Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Little Red Box

This weekend, Sooby showed me her little red box.  With a top and bottom made of sturdy cardboard, it measures five by seven inches or so and about four inches deep.  She keeps treasures there.

These are not the treasures you might expect of most first graders.  The box does not contain toys, jewelry, or other trinkets.  Barbie clothes?  Nope.  Hair ribbons?  Negatory.

Sooby's little red box contains poems--and I'm not talking about nursery rhymes copied from Mother Goose books to practice printing the upper- and lower-case alphabet.  You won't find "My Shadow" there or, for that matter, anything else growing in Robert Louis Stevenson's  . . . Garden of Verses

No, these poems are special treasures because they are the original work of Sooby herself, composed at the ripe old age of six and a half.  You can't (or maybe you can) imagine how this pleases me.  And so it is with full permission of the author that I share here my favorite of the treasures so far collected in the little red box. 

You should know that, as the self-proclaimed editor for this up-and-coming young poet, I have helped a bit with punctuation and line breaks.  However, I have made no changes in Sooby's choice or sequence of words.  Here then, for your reading pleasure, is the first edition printing of "The Little Bird."

      The Little Bird

The bird was in the meadow
by a tree
finding hay
for her nest;
one mother bird
with no children,
she flew
and flew
to the west.

Is that not awesome?  Blame my grad school Literary Criticism professor if you wish, but I can't resist the urge to analyze it a bit.  Please humor me.  I am a Googie who also writes poetry, and I can't help myself.

First, this sweet, deceptively simple poem describes the nesting behavior of a bird about to lay a batch of eggs.  This is not just any batch of eggs either, as the poet makes it clear that this bird is preparing to be a mother for the first time.  Thus, she is searching for the hay she needs for nest-building.

Note that the poet calls her "one mother bird/with no children."  Although at first glance that may seem like an oxymoron, or contradiction, it is not necessarily so.  The phrasing makes perfect sense in the context of a potential mother bird's first batch of eggs.

Secondly, why is this bird by a tree?  Has she roosted there overnight, and is she beginning this search at the beginning of a new day?  (This will certainly be "a new day" in the sense of the new experience of motherhood, right?)  Or, has she simply chosen this tree as the site for her nest?  Choose a or b or both a and b here.  Meaningful ambiguity always strengthens a poem.

A third thing that strikes me is the fact that the bird chooses to fly west when the more familiar flight patterns of birds involve north or south.  Maybe this mother bird wants to be different and strike out in a new direction (the "less travelled" flight path, in the manner of Frost, perhaps).  Maybe she finds her inexperience disorienting and is simply lost for a time.  Or, most likely, the poet could have just chosen the logical word to rhyme with nest.  Again, my fellow critic, take your pick.

Finally, let's consider theme.  What, exactly, does the poet suggest about the subject of motherhood?  That it reshapes one's experience in its pursuit of a new direction--we've already suggested that.  That it is sometimes lonely (There is only "one mother bird," not a flock here.).  That it is hard work that requires exhausting, repetitious effort (The poet says the bird here "flew and flew.").

Sooby's little poem, I think, is surprisingly strong in imagery, or word pictures, and subtle in its single, unobtrusive instance of rhyme ("nest . . . west.").  Further, I can see how, as the oldest of four children, Sooby has had ample opportunity to observe the sacrifices, anxieties, and nuances of motherhood time and again in her own family.  I think she is a sensitive, observant child who notices things and who loves words--and when these things come together, poems are born.

OK, let's get real here.  Do I think that Sooby consciously thought about all of this as she composed the poem.  Of course not. 

But I believe unequivocally that poetic imagery arises from the poet's subconscious, where experiences are stored, and finds its way onto paper in a magical, mystical process that even poets themselves marvel at.  Do I think this can happen even with a six-year-old?  I absolutely do.

Take a look at this picture:

That, my friends, is a poet.  She has thoughts and feelings, and she searches for the words to express them.  I know this is true, because I have had the privilege of exploring the treasures she keeps in her little red box.

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