11 May 2012

An Outsider's Look at Poetry

Johnny Cade, the quiet greaser from S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, has made me take a fresh look at why poetry - and literature in general - is important. We're reading the novel in most of my classes, and reading a book four times a day has opened me up to things I would have missed otherwise.

This is what jumped out at me today:

"'You know," Johnny said slowly, 'I never noticed colors and clouds and stuff until you kept reminding me about them. It seems like they were never there before.'"

Colors, clouds, and stuff - they may as well have not been there. That is until the poetic Ponyboy observes and shares with his friend. I had a similar experience the first full year out of college; newly married and newly moved to Tennessee, it seemed I had never before seen the trees or flower blossoms, or heard the songs of birds, or the dancing of streams. I was jobless - and I was reading Dante. I'm not sure which actually opened my eyes to everything around me, but Dante sure did make me slow down and search for meaning.

And it was Frost who opened me further to spring:

"...How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs."*

That passion runs clear in most of Frost's work, and it has seeped into me. When we are aware of our surroundings we see things that previously didn't exist in our small world. I've been trying to get this concept across to my students, that another perspective is needed to open us up to what we should be seeing - whether it's an injustice, a culture difference or similarity, or something beautiful we've always missed.

There's so much we're not noticing - so much we can't possibly see on our own - and it's one of the roles of the poet and the storyteller to point out what must be noticed.


Anonymous said...

And your blog does just that: points out the beautiful that must be noticed. Thank you!

Alex said...

It's always special to hear you talk about poetry. I do find poetry beautiful, but also exceptionally challenging. I have to work to get through it, like lifting weights. It always pays off.

mare ball said...

I'm not a poetry fan. However, Shel Silverstein does impress me. My favorite poem of his is this: There are too many kids in this tub; there are too many elbows to scrub. I just washed a behind that I'm sure wasn't mine. There are too many kids in this tub. :-) Fantastic!

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