Poetry Friday: “The Gnat and the Gnu”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllHave you ever had one of those times where you think you’re being totally original, only to discover your ‘uniqueness’ has all been done before?

Yeah…this is one of those times.

During a critique group meeting in 2010, a fellow member had written a short rhyming PB manuscript about a fly and a gnat.  It was a cute story, and the word ‘gnat’ got stuck in my head.  After a week or so of mulling ideas over, I wrote the first draft of this poem. I revised it, revised it, and revised it some more. And the day before I planned to bring it to the critique group, I discovered…

Shel Silverstein had written a poem with a nearly identical title.

>sigh<

Now, I don’t think I’d ever seen his poem before (of course, anything’s possible, with my memory being what it is) so my heart sank, knowing a title like this would be a tough sell to an agent or editor.  I read Shel’s poem, which you can find HERE, and was relieved that is really wasn’t similar to mine at all – but still, titles are important things, and I’d be mortified to think that someone might read my poem and get the impression I was trying to rip him off.

And no, ‘mortified’ is not too strong a word.

I never want someone to read my material and think I’m trying to ‘be’ someone else. Not only do I want to be my own person as a writer and poet, but I take pains to try not to write similarly to anyone else, for that very reason.  So, having said this…I present to you:

The Gnat & The Gnu

Gnat said, “Hey there, what’s up, Gnu?”
Gnu said, “not much— how ‘bout you?”
Gnat sighed, “Nothing, kinda blue.”
Gnu asked, “Something I can do?”

Gnat said, “No, just wish I knew
why I’m small – not big, like you.
I have no horns, and no fur, too;
no one wants me at the zoo.
Nothing special, nothing new,
just a gnat without a clue
how to feel and what to do.
Oh, I wish I was a Gnu.”

Gnu thought hard, then said, “It’s true
I’m large, but all I do is chew;
never sprouted wings and flew,
never bathed in morning dew,
just grazed on grass and grew and grew.
Things I do are pretty few,
but I’m glad that I’m a Gnu –
so I’ll be me, and you be you.”

Satisfied, Gnat bid ‘adieu,’
happy he was not a Gnu;
And as he flew away, the Gnu
watched longingly

and Gnu…felt blue.

– © 2010, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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Not only is Laura Purdie Salas is hosting Poetry Friday today, but all month long she has been providing video ‘poem starters’ – suggestions to get your brain working!  So be sure to visit her blog and check out all of today’s Poetry Friday offerings as well as all her terrific ideas for creating poetry!

Prog poem 2013 graphicIrene Latham’s 2013 Progressive Poem is winding down!  This poem started with one blogger April 1 and is travelling from blog to blog, with a different blogger adding a new line to the poem every day. (By next Tuesday, April 30, we’ll have a completed poem!)  Here’s a complete list of all the participating bloggers, so you can follow along:

April Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland

33 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “The Gnat and the Gnu”

  1. Hey – I like yours better. Adorable! And such fun to read. But I know the feeling you are describing. Many years ago, I submitted a manuscript only to realize that one of the poems was very similar to an Eve Merriam poem. Had I read the Eve Merriam poem? Was it collective subconscious? I did not know and still don’t. I. Was. Mortified. Retracted the poem from the manuscript and have been looking over my shoulder ever since. This is a very cool poem. I want Gnu to feel better now. Happy PF!

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    1. Thanks, Amy! I’m sure that people like us, who write extensively, eventually will all write something like that – it’s the rule of numbers, isn’t it? The same idea repeated…it’s bound to happen. But I’m glad I’m not alone!

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  2. Remember this from T.S. Elliot?

    One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

    I agree with Amy. I like yours better. I wonder what Shel would say?

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    1. Well, all I can say is that I appreciate both of your comments…the fact that you like mine better blows me away! And thanks for sharing that quote, Doraine; I remember reading that many years ago, and it’s true!

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  3. Catherine Johnson

    That is absolutely fantastic and I think I have read Shel’s and yes yours is better. Is the title exactly the same then? You’ve got to get this published. The theme behind it is so common in plauygrounds too, so many can relate to this scenario. Someone needs cheering up but in the process the cheerer who wasn’t particularly down before starts to ponder things.

