March 29th, 2007

book cover

Outta the Mouths of Kindergartners

On Tuesday, my voice was sufficiently humanoid for me to make good on the school visit I’d booked. I had to suck on the occasional lozenge as the day progressed but I stayed upright and I don’t believe I ever blacked out or spoke in tongues. (If I did, the audience was very polite and wrote it off as poetry.)
The school – in a bedroom community north of Austin – is tremendous! There were 250 kindergarteners, which is how many students went to my four-year high school. There’s some trivia for you. But nobody seems the least bit overwhelmed – the hallways are bright and pretty, the library is cozy, and all the adults speak with warmth and humor to the kids.  All in all, a great way to emerge from my cocoon of coughs and fever.
A few highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):

I got lost on the way to the school in the morning. One would think that East and West would be pretty self-explanatory since the main highway runs directly North-South, but apparently I need these things translated into simple Lefts and Rights. Still trying to figure out if there is any way I can blame this on my ailing health.

During one of my sessions, when I came to the line “A pocket for a farmer is a dell, hi-ho…”, I asked the kids if they recognized that, from a song. “Yeah,” answered one world-weary little guy, “but it’s also a place to work.” Oh. Right. Dell.

When I was signing books, one particularly earnest little girl asked if they were going to have to give the books back. I pointed out her name in the inscription and said that it was hers, to keep. She leapt. Like a frog. Even hung there at the top of her jump for a moment, suspended with delight.

In the midst of one rather lively question-and-answer session, a student asked about the silver sticker on the front of my book. I explained that the book had been nominated for an award, and that the label recognizes that. A discussion ensued about “all those other books that win ‘cott awards” and I laughed and said something about how happy those labels make their authors.

“So is that why you do it?” asked a boy in the back. “Is that why you write books, to get more and more labels? To win more and more awards?” 


“No,” I answered. “I write books for you. I write books because I loved reading when I was a kid, and I loved being read to, and I’m inspired to be a part of that for you! Awards are a nice bonus, but they’re not why I write."

Pause. Deep breath. Final answer.

“Yeah, that’s what I wanted to get outta you,” he said, satisfied.

 I was satisfied, too. I love a kid who knows what he wants.


Poetry Friday -- A Month of Poems

My only beef with National Poetry Month is the presumption that poetry be relegated to a single month -- a terrible misinterpretation that would narrow the scope of the art rather than explode it wide open, which I'm sure was the founders' intent. 

So, if we all agree that reading poetry only in April would be like granting love or chocolate just 30 humble days of our attention, then we can move forward and celebrate.

Hark! The arrival of National Poetry Month, a time to truly wallow in words when ordinarily we might merely float, wade or dabble.

And for the 9th year running, Knopf makes this an especially lush immersion with their Poem-a-Day emails and podcasts. The lazy man's poetry search engine, Knopf does the work for you -- selecting and sending a single piece each day in April. Your job is just to sit back, and absorb.

Knopf has published some of the country's most beloved poets over the years so really, you can look on it as a little survey primer. Or as a multicourse, prix fixe meal. Or as a spiritual ritual. Sort of like lighting candles only without the puddles of wax on the tablecloth.

Would you like a little taste of things to come? This, from the Knopf site and written by Franz Wright:

R e q u e s t

Please love me
and I will play for you
this poem
upon the guitar
I myself made
out of cardboard and black threads
when I was ten years old.
Love me or else.

—Franz Wright

from THE BEFORELIFE (c) 2001 by Franz Wright

How can you resist? And why should you?
Happy National Poetry Month. Bon Voyage.