Sunday, March 26, 2006

Poetry: Take Three

The other day, elder daughter (aka Punkin' Pie) came out of her bedroom with a book and sat next to me as I sweated and hallucinated on the couch (I'm still really sick, by the way, and have been ordered by CT to stay home again on Monday. BLAH). Anyway, she'd begun reading the second installment of Patrick Carmen's Dark Hills Divide series, Beyond the Valley of Thorns, and she had a question. Our conversation went something like this:

Punkin' Pie: Hey, Mommy? Can I read something to you? I have a question about it.

Me: Of course you can. Whatcha got?

PP: Listen to this:

As evening approaches and the shadows begin their descent into Bridewell, the same frightening thoughts always disturb me. Darkness sends its shadows to draw all men back into itself, for it is in the shadows that darkness plays. And what of the man who stays in the shadows too long, at play with sinister thoughts? Darkness will surely overtake him.

Me: You read that beautifully, Sweetie (because she did). What's your question - is there something in there that doesn't make sense to you?

PP: No, I think I understand it all. What I'm wondering is, is this poetry?

We had a good, long talk about that. To get us started, I asked her what she thought - was it poetry or not? She approached the question the way most students do - she looked at how the words were arranged on the page and decided that it wasn't poetry because poetry, according to her third grade definition, needs to have "a lot of white spaces, and this doesn't. But," she said, "it feels like poetry to me."

NOW we're getting somewhere!

Me: Tell me more about that. What does poetry feel like?

PP: Well, it makes me think of more than just what it says. I mean, this part, where it says "darkness plays"? Well, darkness doesn't really play, right? That makes me think of a lot of other stuff that might happen in the dark - maybe bad or scary stuff, but not like monsters hiding or anything. More like people thinking sad or evil things. That’s what “sinister” means, right?

We went on this way for a while, executing a really top-notch close reading of this passage. We talked about denotation and connotation, we talked a little bit about how darkness is often used as a metaphor for a lot of other things, and we talked a little bit about how, even though the author may be trying to get us to think about things in a certain way, it’s who we are and what we already know that helps us make up our own minds about what a piece of writing really means.

In the end, Punkin’ Pie decided that the bit she read to me IS poetry. It fits her criteria of what poetry requires - the language is evocative and it makes her think of more than what the words say. I think, too, that what she thinks beyond the words is difficult for her to describe - there’s that ineffability thing again! - and that’s what made her think the excerpt was poetry in the first place.

She’s going to bring her book in to school tomorrow to use the passage as a “mentor poem” in her class which, if I’m understanding her correctly, means she’s going to use this poem as a model for her own writing.

I’ll be very, very interested to see what she comes up with and, if her permission is granted, I’ll post it here when she’s done.


Anonymous nhfalcon said...

I think if you can find a way to contact the author, S, you ought to let her know about this conversation. I think she'd be extremely flattered that her prose evoked that kind of thinking from someone - especially someone of Punkin' Pie's age.

March 26, 2006 9:12 PM  
Blogger Kizz said...

I'm loving the term "Mentor Poem"

I bet the author has a web site, especially if it's sci fi and a series.

I always feel as though poetry has to give me clear images in few words and it surely fits that criteria. Nice spotting for her to have checked it out.

Think of CT keeping you home not as a punishment for you but as a tool for herself. You're no good to her dead. :) Hope you're feeing better!

March 27, 2006 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Contrary said...

What I wouldn't give for a boss who recognizes that sick people should be at home!

Lovely post. It's always so exciting to actually see a child thinking and learning.

I just found you today and read back through several of your posts and I've enjoyed myself immensely. Thanks for sharing.

March 29, 2006 1:11 AM  
Blogger vanx said...

It’s great to see a child that age with the ability to enjoy literature. I recently read Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo to my daughter (7) and her friend (10) as a sleep-over bedtime story. The older girl, who is very bright and super sweet, kept saying, “That doesn’t make sense.” What can you say to that?

March 29, 2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

It DOESN'T make sense. My husband and I went round and round about whether or not to include Dr. Seuss in our babies' libraries. We decided that the good doctor could come in AFTER the kids had acquired a fair bit of the language to begin with - it wasn't fair to confuse the kids with nonsense words right off the bat.

I'd suggest to the ten year old that it's not SUPPOSED to make sense. It's supposed to be silly and funny and make-believe; the point isn't so much what the words SAY, but how the words SOUND. One of the things I really like about Seuss is that the writing and the illustrations really compliment each other. The writing sets up a truly fantasy-like image, and the illustrations really support that.

Oh, and as an aside? Punkin' Pie came home the other day to tell me that her teacher said her chosen passage WASN'T poetry. Technically, she's right - it's written in prose - but I'm going to use the distinction to talk a little more about what drew Punkin' Pie to the passage in the first place, and to try to draw out a little bit more about what the spirit of poetry is. She'll get plenty of the mechanics in school - I want her to understand the soul of it, too.

March 29, 2006 10:25 AM  

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