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  4. The writing process is so interesting. We are all influenced by what we read and hear, and especialy what we admire in others’ writing. I think this is especially true in poetry, where we work within such a tight framework and economy of words. This is why I don’t write poetry – i read so much of it that I fear I will be derivative – worse…so bravo for venturing bravely into poetry, Matt – and I do hope there will be an eventual verse wherein the Gnu finds solace!

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  5. Here’s my dirty secret: I’m not a huge Shel fan. I enjoy reading his work, but I seldom think “I wish I’d written that” — which to me is the sign that I REALLY like something.

    So…I wish I had written “The Gnat and the Gnu.” This is adorable on the surface and really touching underneath. Just lovely. And so fun to say aloud! Bravo, Matt.

    (BTW, I just found out that Shel also wrote a poem called “Opening Night,” the same title of my poem in the PFAMS. At first I was mortified, but then…oh, well. I don’t think he had a monopoly on writing poems about stage fright. My poem is mine!)

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    1. Well, you know what…it’s funny you should mention that about Shel. I do like a lot of his stuff, but there’s quite a bit I could take or leave. I’m one of the pro-“Giving Tree” crowd, and some of his poems like “The Little Boy and the Old man” are timeless…but I never felt like I was influenced by him that much. I don’t even recall reading much of his work when I was a kid – I’ve read more of his books as an adult!

      Thank you, also, for your comments about my poem…I’m very glad you liked it!

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  6. edecaria

    I like it, Matt. Don’t recall the SS poem, so it mustn’t have been THAT great!

    I’ve had similar post-writing discoveries. But it’s the vision/clarity/execution of the idea that makes the poem, not the idea itself.

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    1. Thanks, Ed. I know you’re particular with your positive comments, so I genuinely appreciate it. I can’t even begin to compare mine to his – I don’t dare compare anything I wrote to anything written by folks like him! I do know I got the idea for this poem from my critique group member’s ‘Gnat’ poem, and then by thinking about the word ‘Gnu,’ which was the only other word spelled similarly. S hel’s never even entered my mind!

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  7. I think there’s still another quote, but this one is similar, Matt: “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” – Audre Lorde I, like so many above, like yours better too. It has a touch of the heart that I personally love, as in “I’m large, but all I do is chew;
    never sprouted wings and flew,
    never bathed in morning dew,”. If gnus can be so empathetic, there is hope for all of us! Great poem!

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  8. Hi Matt, as I was reading your poem, I am reminded of Gary Gnu, the muppet, I think. So cute. I think rather than being mortified by the similarity, think of it this way: You and Shel Silverstein are kindreds! You are of like minds. How lovely is that. Great poem! 🙂

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  9. Matt, loved this poem! Think it would be a really fun one to share with a class at the beginning of the school year, when kids are just getting to know each other and becoming a community of learners. A message, but not preachy! Thanks! I think lots of us who write have had the experience of thinking we have written something original and then finding something either with a similar title, or a similar line or ??? I’ve done that more than once, and then wondered if the poem was just wandering around in my conscience or ???? And I think mortified is a perfect word to describe those times!

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  10. Thanks for sharing your poem and the story/unknown connections behind it! If we write enough, this kind of thing is going to happen. (There was a discussion not too long ago among some of the leading haiku poets – similar topic! No one would intentionally copy another’s poem, and yet it’s funny how similar words/themes do crop up. Maybe Jungian, as some have suggested!) Anyway, I enjoyed the “gnu” poem and enjoyed all these comments, and Doraine’s quote.

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  11. I think your poem is very clever! Thank you for sharing your story as well. It is comforting in an odd way to hear how universal your experience seems to be, and to read everyone’s kind comments. Gives me courage.

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    1. Oh, that’s right, I’d forgotten about that! Thanks for sharing, Gloson. I remember when I first read Ed’s poem it reminded me of mine, which I’d written about a year before. What is it with the letters G and N??

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  12. Pingback: The First Poem I Ever Wrote | messages

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