The Best Words in the Best Order

The Apple Seed
  • Sep 15, 2020 1:00 am
  • 56:50

Henry Nelson Coleridge, nephew of the famous English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, took notes about things he heard Samuel say at gatherings of family and friends from 1822 to 1834. He figured they might someday be worthwhile biographical records about the life of his famous uncle. After Samuel’s death, Henry published the notes, bringing to light one of history’s most oft repeated quotes about poetry: “I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry. That is, prose equals words in their best order; poetry equals the best words in the best order.” And while we certainly have a lot of “words in their best order” in our collection of fairytales and folktales, you’d be surprised how many of those pieces of prose toe the line of poetry. Whether it’s short, repeated phrases (“I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow the house down”), rhymes (“Jack and Jill went up the hill”), or even just the performative style of speaking (“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!”), poetry fits right into the fairytale crowd. So today, we’ve pulled out a whole stanza of poetic folktales and rhymes from our library, from the naturalist poetry of Doug Elliott to the rhymed adventures of Linda Gorham. Join us on a rhythmic journey to the land where poetry and prose meet: the land of storytelling. On today’s episode, enjoy the following: “Frogs, Guardians of Water” by Doug Elliott (12:57) This poetic creation story recounts the history of water.  When the creatures of the earth begin to take their water for granted, the wells of life run dry—literally and figuratively. Will the great council of animals be able to restore the flow of the creator’s greatest gift? And who will the council select to guard that gift forever more? Well, the title should give you a pretty good hint. This story is from the famous naturalist Doug Elliott’s collection of bush folktales called Bullfrogs on Your Mind. See if you can catch the quick, four-line poems that Doug sneaks into this story—sometimes they’re over before you even realize they rhymed!  “The Artist” by Ted Fink (6:50) Written by Ted Fink himself, and part of a collection of newer work from the Philadelphia storyteller called The New Stuff: Stories ‘n Songs, this longform poem tells the tale of why Ted grew into a storyteller. He compares his very conservative aunt Seely to his seemingly mysterious uncle Lou. When Ted finds one of Uncle Lou’s beautiful wood carvings relegated to a shelf in the basement, he comes to better understand the price of living your dreams, and why those dreams sometimes end up on the shelf.  “The Road Not Taken” by Joseph Sobol (4:25) Joseph Sobol brings Robert Frost’s classic poem to life by setting the lyrics to his own jaunty, folksy piece of music. Though Frost initially wrote the now famous poem as a joke for a friend, “The Road Not Taken” would go on to be a beloved part of the American poetic cannon as a fairy-tale-like meditation on choice. It was originally published in Frost’s 1916 collection, Mountain Interval. Sobol is both a professional folklorist and cittern player of Tennessee fame, bringing poetry and music to his Southern fans with a variety of storytelling collections, including the one this song belongs to: Citternity. “Black and Yellow” by Tim Lowry (7:37) This traditional “porquoi” tale hails from Spain and explains why bumblebees have their black and yellow stripes. Tim doesn’t tell the story in verse, but the bee has long been a part of the literary tradition of Spain as a symbol of industriousness, godliness, and even memory (the beehive is often compared to the mind in structure). From Tim’s cross-cultural collection, Folk Tales from Around the World, this story has all the trappings of a Tim Lowry telling: poetic language, historic facts, and an unmistakable Southernness. “The Mr. & The Mrs.” by Linda Gorham (4:05) This nursery-rhyme-style tale follows a couple who come into possession of a magic pot that duplicates anything put inside. But what happens when you put in someone instead of something? This cute take on an old welsh legend, from a collection of family tales called Common Sense & Uncommon Fun, is only one side of Linda Gorham’s impressive storytelling repertoire. On the other end of the spectrum, Linda’s well-researched historical retellings won her the Linda Jenkins Brown Nia Award for Service from the National Association of Black Storytellers.  “Lost in Cyberspace” by Donna Ingham (6:09) Donna uses this freeform poem to explain how her son and his wife introduced her to the world of technology, to which she calls herself an “immigrant in a foreign land.” The poem uses clever wordplay to spin tech company names, internet slang, and other technical jargon into a web of misunderstandings between generations. The story comes from a collection called Our Boy, C. Y. (and his Sweet Young Thing of a Wife), which gathers six of Donna’s prize-winning, original lies. So, naturally, nothing about this story is true.