Captain and Mother Too


My cleve poem (actually two poems that can be read together to create a third poem)  here is dedicated to the memories of Bob Keesham, my mother Valerie, and the magic of childhood imagination.  Bob is better known by all my countrymen as Captain Kangaroo, a friend and icon in children’s television long before Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers came along.  He once said that as a child he would play with his mother’s box of stray buttons in the sandbox and pretend they were “ships at sea or Hannibal moving across the Alps.”  Imagination is so very important to everyone, but especially to us, the poets.

I hope that you will enjoy my first attempt at a cleave poem and please tell me what you think…..  Thank you for stopping by…..   – John

P.S… Please accept my apologies..  anyone viewing this with MS Internet Explorer might have had problems seeing the poem itself, which is in a table and was a bit off center in MSIE…  It should be corrected now…  I’m a Firefox fan and didn’t check it in MSIE before publishing…

Listen along as I read this poem………     

Captain and Mother Too

Imagination, gorging my mind like A box of mama’s buttons
Shimmering bits of ivory and wood, Scattered across the sand.
Telling tales of brave adventure, Of life, of love, and dreams,
As sailors rage the seven seas. Drowned away in a distant time.
Teddy’s soldiers atop San Juan, Singing songs of blue despair,
And Napoleon’s great flare, Ending in tragedy,
Oh the realm of quest and glory! A soft copper casket lowers,
A thousand men before me cried And her buttons fade away,
If only to be a child, forever My friend, forever.



Any poet, if he is to survive beyond his 25th year, must alter; he must seek new literary influences; he will have different emotions to express.

–          T. S. Eliot

© 2011 John Richter

About johnallenrichter

I am an aspiring Poet and adorer of life, a conqueror of nothing. However I am a champion curator of truth and friendship and hold both of those things most dearly to my heart. Welcome to my mind's eye. I hope you will enjoy what you may find and please know that you have a friend here. View all posts by johnallenrichter

54 responses to “Captain and Mother Too

  • oceangirl

    Cleave asunder and spread across the universe.

    I like it, I like everything about it. Never thought that I could discover more and more about poetry, forms and all, but I must say I am enjoying the poets.

    • johnallenrichter

      Agreed! art is so beautiful because it is ever changing, always evolving with movement in culture and the drive of the artists themselves. My favorite artists have always been those living on the cusp of change in their venues, like Pierre Renoir who pioneered Impressionism and Emily Dickinson who changed the face of poetry forever with her unique style, unfavored in her own time, yet today considered classical. I’m so happy that you enjoyed my little attempt at cleave!

  • Mary

    John, never heard of the ‘cleave’ form of poetry; but I loved Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans!! He was definitely the predecessor of Mr. Rogers. They both had a low key personality, which children seemed to find comforting, don’t you think? Interesting about playing with buttons, as I don’t remember that….but I remember playing with lots of little things, pretending they were something else. I wonder if today’s children will be as imaginative as we were, with all the audio/visual stimuli they have around them at all times. They might turn up their nose at buttons!!!

    • johnallenrichter

      I absolutely loved Captain Kangaroo! Mr. Green Jeans and Mr. Rabbit too! Dancing bear……. A torrential rain of ping pong balls is something we all need just a little more of in life! Bob had the wonderful gift of carrying his childhood imagination into adulthood! How lovely life would be if we could all do that. I remember my mom’s tin of stray buttons, but they weren’t for child’s hands… I think Bob had more slack in his rope than I did. But I know exactly what you mean…. twigs and reeds became our bows and arrows as children, our swords and lances. Our bunk bed became our submarine searching out the evasive German U-boats…. The box that a new refrigerator was delivered in became our space capsule, catapulting us into orbit, passing that intense legend of John Glenn. I can only hope that the resources available to our kids today will allow them to soar even higher than we did….

