The Things We Carry

Today I read this poem with a 6-year-old boy:

Skin Stealer by Shel Silverstein

This evening I unzipped my skin

And carefully unscrewed my head,

Exactly as I always do

When I prepare myself for bed.

And while I slept a coo-coo came

As naked as could be

And put on the skin

And screwed on the head

That once belonged to me.

Now wearing my feet

He runs through the street

In a most disgraceful way,

Doin’ things and sayin’ things

I’d never do or say.

Ticklin’ the children

And kickin’ the men

And dancin’ the ladies away.

So if he makes your bright eyes cry

Or makes your poor head spin,

That scoundrel you see

Is not really me –

He’s the coo-coo

Who’s wearing my skin.


He thought it was the funniest thing in the world.  Meanwhile I am sitting there with my mouth agape.  Did I mention that it is also coupled with this image (forgive the crap image quality).

I uncomfortably hurried on to the next poem in Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and it wasn’t until my long train ride back into Manhattan that I realized how completely ridiculous I was being.  In fact, I, too, remember thinking this poem was funny when I was kid.  But as an adult I find it uncomfortable, disturbing, and morally problematic.

We are all carrying pasts in our pockets and these pasts inform every single moment of our day.  They inform which brand of toothpaste you trust and buy, how you react to meeting a new person, and, even, how you read a text.  Each of our pasts are different and a child’s past, a much smaller and typically more protected past, is going to inform what they read.  A child reads things differently than, say, me, a 26-year-old adult with a history of lying, deceptive…well…men.  I don’t see the coo coo man as lighthearted and by no means jovial…I see it as an excuse for awful heartbreaking behavior.  But this is all because of my weighty pockets filled with a very specific past.  So I reacted to it.  I turned the page. I asked no questions.  I potentially stifled a kid’s enjoyment.  A kid whose pockets were filled with a completely different past that found joy in the coo coo man and his silly trickster ways.

I have thought about this subject time and time again in a classroom setting and today I realized how incredibly easy it is to get trapped in our adultness; to think that what we find valuable is valuable.  But we know nothing about childhood…no matter how good our memory…and what we should value is the child’s sense of value.  Let them play, let them think, let them laugh, and you just sit there, not turning the page.

Published in: on October 15, 2010 at 1:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Poetry Project II

My Assignment:  Create a poem that would be difficult (or overly expensive) to publish for my lovely little poetry class with JonArno Lawson.  If you recall I have already posted one so you get the drift.  Follow the link, smarties.

I-will-never-eat-a-skittle-again poetry project.

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Poetry On Rewind

This is Mirror Mirror:  A Book of Reversable Verse by Marilyn Singer.  It has been quite a challenge to hunt down.  My library doesn’t have it yet and I am being impatient on waiting for the copy I ordered for the Boston Atheneaum to come in.  So I trotted down to the old book store where people who are not living on nothing in grad school can look at books and actually leave with them.  I, on the other hand, grabbed the one copy, slouched in a corner and took nice little blog notes (including a copied out poem).  I then lost said blog notes.  So improvise it is!  Cause this book deserves to be talked about.

Singer uses a poetic form that she dubs the reverso.  Lets break it down.

1) You got a poem:

golly.

this

is

hard

2) Then you hit rewind and play it backwards:

hard

is

this.

golly.

(this moment would have been less yoda-like with the lovely little example Singer uses which is lost in the black hole of a bookstore bathroom)

She uses this form to tell different perspectives of fairy tales.  Are you following?  TWO perspectives simply by reversing the poem! She makes it look so easy!  It is fun to try the form out, plus, you will gain an intense appreciation for her brilliance in this book!  Read it.  Do it.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Give ’em Grammer Skillz

This little gem by Emily Gravett manages to mix simplistic, engaging, storytelling with a grammar lesson.  It is not at all like an overbearing, instructional how-to-guide (cough).  Instead, it is all about the details. I mean its publishing info is pear shaped for goodness sake!  The books explores how commas function in a sentence, using visuals to illustrate the difference between grouping objects and merging them together.

See:

And that apple bear is pretty funny to boot.

I just tried this book out with a little girl who is not only a reluctant reader but is also reading well below her age level.  It was amazing to see how the visuals of this book gave her an understanding of the fairly intangible theoretical world of commas.  Plus, we laughed a while over Apple bear…but that might have been because I said ‘butt.’

Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Poetry Project

My Assignment:  Create a poem that would be difficult (or overly expensive) to publish for my lovely little poetry class with JonArno Lawson.  Here is what I got.

A special thanks to Reid Haithcock for the amazing photography skills.

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm  Comments (3)  

See, Classes Make You Smart

I have been doing some research in the wondrous land of poetry.  I wish I could say it was some whim, some flippant desire to reconnect with my pre-grad school love of poetry but, alas, I’m taking a class.  That phrase just made me want to write this whole post in rhyme, good thing I don’t have the time.

Right. . . so.

For real, though.  The class has been focusing on poetry from children (say…infant to middle school?) and it makes me think where, or even what, is YA poetry?  Writers like Helen Frost, Jacqueline Woodson, Lindsay Lee Johnson, Virgina Euwer Wolff, and Ralph Fletcher have built themselves a little bridge between YA literature and poetry. (I am also adding Stephanie Hemphill thanks to little commenting Emily!)  They have created novels that are YA narratives told through poetry.  Niffty huh.  These types of books are an engaging way to get young readers familiar with poetry.  It may be as simple as just looking at a different way to articulate ideas on a page or a further look into the construction of form.  Frost, for example, uses sestinas and sonnets in her book “Keesha’s House”.

And while this is cool and all…I do wonder if there is a place for YA books of poetry that are more similar to adult poetry books, a collection of poems that does not rely on a cohesive narrative.  But then, what would that even look like?  Isn’t the agnstyness we associate with YA books found all over adult poetry?  Maybe it is more the ease of accessibility to the meaning of the poem that would bring it closer to the YA realm.

The point is, watch out for my upcoming YA poetry collection and buy it so that I can be the creator or the next beloved sector of YA.

You can consider that little diddy at the beginning a freeby.

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 1:14 am  Comments (4)