Your Morning Metaphor

Start every day with food for thought

January 7, 2011

I have just entered the seventh decade of my journey through life and I have yet to encounter a true “morning person.” Maybe they exist. Maybe they are those people you see jogging at 5:30 a.m. on those atypical days when you have to rise extra early to catch an early morning flight. My guess is that those joggers are not morning people. My guess is that they are full of angst and are running to get rid of the kinks in their bodies and their minds so they will be halfway civilized when their work day starts at 8.

Everybody has a wake-up routine. It typically involves coffee or some other stimulant for the body and a television show, newspaper, radio program, or some other stimulant for the mind. Most morning routines do not involve other people. Relating to other people takes time.

Me, I like to start the day with various breakfast cereals. If there are other people around, I arrange the boxes in a fort-like rectangle that shuts them politely out. Newspapers and laptops are other good people shields.

Here’s a thought: Why don’t the cereal companies print short but dense poems, maybe something by Elizabeth Barrett Browning or William Wordsworth, on the backs of their boxes? Poetry is best read in that transitional state between dreamland and reality. Get the poem in your brain at the beginning of the day and let your subconscious gnaw away at it. Eventually the meaning of the poem will begin to take shape. It takes me a week or two to eat my way through a box of Cheerios. That’s probably the right amount of time to digest the density of a short poem by Emily Dickinson or Wallace Stevens.

To me poetry is the very big afterthought in our texting-obsessed world. You would think that in our age of Twitter, an 8- or 10-line poem would be all the rage. What other literary format packs as big a punch in so small a package?

Why don’t people engage more in the self-immersion of poetry? Is it because poetry asks us to loosen up on our grip on reality and let our minds wander in directions that scare the reality out of us?

Perhaps. But I really don’t think that’s it.

Poetry is too internal. It’s too inaccessible. My dark night of the soul may not mean anything to you.

A few lines of poetry may be just too much out of reach for you to make the effort to understand it. It requires an immersion into the land of feelings and emotions that perhaps in the final analysis you feel won’t make any sense. Is it too much mental pain for too little gain? A Twitter message it is not, which is precisely why this is an important issue.

As librarians we know that our literary tradition is rooted in poetry. Homer, who started everything, was a poet, but the modern trend is to translate him into narrative prose. The same with Chaucer, Virgil, and even Dante. Why?

It’s because the structure of poetry has become too unfamiliar to us. Today, unfortunately, it even seems a bit elitist to make the statement, “I love to read poetry” in public. That’s why I think putting poems on the cheery backs of cereal boxes makes so much sense. What packaging format is simpler and less pretentious than a Cheerios package? What could be more accessible? What could be less threatening?

You can fight the e-book wars all you want. I want to explore new apps for cereal boxes.

WILL MANLEY has furnished provocative commentary on librarianship for over 30 years and in nine books on the lighter side of library science. He blogs at Will Unwound.


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