Today is Etheree Taylor Armstrong Day. She is the poet who created the Etheree syllabic form. I have grown to be very fond of this simple form. I think I now compose poems in this form more often than any other. I think what appeals to me is the simplicity of the form and how agreeable the form is to individual expression.
I have found it difficult to find out information about Ms. Armstrong other than the birth and death dates: February 13, 1918 to March 14, 1994. I have noticed on other online sites devoted to poetry that they say the same thing in their sections on the Etheree form. I think this is because Ms. Armstrong was what I call a ‘local poet’. That is to say she seems to have been content to write and publish for a local audience. She seems to have lived her whole life in Arkansas and doesn’t appear to have been interested in contacting or publishing in a national context.
I managed to snag one of her chapbooks when it appeared on amazon. It is called “The Willow Green Of Spring”, published in 1967. Most of the poetry is rhymed and there is an emphasis on traditional forms: there is a sonnet and examples of rhymed quatrains. This particular volume does not contain any Etheree as I believe it predates her presentation of the form. The poems reveal a life of deep faith; many of the poems are explicitly religious and others use religious imagery. It also appears that Ms. Armstrong lost her three brothers during their tours of duty in the military and this deeply affected her life and view of the world. I believe that is part of the reason that there are included in this collection some strongly patriotic poems.
Interestingly, the work contains two Haiku:
Violets duck their
heads, as daisies count “He loves
me, he loves me not.”
southern belles gowned in red flame
with hummingbird hats.
Personally, I don’t find these as successful as her other, more traditional, efforts in this collection. But it does show an awareness on Ms. Armstrong’s part of Haiku in the west; remember this was published in 1967 when Haiku societies were still being established. I don’t know if she was in touch with the new Haiku societies. If anyone has information about this I would like to hear from you. I am speculating that Haiku was her door to a syllabic approach to poetry because almost all the other poems in this collection are metrical. Haiku may have been her way of uncovering the potential for a syllabic approach which eventually lead to the Etheree form.
She was aware of a range of modern poetry. Here is her poem for T. E. Elliot:
spans eternal bridges;
conformity to things commonplace
is a rocker
for unfinished dreams.
And here is a poem titled ‘KINDRED SPIRIT’ about Robert Frost:
Old clothes and shoes and a summer rain;
A wobbledy calf, and a country lane.
We gathered apples, both soon and late;
We made repairs on the pasture gate.
A crooked trail and a low-flung ridge
Led us down to the low-water bridge –
Where willow trees are old and mossed;
I have walked this day with Robert Frost.
Notice how both poems reflect the styles of the poets that are the topic of the poems.
I hope to learn more about Etheree Taylor Armstrong. But for today I’ll close with one of her poems that I enjoyed:
AS IT STANDS
I should cut that vine
away from the tree,
And trim the branches
so we could ‘see’ –
The vine must be
thirty feet long;
But where would the poet
get his song?
Where would the Cardinal
build his nest?
Without the vine
where would he rest?
How can anyone honestly say –
They can improve nature anyway?