This Thursday is the first meeting of a poetry class I’m teaching at Kilns College. (There is still room if you want to register!) I’m asking my students to buy their books from a local bookstore and bring me a receipt, and so I haven’t announced the titles of the books before the start of class. My hope is that the students will browse the local shop, enjoy it, and purchase more of their books there in the future.
Local books, local bikes, local beer…there are certain products that benefit from the wisdom of local guides and local relationships. Writing poems can feel like an isolated experience, but reading poems in community, just as shopping in community, can, in the words of one of our mystery poets, be described thus:
“…entered / the sound everywhere, gathered like glass, boozy with gold.”
I was reading some essays by Scott Cairns recently, and came across this 4th century prayer from Saint Ephraim.
Lord and Master of my life, grant not unto me the spirit of idleness, of discouragement, of lust for power, and of vain speaking.
Grant, rather, unto me, thy servant, the spirit of chastity, of meekness, of patience, and of love.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant that I may perceive my own transgressions, and judge not my brother, for blessed are you, unto all ages. Amen.
After I read it two or six times, I realized it was about the writing life. I don’t know anything about Saint Ephraim, but I’m glad he knew what a creative writer in the 21st century might need, and might want.
Bonus points if you can figure out who said this, and where:
“…when he looks in the mirror he is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob.”
Pivoting off a thoroughly obnoxious post by Joel Stein about literature written for children, which I sincerely hope you don’t bother to read, Andrew Sprung says the following:
…while the best children’s books can bring many core human experiences ‘marvelously’ to life, there are many equally or more intense experiences that they can’t touch.
While there’s nothing wrong with an adult devoting leisure time to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, they are not sufficient. They should not crowd out The Gulag Archipelago, or The Moons of Jupiter, or Midnight’s Children. Confining your reading to children’s books would be like confining your sex life to hugs and kisses…
It seems to me this is nearly as wrong as Stein’s screed, though better intentioned and less obnoxious. Stein thinks “children’s literature” consists of nonsense rhymes and vampire soap operas. Sprung thinks “children’s literature” is broader—that it can profitably engage certain subjects at levels profitable for adults to read, like family relationships or bullying.
But neither of these gentlemen read much children’s literature, clearly. Because it isn’t children’s literature or adult literature that can touch the deepest and most important experiences in life. It’s litererature, period. And some of that is written “for children.” Just as a quick look at the YA shelf shows plenty of vampire soap operas, so does a quick look at the adult shelf! And a deeper, less I’m-too-wise-and-educated consideration of the YA shelf will reveal books that grapple in a profoundly human and nuanced way with everything—everything—“grown up” literature grapples with.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ― Madeleine L’Engle
Adults should read literature, wherever they find it. And if you imagine no children’s literature is really literature, well, you haven’t really grown up yet.