Tuesday, September 25, 2007

the social construction of reality

The other day Audrey (9) asked me what makes a poem a poem and not a story or just a bunch of words. She likes poetry to rhyme, but of course not everything that people call poetry rhymes, so she was understandably confused.

Aren't we all.

I suggested we call Matt, a friend of ours who teaches High School English. "Why? Is Matt a poet?"

Later I posed the question to Matt in an email. He said it's a hard question. Like asking what makes art art. Then asked her to read this, posing the question of whether it is poetry, or just a note to Mrs. Williams.

THIS IS JUST TO SAY

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

-William Carlos Williams


She read it, puzzled over it a bit, then said, through a chuckle, "I guess it's a poem because it has a title."

I think it's great that she said it as a joke, then got serious. Kind of like the modus operandi of a Hollywood Stars actor. Make a joke, then act serious.

Ultimately, she decided that she couldn't decide. "It's not a poem, but it's not a note, a story, or a letter either." Then, throwing her hands up in exasperation, "I don't know what it is."

For me, the first answer is the best. George Costanza, when asked by the NBC president why people will be watching the show he and Jerry were pitching, responded, "Because it's on TV."

So, if it's in a museum it's art. If it's in a book of poetry it's a poem. Good enough for me.

2 comments:

MTN said...

Here's Audrey's next assignment:

l(a

le
af
fa
ll

s)
one
l

iness

-e.e. cummings

I look forward to her explication.

cfm said...

I believe Audrey to be smarter than me! Nathan you have a very good understanding of how to teach people so that they really learn something (or at least have to think a little more about it). I am impressed. Happy birthday by the way---I called but you weren't home yet and then I got distracted! Love ya,