‘”THE HIGHWAYMAN”

BLOG #24, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE

ALFRED NOYES’ “THE HIGHWAYMAN”
June 24, 2015

Wisdom, in whatever form it’s packaged, has always fascinated me. The most condensed form of wisdom is a quotation, which we discussed last week. Second only to quotations are poetry, in terms of the words required to compress wisdom into so few lines. Next would come essays and short stories.

As those of you know who own my book, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction was titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” a dual heirloom which I was lucky enough to inherit. My mother was a professional elocutionist, a stage performer whose control of audiences—be it for short stories, readings, or poetry—was absolute. I grew up listening to the rhythm of her voice. She bequeathed to me two great gifts: an enduring love for short stories, and an equally enduring love for poetry.

In earlier times, the reciting of poetry was a staple in schools, civic functions, and churches everywhere. Today, poetry has been all but snuffed out by a vacuous media. Ted Koppel put it best in these two lines:

“Almost everything said in public today is recorded;
Almost nothing said in public today is worth remembering.”

So little of enduring value in today’s televised yada-yada.

In my classes, I found boys and young men to be the most resistant to poetry. That is, until I showed them how brutally honest and searing great poetry can be. Result: many went on to put together scrapbooks composed of their favorite poems.

Though I don’t currently have a Dr. Joe’s Poem of the Month Club, I have blogged quite a few of my favorite poems. Here they are so far:

1. “Love Comes Not the Same” – Joe Wheeler – (Feb. 10, 2010)
2. “The Child Is Father of the Man” – William Wordsworth – (March 31, 2010)
3. “The Other Side of Pomp and Circumstance” – Joe Wheeler – (May 12, 2010)
4. “The Clock of Life” – Author Unknown – (May 19, 2010)
5. “Outwitted” – Edwin Markham – July 28, 2010)
6. “Days” – Emerson – (March 16, 2011)
7. “October Song” – Joe Wheeler – (Oct. 5, 2011)
8. “Enoch Arden” – Tennyson – (May 2, 2012)
9. “Ulysses” – “Tennyson – (May 9, 2012)
10. “The Mill” – Edwin Arlington Robinson – (Aug. 1, 2012)
11. “A Song of Living” – Author Unknown – (May 15, 2013)
12. “First Settler’s Story” – Will Carleton – (June 24, 2013)
13. “Where Does Morning Come From?” – Emily Dickinson – (March 19, 2014)
14. “And I Learned About Women from Her?” – Kipling – Oct. 8, 2014)
15. “I Am” – Helen Mallicoat – (Dec. 31, 2014)
16. “Wisdom” – Edgar Guest – (March 4, 2015)
17. “It Couldn’t Be Done” – Edgar Guest – (April 22, 2015)

So . . . , I have a question to ask of you: Would you like me to make a regular thingn of poems I’ve loved in life? Are you one of those who’d like to collect them if I did? If you are, please respond right away!

Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, I’m going to share a couple more of my favorites with you.

You can contact me at: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Or message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned.

 

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POEMS I HAVE LOVED IN LIFE – “A SONG OF LIVING”

BLOG #20, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE #4
“A SONG OF LIVING”
May 15, 2013

No small thanks to my dearly beloved mother, a master of elocution, short stories, readings, and poetry, in both her public and private performances, I grew up with a great love of poetry, (other than quotations, the most succinct and condensed form of knowledge and insight transferal we know).

Three times before, I constructed foundation blocks under this new series with Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted” (July 28, 2010); Tennyson’s Enoch Arden (May 9, 2012); and Tennyson’s “Ulysses (May 16, 2012). On these three, I launch my new series of blogs centered on some of the poems I’ve loved most in life.

Like most of our blogs, something triggered this particular blog. As is true with most of us, I’ve generally lived each day with a rather cavalier disregard for death: Oh, someday, far off in the mists of time, it may happen to me . . . but not soon. Well, for us the trigger turned out to be the sideswiping of our rental car by a large tour bus on the Monterey coast only two weeks ago. Our lives were spared, but only by inches: only a few inches to the right and all four of us would have been splattered on California’s Coastal Highway 1.

Needless to say, that close call was a stark reminder of just how fragile this thin thread we call “life” really is.

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Only once in our 80 books have I anthologized very many poems. In Tears of Joy for Mothers [we celebrated another Mother’s Day just last Sunday], in a tribute to my mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler, I wrote a long introduction titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” in which I assembled for the first time all of the poems of the home my mother loved and recited most. In retrospect, it seems to her three children that she had in her arsenal a poem for every kind of child misbehavior there exists—and, because we were a perverse threesome, she needed them all! Very few of Mother’s poems exist in poetry anthologies, mainly because they were folk poems that were recited by elocutionists from generation to generation without ever gracing the more formal genre of book collections.

Late in life [I was privileged to experience one of them], my mother and father (he, with music) put on memorable programs titled “From the Cradle to the Grave,” celebrations of life, in all its multidimensionality with audiences large and small. I can hear her marvelous poetic lines as I write these words, and my eyes mist over—for I never then realized I was hearing her poetic declarations for the last time.

Always, in these programs, she concluded with what had become, over the years, her life’s signature poem, “A Song of Living” [I’ve never found out who wrote it]. She first recited it in public at the age of fourteen in a high school elocutionary contest. At college, it was while hearing her recite it for a program that my father first set eyes on her. By the time she’d finished, he’d fallen in love with her.

Here are the words:

Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings to be lost in the blue of the sky,
I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast.
My cheek like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I have kissed young love on the lips, I have heard his song to the end.
I have struck my hand like a seal, in the loyal hand of a friend,
I have known the peace of Heaven, the comfort of work done well.
I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of Hell.
Because I have loved life, I have no sorrow to die.

