21 March 2006

On young people and art

Unless you become as a little child, you shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.

My students were amazing on Friday night! They read much famous poetry, and a good deal of their own. I loved the feeling of the evening: We sat in a row, my poets and I, in white-and-black, on tall stools, speaking into the silence the listeners opened up for us. Our voices rolled straight out through the coloured lights into the darkness where all the ears were, into their brains, clear and profound. Our poetry sounded so good there! Appreciation adds beauty upon beauty. My kids wrote of love, death, nature, faith, confusion, loss, worry, tranquility, and dogs and frogs. We made them laugh, we made them sigh, we made them sit silent and see pictures in their heads!

And before and after the words, we gave them music. Here's a picture [which I stole from somebody's xanga, thanks!] of the band, high and crazy on their own volume and velocity (and man, it was loud and fast!!)


Iambic Admonit said...

After the poetry reading, and four-year-old sent the following message to another teacher at my school:

Tonight I wrote a poem. Maybe next time Nic's band plays, I can say my poem into the microphone.

And here's how it goes--

A freight train.
A freight train.
A disgusting, rusting freight train.

I recorded this story from Gordon the bossy engine from Thomas the Tank Engine.

See you later, alligator.



Rosie Perera said...


That got me curious, so I went looking for other poetry by very young children and found this one which blew me away! It's by a not quite four-year-old Palestinian boy.

From the Diary of
Hanan Mikha'il 'Ashrawi

(translated from the original)

Tomorrow, the bandages
will come off. I wonder
will I see half an orange,
half an apple, half my
mother's face
with my one remaining eye?

I did not see the bullet
but felt its pain
exploding in my head.
His image did not
vanish, the soldier
with a big gun, unsteady
hands, and a look in
his eyes
I could not understand.

If I can see him so clearly
with my eyes closed,
it could be that inside our heads
we each have one spare set
of eyes
to make up for the ones we lose.

Next month, on my birthday,
I'll have a brand new glass eye,
maybe things will look round
and fat in the middle --
I've gazed through all my marbles,
they made the world look strange.

I hear a nine-month-old
has also lost an eye,
I wonder if my soldier
shot her too -- a soldier
looking for little girls who
look him in the eye --
I'm old enough, almost four,
I've seen enough of life,
but she's just a baby
who didn't know any better.

From The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Now compare that to this one composed by four-year-old Barbara Ann Bare, of Williamsburg, Iowa, in 1953:

Jesus is shining in my heart
He's shining all over me.
My face is shining.
My eyes are shining.
Jesus is shining in me.

(from Gospel Herald Obituaries - October, 1954)

It's sweet, and pretty good for a four-year-old, but it isn't great art. Somehow I think that living with the ravages of war made that little Palestinian boy mature a lot faster and learn to create beauty in the midst of horror. His poem lends credence to my theory that great art must acknowledge the reality of evil.

By the way, I'd like to register my annoyance that Blogger shows comments in a narrow column on the left, ruining the the line-breaks in most poetry. You can get around that by clicking on the "permalink" (the underlined timestamp) to see the comments, but it's more intuitive to click on the link that says "n comments," so probably most people do the latter.