Starting in second or third grade and all the way into middle school, we girls used to play jump rope at recess. Two of us would warm the rope up by swinging it, while the rest of us got into a straggly line. But we never once skipped quietly, and not with little grunts either, the way girls these days hit tennis balls. Instead we jumped to out-loud metaphors, like "Keep the kettle boiling, empty rope's a miss," which meant that if you didn't get in on the downswing right after the upswing the last girl jumped out on, you had to go to the end of the line and start over. Some of the skipping rhymes had lots of verses and orchestrated several of us jumping at the same time. I remember an especially involved one that went:
I had a little baby
By the time the lady with the purse on her arm had exited, we were usually out of breath. I have to admit I always wondered what she DID with that purse. I never found out, but no matter. My point is that skipping rhymes were as natural to us back then as breathing. And, of course, we didn't think of them as poetry. But they were. In fact, poems worked pretty much the same way for us as songs; they were what you danced around chanting. And as songs came naturally to us in all kinds of social situations as we were growing up, so-way beyond jump rope--- did poems.
We didn't use them in an exactly literary way, but we used them all the time. We used to tease each other with them. For instance, if one of our friends was showing a little too much interest in some boy, we'd taunt her with: "Katie and Tommy up in a Tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Katie with a baby carriage." At which Katie or Susan or Jill would usually turn bright red. Such is the power of poetry.
And when, at the end of the year, we'd bring autograph books to school, which we all did, besides taping our school pictures in next to our looped love notes, we used to sign them with metaphors. We thought nothing of writing in our friends' books deeply meaningful lines like "Yours 'til the Mississippi has to wear rubber pants to keep its bottom dry."
All this talk takes me back to the days when poetry, whether we called it that or not, was not only the way we related to our friends but was pure fun. I still remember the delight I used to get in being out of breath from running around to be sure I wouldn't be late for my turn, and from counting the rhymes by nodding my head. I never heard of iambic pentameter, and who cared? I was way into poetry. Now, where'd I put that jump rope?
Copyright 2007© Lola Haskins
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Saturday, 31-Mar-2007 22:27:43 EDT