In Praise of Zigzags is one of my favorite poems. It brings to mind all of the students that I had during my years in teaching who marched to the beat of a different drum…who didn’t always follow directions…who sometimes needed to do things their own way. I think I’m sometimes like the girl in the poem myself.
I found Jane O. Wayne’s poem many years ago in The Invisible Ladder: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers, which was edited by Liz Rosenberg (Henry Holt and Company, 1996).
IN PRAISE OF ZIGZAGS
For a Girl Failing Geometry
By Jane O. Wayne
Maybe she does her homework
the way she does her chores.
She moves quickly when she vacuums,
forgetting corners in the living room,
zigzags recklessly across the carpet,
raising those pale tracks
behind her in the wool, crossing
and recrossing them. And not once
does geometry cross her mind.
Outside she wanders aimlessly
behind the lawnmower,
rolls toward the middle of the lawn
then doubles back.
Click here to read the rest of the poem.
Jane O. Wayne (The Invisible Ladder)
In some mysterious way, a poem often works the way a joke does. You get it or you don’t. And right away. Of course, a reader should go back, again and again, for ideas, for hidden meanings, for special wording, or maybe simply for the pleasure itself, but the strange magic of poetry—its music, beauty, mood—some of that should strike you right away.
Although a careful reader will take a poem apart to learn how it works, the way a mechanic might a car, I like to think that when a poem succeeds, you usually know it on impact. But unlike a joke, if a poem is truly good, the more you read it, the better it gets.