A couple years ago, my son came home from school and informed me that one of his teachers was “rusted from the inside”.
While another parent might have probed further into this state of affairs, I immediately lunged for my writing book and scribbled down the phrase.
“Rusted from the inside?”
That was too good to pass up.
As poets, we strive to see the world with childlike wonder. In his book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska, 2005), 2004 poet laureate Ted Kooser says that poetry can result in a “re-freshening of the world.” He goes on to say, “it is the device through which the ordinary world is seen in a new way, engaging, compelling, even beautiful.”
This is true for all good poetry, whether it is meant for an adult audience or for younger readers.
So what happens to the potential poets on the road to adulthood? Why is it that so many of us struggle to perceive the world in a fresh way? Is it simply a function of getting older and more desensitized? Or is it more complicated than that?
In her book, Poemcrazy (Three Rivers Press, 1996), poet Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge says, “children naturally express things in a fresh way, until we teach them the right way.” She remembers waiting at the bus stop as a child and noticing a beautiful snowflake that fell on her mitten. When she showed it to another girl, that child began to mimic her, “Look at the pretty little snowflake!”
“I learned that day,” she says, “that there didn’t seem to be a place for a person describing a snowflake on a mitten. After that I was quiet about what I saw so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. I learned to be quiet about beauty.”
As we get older, most of us learn to become quiet about beauty, or ugliness, or anything else that might reveal that we are observing our world carefully. By the time we are willing to go public with our observations, they may not be as fresh or original as once were.
It is the job of the poet to unlearn this quietness and return to a place of wonder.
In the upcoming months, I will be interviewing poets who are able to speak from this place. I will focus on poetry for young readers released in 2011-2012, and will also interview librarians and anthologists who are responsible for making sure that the poet’s words are heard.
I hope you will join me for conversations about craft, connecting with one’s audience, and the role of poetry in children’s publishing.
Celebrating Poetry will be a series of posts by author Kate Hosford throughout 2012 at Cynsations.
From Carolrhoda Books: “Kate Hosford read constantly as a child, even reading through a school fire alarm at one point. She grew up in Waitsfield, Vermont, with lots of animals, including a miniature cow named Mini Moo. Kate attended Amherst College, and also spent a semester studying Buddhism in India.
“Kate has worked as an adoption and foster care worker, a teacher and an illustrator, before turning to writing full time. She has taught in New York, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.”
She lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate of the M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.