  • kaykuala

    This is a great form to try. It’s a real challenge as reading them alone and then blending them make for fantastic coordination. It’ll take a lot in planning and thinking to come up with an acceptable offering. Very good!


    • johnallenrichter

      It is a lot of fun, more so at the end when you step back a couple of feet and look at the creation that God just gave you… it’s that moment when you realize that if it makes an inkiling of sense at all then the hairs on the back of your neck stand up just a little and you think that maybe, just maybe, you might have found right spot in life.. Thanks for making me feel that way Hank….

  • Daydreamertoo

    Wow, very clever to merge 2 poems into one and make a third but, to have them all make sense is very clever writing indeed!

  • mairmusic

    Very interesting write– the interweaving of ideas is fascinating, and you managed the 3 narratives wonderfully.

    • johnallenrichter

      Thank you… The two poems were meant to be completely different, which I think did happen to occur in a way. The left one dedicated to childhood imagination, and the right to the love I held for my own mother as a child. (Which was different, I think, then my love for her later on. Life changes in so many ways.) The third was intended to be a tribute to the childhood imagination fostered by Captain Kangaroo, a mainstay of my youngest years… the resulting third poem here tends to lean heavily toward the first…. Really I think the hardest part is geting that third poem to be something completely diffrent than the other two. But of course that’s what practice if for! Thanks for tthe sincerely nice vot of confindence!

  • laurie kolp

    This is beautiful, John…each side as one poem and then combined… well done!

  • manicddaily

    Hey, John. I have to say that when I first read the description, I thought that the cleave poem sounded a little gimmicky (which is an odd thought from someone like me who is so into verse forms), but you completely proved that wrong. Really really beautiful. The cleave a kind of lovely echo, completion, just terrific. I am at my office (shhh) so haven’t been able to listen to you read it, but I think it’s just lovely.

  • johnallenrichter

    Hi Karin! I am really glad you had a few moments to visit, knowing you are busy with your book (love the illustrations I’ve seen) and you’ve been mastering sestinas lately too… Forms are beautiful, of course, but they are all gimmicks in my opinion, really more for the challenging fun of poets themselves then for the lay readers, who generally have no appreciation or need for form in poetry. One of my favorite quotes if from John Keats, who was speaking directly about this when he said “Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject.” And so to me, as a poet, formal poetry can be so intensely beautiful, but if the subject is lost within it, then it is meaningless. It’s like your sestina’s “Pink” and “Vacuum” about your grandmother and aunt, which were written so beautifully that the form completely disappeared, leaving both experienced and lay readers alike amazed…. That is true art, open to all who view it! Your poem doesn’t focus on the form of itself, but tell’s a story so incredibly emotional and sad, and so endearing to the story itself that the form just evaporates right before the readre’s eyes. Yet it remains there for other poets like me to become completely jealous!

    Unfortunately, I am terrible at form poetry, so I avoid it usually. But when I found the cleave last week I realized that this is a form that even lay readers can come to appreciate….. Anyway I’m realy glad you came to visit and enjoyed my little attempt at it! 🙂

  • brian

    ah if only i could be a child forever…i would play with the buttons…they were magical you know when we were young…we’d spill the jar and be content for hours…nice cleave…done it a couple time…all 3 verse play well..

  • Heaven

    I enjoyed this cleave form…a challenge to write, as with any poetry form, but a good exercise.

    I like the images contrasting in the columns, yet reading it together tells a story. And I must say, your comments are interesting to read too.

  • tashtoo

    John, I honestly have to say I enjoy your thoughtful and expressive introductions almost as much as I enjoy the pieces they lead up to. I so appreciate the time that goes into this, and the writing…well, I dare say this form spoke to you for a reason. All three prove worthwhile, the imagery is fantastic…and hey, when we moved into this ancient old house I was just a child, and happened upon a huge antique button collection…years, I tell you, years of entertainment came at the expense of those buttons! Yes…you have truly touched this reader today!

