This year, I gave myself a birthday present: the time to read all I want this month. I promised myself that I wouldn’t get mad if the dishes are not “done” every evening or the tax forms languish. Admittedly, it looks like my desk was attacked by demented elves, but I refuse to worry about it until February.
I have read all the poems that have been posted in the Brighter Light contest so far. And then I started thinking about other poems by writers under the age of 20 – young writers. I read through copies of “Stone Soup” and “Highlights for Children.” I found more kids’ poetry in collections from the library and our books at home.
What struck me was the originality of these poems. I found myself saying, Wow I would never have thought of that, over and over. Take this poem:
A cheetah has metal girder teeth
it goes hurling down through the jungle
throwing out its fear*
Now, I have heard cat’s teeth compared to many things: lions teeth to daggers, tigers’ to sabers, kittens’ teeth to needles. But cheetahs’ teeth and metal building girders! How wonderful to think of that!
Or take this stanza from Sylviya’s poem (she’s the young writer in the Yellow Ninja team) about hair:
Black is shiny like the blouse
my mommy never wears.
Shiny, glossy, smooth
like our kitten’s fur
when I squeeze her
to get some kisses.
I have all the usual associations with black: knights, stallions, nighttime, sadness. Sylvi on the other hand thinks of an unworn blouse – this says so much, so specifically, about how she feels about her mother, and their relationship, and beauty, that feel as if I am standing with her as she sees her mother’s hair.
Adult writers spend a lot of time trying to peek around the edges of all the rules we’ve learned and ways we’ve been taught to think. We have heard the overused metaphors, memorized the tens of thousands of rules of plotting, and tried every poetic form…until we have forgotten what the world looks like to us. Adults envy young writers, I think; we are so used to comparing happiness to a warm puppy that we forget that happiness can also be a new Band-Aid, or a herd of manta rays, or a battered leather jacket with a broken zipper.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean that poets shouldn’t read other poets, that essayists should never read novels, or that fiction writers should live in huts in the woods with no windows or visitors. We can learn a lot about how language works, how form works, what structures can work for stories, by reading and experiencing many things. But how do we do this and still keep our fresh perspective – our own voices?
What we can do is…write. A lot.
If you’re a younger writer, writing now means that you’ve started a thread that will connect you to the writer you will be as an adult. For an adult, writing a lot gets the “junk” out of our systems, so we can uncover the pure shimmering connections to our former selves. We can write ourselves into to the world in which it’s fun to pop glass bubbles, where spiders’s legs are as fine as spun glass and tap dance skitter-skatter, where there’s beauty in wearing our helmets and where bicycles have invisible wings, where birdhouses are farms or fairy homes or as safe as warmth, and where dragons love rocks and pebbles make our planet, where we are both ourselves and baby turtles,and where adults and children are connected by words, and birds, and love.**
So, I say, go to it. Go, you yourself, and write ~ ina