Somewhere a girl has written a poem
And thinks it the greatest poem in the world.
“Better than Milton,” claims she with a smile,
“Better than Kipling or Tennyson
“More modern than the modernists,
“More artistic than abstractionists,
“More to the point than minimalists,
“A simple representation of the ideal poem.”
Here it is rhymed, there it is rhythmic,
All well defined, and truly symbolic:
It is the world’s greatest poem,
And she is the world’s greatest poet.
With this in mind, she brings her poem
To her schoolteacher, expecting no less
Than praise and admiration.
Her teacher, however, has different words in mind.
“Your poem rhymes; therefore it is childish.
“Your poem speaks of life and love, but not abstract concepts.
“Therefore it is hackneyed.
“Your poem is too long to be submitted to any periodical publication.
“If you want to write good poetry,
“Keep it short, keep it abstract,
“And above all, keep it unrhymed.
“You will never be a poet unless you at least do these things.
“Really, I expected more from a fifteen-year-old.”
The girl nods quietly and takes her poem back,
Not really believing all she has heard.
So what if her poem rhymes many words?
It is still the greatest poem in the world...
Then she has her first doubt,
And she looks at the poem again.
This time she sees flaws and thinks
How cliché her poem must be,
How stale and trite it is—
For that is how she now sees it—
So she crumples the paper
And throws away
The greatest poem in the world.
And she will never be the world’s greatest poet
Because critics and she both think it impossible.
She then walks away, down the hall,
Away from the trash, away from the poem.
She never looks back.
A custodian cleaning the hallways
Finds the trash can that night.
The poem, spilled onto the floor,
Is still crumpled, unidentifiable.
The curious janitor picks it up
And unfolds it just for the heck of it.
He reads the lines, and he loves every one.
The poem is simple, unlike the ones
He was tested on knowing in school.
It rhymes just the way that
He thinks a real poem should be rhymed.
It is not fancy, or meaningful only to one person,
But it is broad and could be read by anybody.
It speaks universal truths
Without lecturing form.
So he pockets the poem
And continues his job for now,
But later he shows it to his friends,
None of whom are regular poetry readers.
The friends admire and praise the poem,
For they see the talent that went into the words.
“Where did you get this?” they ask the custodian.
“I found it,” says he.
“So I don’t know who wrote it or why.
“It may just be a school assignment.
“But whoever wrote this thing
“Has sure got some skill with a pen.”
So the poem goes on to touch lives and hearts
That Shakespeare’s language could never reach,
And it follows the example of many a work
That have practiced the opposite of what experts preach
And succeeded among people who can identify with the girl.
This is why it truly is the greatest poem in the world.
March 24, 2003