I give a share of my soul to the world where my course is run.
I know that another shall finish the task that I leave undone.
I know that no flower, no flint, was in vain on the path I trod.
As one looks on a face through a window, through life, I have looked on God.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

Included in my anthology of motherhood stories, Tears of Joy for Mothers (Nashville: W Publishing Group/Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006). $13.99. Though out of print, we still have copies available. You can reach me at my email: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART TURNS 21

BLOG #40, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® TURNS 21
September 26, 2012

It has arrived. As I sit in my writing rocker, on my lapboard is the reality that for so long has been so much less: first Christmas stories I read and re-read, wrote their titles down in Draft #1, discarded some and substituted others for Draft #2, repeated the process for Draft #3, again for Draft #4, kept discarding other stories that all but demanded to be included that ended up in Draft #5, repeated the process in Draft #6, began feeling better about the collection in Draft #7, better yet with those in Draft #8, almost got there with Draft #9, and only with Draft #10 did I prayerfully conclude that God was pleased with that menu of stories.

Once decided on, I began playing with the order. It is at this stage that I’ve sometimes concluded, for one reason or another, that one story had to go. Sometimes because two stories were too much alike or one of them just didn’t stand up to the competition. Always in the back of my mind is the vow I made to God many years ago: Lord, if any future collection of Christmas stories is less powerful than those that went before, give me the guts to hang it up right there, because I must never, never, never coast!

But this collection stood up under such a re-reading. So which one should be placed in the lead position? A crucial question, for if the lead story fails to suck readers into it, then we risk losing them completely. There were a number that competed for that position in my mind, most notably, Isobel Stewart’s “Christmas in the Heart” —no wonder she loved the series! What jubilation reigned in her house in Helderberg, South Africa when Pacific Press’s Karen Pearson hand-delivered the newest collection to her a year ago. But this year, her story faced tough competition with that battle-hardened veteran, Temple Bailey. I’d just recently stumbled on her wondrous love story titled “The Christmas Quest,” and it just plain dug in its heels and tantrummed its path to the lead position. So I then positioned Stewart’s story next to my own at the end. Always I try to feature one of our strongest stories in that position. Sadly, not long after I sent the manuscript in, Isobel’s husband e-mailed me that the love of his life had passed away. Never in this world would she get to light up with the arrival of another Christmas in My Heart® collection carrying one of her magical stories—often Christmas love stories (a genre our readers treasure above all others!).

Once those two positions were decided, I began wrestling with organizing the rest of them. There is always a rhythm to their appearance: Don’t position two long stories together, but separate them by shorter ones; ditto short ones; normally, I don’t position two tear-jerkers sequentially; don’t place the most powerful ones at the front, the middle, or the end; above all, don’t leave the weaker (of course we try our best to have no weaker ones!) for the end of the book, for the stories ought to reach a crescendo that culminates with my own story. A real challenge, believe me! Especially this year when I made such a departure from my norm and turned to a non-fiction account of the most memorable Christmas of my lifetime. Six of the fifteen finalists turned out to be love stories.

Two stories, Pierre van Paassen’s “Uncle Kees’ Christmas Rebellion” and Willemm Brandt’s “The Candle,” had been in the running for years and years, but each time failed to make the final cut; but this time I felt God saying to me, Their turn has come: include them! Though short, each of them is a masterpiece.

One genre I have usually avoided—other than featuring my own—is the long Christmas story, reason being that to include two long ones in one book results in too few stories in the 128-page collection. But since my own story wasn’t as long as some this year, I was able to include Lucy Agnes Hancock’s unforgettable romance, “Christmas Gift,” one of the longest Christmas stories we’ve ever featured. I’ll be really surprised if it doesn’t do its best to run away with this collection.

I also make a point of featuring contemporary writers as well as time-proven ones; these add vibrancy and uptodatedness to a given collection; this year, making that tenth cut were Virginia A. Johnson’s “Ornament of Grace,” Harriet LaBarre’s “The Magic Key,” Katharine Swartz’s “Star of Hope,” and Jill Hoefler’s “The Empty Box.” Johnson writes from Crabtree, Oregon; LaBarre (96 years old and still writing!) from Sag Harbor, New York; Katharine Swartz from St. Bees Vicarage in Cumbria, England; and Hoefler from Firth, Nebraska.

The oldest story in the collection, first published in 1891, Ella F. Mosby’s “The Christmas Inn,” is set way back in 1465 England.

Then there are other ever so special authors we’ve never featured before: Lola Lamorreaux, Lawrence York, and Leslie Peters. It is always a joy to bring back to life from the very edge of extinction authors whose work deserves to live on!

And I must not forget the bookmark! I just spoke two days ago to Doug Church, Pacific Press’s Vice President of Marketing, who confided in me that he and his marketing team have concluded that one key reason why last year’s collection, Christmas in My Heart® 20, sold out of its first-printing before Christmas was the stunningly beautiful bookmark that was given to each purchaser of the collection. A Barnes & Noble manager told me, “Joe, that bookmark is as beautiful as any of those we sell for $5 each!” The bookmark was taken from the center of the Currier & Ives-ish cover crafted by Steve Lanto. And some people coveted the bookmark so much they bought the book just to get it! So, on this basis, Church told me, they did the same for Christmas in My Heart 21. And he sighed, “Do you have any idea how long it takes for our entire staff to hand-tie all those thousands of tassels? It takes everyone, beginning with the front-desk receptionist, to tie them!” Isn’t that uniquely special? A hand-tied artifact in this age of mass market digitalization!

You can order your copy (copies) from us at P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433. $13.99 each, plus shipping. Or go to our web page and send us an email through the web page: http://www.joewheelerbooks.com. Or send directly to our email: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Let us know if you want your books to be personally inscribed.

May you and yours enjoy a blessed Christmas season!