Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Listen Close to Me...

I was in second grade in 1988. My little sister had just been born and it was my turn at Super Star Week. I brought in my mom’s homemade cookies for Snack Day, and carted over my porcelain dolls for Collection Day. However, I didn’t really have a good talent for Talent Day. I didn’t twirl batons or have a black belt in Karate--all I did was read books. So that’s what I decided to do. When Talent Day arrived, I stood in front of a room of snotty, restless second graders and, clutching my worn copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends, gave my first poetry reading.

This book, written by a scary-looking bearded man with big feet named Shel Silverstein, is the reason why I am a poet today. It was the first book to teach me about rhythm, meter, image, and metaphor. It taught me to love not just the story, but the words that make the story as well. It was the first book that offered me a new way of viewing the world, a poet’s way. It challenged me to imagine what sky would taste like mixed in soup, or what would happen if you never took the garbage out, or what it must be like in that place where the sidewalk finally ends.

It’s not often we meet kindred spirits—people who get us right away, who we don’t have to explain ourselves to—but what a wonderful feeling, to finally be alright. Though I never met the man, I feel like Shel got me. There are probably hundreds, maybe even thousands of kids out there who felt the same way reading his books. And this makes me wonder: was Mr. Silverstein some kind of minor god? Was he tapped into the great Overmind? Or, was he just very, very good and speaking to kids without speaking down to them? In the end, I think that is all little Katie, quiet and shy in the back of the class, really wanted.

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