  • Fireblossom

    I read each side independently first, then made sense of them together. I’m glad I read the left side first. The right side and the thing as a whole, are heartbreaking.

  • ayala

    This is beautiful, i really enjoyed it!

  • Ann Grenier

    You did a wonderful job on the cleave poem John. Looks difficult. Don’t think I could get my brain around it. The theme sems to be the same when the poems are read separately – heartwrenching indeed.

  • Patti

    I really like this. I’m a bit awestruck at how you used such a potentially “impossible” form.

  • Mark Kerstetter

    John, I love the form and what you did with it, and it’s great to hear your voice. This is a form I definitely want to try; your example is inspiring. I loved Captain Kangaroo when I was a kid – so cool that you wove this piece out of buttons.

    Thanks for your too generous and warm comment on my poem. I’m adding your blog to my feed in Blogger.

  • Patricia

    Well, I liked Bunny Rabbitt the best and the face on the Grandfather clock always held my attention, and the magic drawing board (I’ll stop now.. but I can still hear the theme song in my head, clear as a bell… (google it if you must!)

    John, the cleave form is totally new to me… yours is the first I’ve read and I liked it… very creative. Weaving sadness of your loss with joyful memory… I found it very heart rending/warming.

    • John

      That is so insightful Patricia! Yes, I had considered “borrowing” his theme song for background on my recording. And also your intuitive ways have hit my intentions spot on! Life is exactly like that I think, an interwoven hodge podge of happiness and sadness….. Our mothers were there for us, making our lives incredibly wonderful. I don’t know about others, but mine was often sitting right next to me when I watched Captain Kangaroo, or if her busy home life was too overwhelming, then she would at least pop in occasionally with little treats or smiles. Now that I’m at the same age that she was when she passed away, I know that those smiles were just little treats too. So there really is no sadness in this poem, because what I see when I read it are her smiles and ping pong balls raining onto Captain Kangaroo….. I’m afraid that because I’m 52 now, the same age my mother was at death, that my poetry through out this whole year is going to be heavily inspired by her. Thanks for visiting…..

  • Neha

    This is fantastic! And way better than mine 🙂

    I am so honoured that you found inspiration in something that I have written – you made my day!

  • Charles Elliott/Beautyseer

    Intriguing form. You seem to have made all the gears mesh! A delight.

  • Chris G.

    Cleave, you say? Well this is my first introduction to it as well…a marvelous show of it as well, from what I see. Certainly something I’ll have to try a hand at some time…lovely work.

  • claudia

    very nice john – was wondering how you would read it….and loved it…the magic of the buttons…yeah…remembered me of my childhood as well..

  • Pat Hatt

    Never seen this one before
    Very well done piece at your shore
    The thoughts the sprout
    From each line shout
    Really makes its depth increase more
    A wonderful tour
    Here today as I came your way
    Returning your great rhyme play..haha

  • Sarah Johnston

    This is amazing and such a clever form of poetry. I am so new to poetry and you are so inspiring and I have learned a lot from you. I do enjoy your blog so much. Thank you

  • siubhan

    impressive– how the separate pieces stand quite well alone, and then mesh together so beautifully.

  • Anna Montgomery

    I am new to the cleave, thank you for the incredible introduction. I’d never have believed it was your first, beautiful.

  • Wyoming Diva

    Very interesting form and poem – thanks for including the back story!

  • Sheila Moore

    very good and I love learning new-to-me poetic forms. thanks!

  • jannie funster

    John, I am very very impressed with this success of yours.

    Both sides are well done, but the composite rings poetically and magically because of your mother’s buttons and connection to her. The whole really comes across as other-worldly and magical .

    Interesting Eliot quote too.

  • ladynyo

    I’ve never heard of this before, John…first time…and what a wonderful introduction to such a form! Lovely~

    Loved Captain Kangaroo…grew up with him, and Mr. Green Jeans, too.

