Have a great summer. Stay sweet.

art, reading, teaching, writing

This last week I’ve been working on a three-part series based on yearbook memories from elementary school and junior high. What I’ve found interesting about the process is this:

Yearbooks are a kind of clear fiction we willingly pretend is true.

We all want our yearbooks to be signed—by everyone, by just the right person, by the cool kids—yet we know that what will be written in our yearbooks is, in large part, untrue.

We know this because we write those same untruths in other yearbooks.

There is a cliché we can deploy for every circumstance and level of friendship or enmity, and these are the same clichés we solicit for the pages of our own yearbooks—the same clichés we read and reread over the months and years that follow. (Hopefully not the decades that follow, however. We tend to reserve that timescale of cliché for Facebook posts.)

How many questions have I begged so far? Memory, fiction, truth, suspension of belief and disbelief. Write on.

Between the Covers

art, reading, teaching, writing

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.”

Why adults should read children’s literature

art, reading, writing

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.