Good morning and happy Saturday to you all.
As most of you know, April is Poetry Month and it would seem that Peter is celebrating. For when I woke on this dreary morn I found the following poem in my inbox. I enjoyed it so, I had to share here with you.
By: Peter Altschul
Poetry was for weirdos when I was in middle school and high school.
It was all about memorizing and spouting;
Faking interest while yawning.
My best efforts in writing mandated poetry resulted in poor grades or an increase in my weirdness quotient among my peers — usually both. And I couldn’t afford to be perceived as weird since I was the only blind kid at the schools I attended.
Mom gave me a braille copy of Robert Frost’s collection of poems "You Come Too" as a Christmas gift. Since I loved reading and braille books were sometimes in short supply, I would graze through the book while alone in my room. Nothing really grabbed my attention, except for the poem "Birches."
I didn’t acknowledge this connection internally until we were required to read the poem for a high school English class.
"What did you think of the poem?" the teacher asked someone at random.
"I dunno," that random girl mumbled — then after an awkward pause: "It’s a poem."
That would have been my comment as well for most other poems, but not, I suddenly realized, for "Birches." I never admitted this out loud, of course.
I still don’t know what caused that poem about bending, playing, swinging, climbing, rising, and gracefully falling to speak to me so powerfully, especially since I had never seen a birch tree.
"One could do worse," the poem concludes "than being a swinger of birches."
That seemed to make sense to my soul then, and I guess it still does.
I set the poem for soprano and woodwind quartet during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college. It was performed at the Aspen Music Festival and at The Juilliard School, both citadels of music excellence. During the next several years, I set several more Frost poems, which sort of ensnared me into the poetry web. Not totally, you understand, but over the years, my compositional drive has connected me to the beauty of a perfectly-crafted lyric by those old-school Broadway librettists; Stephen Sondheim; and so many lyricists of pop, rock, R&B, advertizing jingles, country, and rap songs during the past 60 years. During the past 40 years, I have set texts of psalmists, grammar school kids, my stepmom, hymn writers, and other random adults.
I prefer setting poetry that briefly describes a feeling or scene using unusual images, plays with words, and/or uses a repeated phrase. And while I don’t actively seek out poetry, and have even less interest in writing it, random poems by Langston Hughes, EE Cummings, Maya Angelou, and, more recently, Amanda Gorman have proclaimed: "Hey! You! We’re far more than just poems."
To read "Birches," please visit
ABOUT PETER ALTSCHUL AND HIS WORK…
Riding Elephants: Creating Common Ground Where Contention Rules
by Peter Altschul / C 2021 / 387 pages in print
In paperback and e-book from Amazon, Smashwords, and other online sellers
Includes photos of Peter and several of the dogs in his life
For the cover image, free text sample, and direct buying links, as well as more about the author and his contact information, please visit https://www.dldbooks.com/peteraltschul/
About the book:
How can we create common ground at home, on the job, and in faith communities? How can we work together better to address those contentious culture war conflicts that divide us? By becoming better at riding our quirky feelings elephants through marshalling our less quirky thoughts.
This concept is explored through brief essays on topics ranging from family life, organization behavior, and music, to Christianity, public policy, and politics. These essays focus on lessons drawn from the author’s experiences interviewing for jobs, raising stepchildren, playing music, training New York City taxi drivers, watching sports, shepherding dogs, finding common ground on abortion, leading diversity programs, and loving his wife. They suggest that common ground does exist if we can find the patience, skill, and grace to create it.
Peter currently lives in Columbia, Missouri. This is his third published book.
Three elephants walk left along the water’s edge at sunset. Only the middle one is shown in full, along with its rider. The setting sun is just behind its lifted trunk. One can see the squiggly reflections of the elephants in the water in front of them. The main title and the subtitle are at the top of the cover, and the author’s name is at the bottom. The dominant colors of the cover are dark brown, pale blue, and orange-gold. The back cover text is in black letters on a field of rich gold.