    Howdy Doody and the Frog…can’t remember his name.

    Oh! Kukla, Fran and Ollie! I loved them best!

    Thank you for the memories, besides the wonderful cleaved poem and new form.

    Lady Nyo

  • ed pilolla

    i never heard of a cleave either. this was quite a fluid experience. not only do the words merge, and images, but the color of the words seem to make a deeper merge impossible. a lot of fun.
    thanks for your insightful comments at my place. you told me something i needed to hear, i think.

  • Linda Kruschke

    That is so cool how the right and left poems are stand alone quite perfectly, and yet when melded together it is as if they belonged as one. Two wonderful memories of childhood – Captain Kangaroo (one of my early favorites) and mom. Peace, Linda

  • zumpoems

    Love this type of thing as present multiple options for the reader. Very well executed! I love how each part has its own tone, direction and approach.

  • hedgewitch

    An interesting form–I’ve sort of done this, but in a linear way–it’s not as easy as it looks, but fun to write. This is very well done, and I like the topic and substance as well as just the arrangement. When I was a kid, my grandparents lived next door to Captain Kangaroo’s mother. She was a nice lady, but very old and frail…your poem reminds me of her a bit, though I know you mean mothers a bit more broadly.

    • johnallenrichter

      Thanks, but no, not really… The poem is about her buttons… those buttons in the poem belonged to Bob’s mother….. I can only imagine she was a lovely strong irish woman. In the interview I watched, Bob said that she had passed away when he was only in high school, and it devastated him… I was only 19 when my own mother passed away and his love for his mother inspired the right side of my poem Joy… so no, not really. This meshed poem is really just a merged collection of memories of my mohter and his, and the combined imagination that we both enjoyed as children… and for which he was responsible for sparking within me….. Thanks for visiting! It means so much to me for great, talented poets to read my humble little things!

  • wolfsrosebud

    Lovely… absolutely lovely. I so enjoyed the form. Would like to try my hand at it. The content… breath-taking. Your reading added to the dimension of your words. Great job!

  • James Rainsfordj

    Learned something new here today. Thank you! A clever, intelligent and creative write.

  • Lori McClure (@lorimcspeaks)

    This brought tears to my eyes. Pretty amazing in every way, and thank you for the audio. It’s always fun for me to hear the poet read his own work. Just excellent.

  • caty

    wow…I’m pretty speechless. This was awesome…I’m impressed with the skill it takes to write two poems and be able to combine them into a third!

  • Nick Rolynd

    Wow, this is such an inspiring form of poetry. I love this! I might try this sometime. =P Though I doubt I can do it as well as you.

  • Marinela

    Enjoyed how you put this together, very well penned my friend!
    love it 🙂

  • Myrna

    I’m relatively new to poetry and tend to become intimidated by form. You, on the other hand, seem to be a master. I love this form and you make it so artful. Your poem is sensitive and strong. So glad I stopped by to visit.

  • liv2write2day

    Exquisite poem and so well rendered, John. I’ve never tried this form; in fact have only read one other. You really nailed it.

  • liv2write2day

    Had to go back again and noticed the audio. I’m breathless. You read it so well.

  • lolamouse

    Fascinating poetry form! Never heard of it before but I’m always glad to learn about new forms. I remember watching Capt. Kangaroo as a child (oh, I’m dating myself!) I also remember playing with buttons from my mother’s sewing basket. This poem brought back lots of lovely memories. Thank you for sharing.

  • zumpoems

    John — left a reply to your comment at — -interested in your thoughts. (Feel free to trash or unapprove this comment — figured easiest way to send you a note.

  • Kerry O'Connor

    What a wonderful way to express oneself. I found all three poems to be extremely touching, but the last, the ‘cleave’ spoke directly to the heart.

  • Margaret

    What an intriguing format this is! I LOVED it. What is it called? This is just an excellent post and I love how you carefully chose your words.

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