body, so recently reformed, reclaimed,
still carries the marks of its time as a frog. Be gentle.
Avoid the words awkward and gawky.
Do not use tadpole as a term of endearment.
His body, like his clothing, may seem one size too big.
Relax. There's time enough for crowns. He'll grow into it.

Some poems are difficult to understand and require multiple readings, and I love poems like that, poems that require intuition and effort. But I love poems like this one - poems that are instantly accessible, a bit silly and a bit serious. I love poems that "connect," as this one does to something that I'm reading or thinking about.

An easy poem, "How to Change a Frog into a Prince" is about transformation, and we are all transforming, but it is also about patience and kindness. It is tongue-in-cheek and perceptive - a gentle blend. It seems to say that love of all kinds requires acceptance and that princes, children, friends, lovers, and spouses are all subject to growth, to change, and that we have a role in these transitions. And humor helps. "Relax. There's time enough for crowns. He'll grow into it." Maybe we will, too.


  1. I've had to come back a couple of times to read the poem - I've really enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. What a delightful poem. Thanks so much for posting it. And yes...growth is something to encourage not criticize, to relax you say (and to help others do the same).

    And thanks for posting about Kate's poetry challenge. I'm definitely in.

    Lovely site. I'll be back (and not only to reread this poem):)

    Deborah @ Exuberant Reader

  3. What a fun poem. I think sometimes we take poetry so seriously we forget it can be fun and funny too.

  4. Iliana - :) I like it, too. I like the way my lips start to curve as I read it!

    Exuberant Reader - I'm so glad Kate decided to host this challenge; it will be fun collecting new poems.

    Stefanie - I agree that many people take poetry too seriously and by so doing, feel that it is too difficult. This poem says a lot with such a light feeling and direct language.

  5. I like to read a whole range of types of poetry too -- there's such a long tradition of narrative poetry or more accessible poetry that it's unfortunate to forget it's there.

  6. I wish I'd known this when I was teaching eleven year olds. They would have loved the basic idea, but there is enough else in there to get them really thinking about what you can do with poetry.

  7. Dorothy - There really is a poem for everyone and every occasion, isn't there?

    Ann - Yes, this would be an excellent poem for young people!

  8. What a great poem; thanks for sharing it.

  9. Dewey - It is a funny little poem that speaks to my frequent impatience!

  10. In depth analizing:
    This poem, “How to Change a Frog into a Prince” by Anna Denise is a really great poem operating on two levels. The first is this poem is about a frog, which has been kissed by a princess and is now a prince. The other level is more about growing up. About the transition to adulthood is difficult, yet achievable. This similarity is built on the use of metaphor, imagery, and

    The poem uses metaphors to relate the poem to teens, or other people undergoing great changes. This poems refers to the arms of the frog as have being stretched, or “lengthened out of proportion” like, people in their teens, as they age to adulthood. They, like the frog, are awkward and gawky, but embarrassed for people to point it out. The frog’s body has been “reclaimed” and “reformed” just as when teenagers are growing, nothing but arms and legs. Teens, like the frog, are sensitive to embarrassing little nicknames, no matter how cute they sound. And the last sentence, just like the frog will “grow in to [the crown]” teens will grow in to themselves.

    In addition, Anna Denise uses imagery to enforce her point. “Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion”, is a great example of the imagery in this poem. The reader can easily imagine what the poet describes. Also, “so recently reformed, reclaimed, still carries the marks of its time as a frog” illustrates the imagery. These stanzas are very effective because the prince still carries marks of his froggy days, and this relates back to teens, because, teens carry many habits, and characteristics in to adulthood.

    Finally, the poet uses word choice and sounds as another means of presenting the poem’s idea. The words awkward, and gawky, they look silly, and are awkward to spell, just like their meaning. Similarly the word proportion looks “lengthened” and stretched out.

    Denis’s poem about the frog prince has two levels of understanding. Without the idea of a second idea, this poem seems straightforward and cute, but with the second layer, its taken on more depth, and importance.

  11. Anonymous - I certainly agree that the poem operates on two levels, that is what makes it both silly and serious at the same time. I do think that both levels are easily accessible and that even very young readers will see both levels.

    I didn't limit it to the transformation of adolescents because I think the transformation is (hopefully) an ongoing process and that all relationships are in the process of transformation and adjustment.

    The more I think about the poem and the deceptively simplicity of it, the more I like it. Anna Denise has written tenderly and humorously about the idea of growth (physical and emotional) and the need for patience.

    Thanks for bringing me back to it once again; each time I read it, I realize I'm smiling.