Tag Archives: experiences

Experimental Poem: ‘Pumpkins’

I said: “Look at the little kids playing Tag round the pumpkins – you can be that age again, if you close your eyes and remember pumpkins almost as big as you, too big to move – the massive newness, strangeness of them, never seen before, so big, but obviously to sight and touch a vegetable – you can reexperience the never before experienced, a world in which everything new absorbs your mind, and every minute you experience something new – playing Tag is a sensory delight, of running-and-not-falling (wobbly) in the half-dark (strange light) around pumpkins (absorbing color and texture) with an older sibling (touch and clutch) across strewn hay (a new but not difficult surface) and sometimes wooden pallets (a new and bizarre and impossible-to-run-on surface) but mostly the joy of running in the dark as a physical delight and not falling over – and then you stop and sit and throw straw in the air, and it doesn’t hurt (unlike gravel) and it doesn’t make a mess (unlike mud) and it doesn’t really get in your hair and eyes (unlike sand) and it also doesn’t really go anywhere no matter how hard you throw it (unlike any of them) and you laugh; you can remember all that if you can remember/imagine all the pumpkins three times as big, nearly as tall as you, too big to move – and adults become a different species, they go “Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa” and make no sense, so you only really talk with other kids until finally an adult breaks into your world and tags your mind, and makes you hear with threats of violent pain, makes you give up your soul in self-defence,
Leaves you a narrow life of yes’m, no’m.”
She said: “You don’t make any sense.
Go write a poem.”

This is the last of five poems recently published in The Brazen Head. Technically it might be a quatrain… but unmetered, and with a very long first line. Neither this post nor The Brazen Head manage the format that I wanted, which is to have the bulk of the poem (everything that overflows the first printed line) inset half an inch from the left margin where the four lines start. This is designed to make that body of text look somewhat pumpkiny. Here I’ve settled for bolding the first words of each line.

The poem itself tries to recapture the flood of sensation that a child experiences in a new environment. A coffee shop in a wooded suburban area of Carrboro, North Carolina, had a large outdoor area of pallets, hay bales and enormous pumpkins in the run-up to Halloween, and small children were running riot in it as the evening drew in. For a moment I felt able to recapture the massive novelty of childhood experience.

Photo: “Pumpkin Patch Kid” by mountain_doo2 is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Mythic Memories’

From all the mythic memories we make
Of childhood’s forests, gardens, beaches, seas,
Disturbed by adults’ eccentricities,
Come all the world’s religions – Tree and Snake,
Hero and Mother, Martyr, Saint and Fake.
Then let us make our mythic memories
(Implying endless possibilities)
From all that follows in the island’s wake:

Climbing up banyans, palms and tamarinds –
Firelight and starlight – total black of caves –
Spearing a lionfish – running on pink sand –
And unknown flowers scented on sea winds –
And jagged cliff heights where the ocean raves –
And views of huge horizons past all land.

I think it is important for children to experience the diversity of the world in different ways: when very small they need to feel the rhythms of day and night, winter and summer, and celebrate them with memorable festivals. When they are a little older, say six to eight, it is useful to experience the diversity of the world: if they live in cities, to go to farms and mountains and forests and beaches; if they grow up in a rural area as I did, it is a huge experience to spend a few days in a city. In either of those cases, the experiences make school learning much more relevant, something that can understood and believed in, because of the personal memories. I was fortunate to experience cities and countryside, jungles and deserts, before I started school. History, geography and languages were always very interesting as a result.

For even older children our family advocates a further step: in grade 10–i.e. at age 15–each of our kids got to choose where they were going for a year of schooling overseas. The only restriction was: Not an English-speaking country! They went away for Grade 11 and returned to finish high school with their friends for Grade 12. They went through competent organizations (YFU–Youth For Understanding, and AFS… though one went to the family of a boy we had hosted the previous year). The normal structure was that they went to a family (best if there are other children in the family) in which one parent spoke English; they had a week or two of prep time with the organization in the new country before the school year started; in school, initially they sat at the back of the class and didn’t know what was being said except in English classes and maybe Maths; by Christmas they understood everything; by Easter they spoke fluently; by the end of the year they had acquired the regional accent. The five kids each chose different countries: Denmark, Costa Rica, Italy, Japan and France.

They came back several years more mature than when they left. Instead of dreaming of owning a car, they none of them wanted a car particularly: they had learned to get around a strange city by bus and metro, which is cheap and flexible. Instead of believing that there is only one appropriate style of clothing and only one good type of music for their generation, they realized that even if all teens think that, those clothes and music are different in different countries, and it is a matter of choice. Instead of fighting with us, their parents, over teenage complaints of lack of freedom, they came home delighted to return to the rules and life they had known, with a year of living differently under their belt. And they had seen a lot of the world in a very deep way, the childhood and school experience, the local family experience, all the seasonal foods and songs and rituals, something that is very hard for an adult to ever experience in a foreign country.

And as it is from our childhood experiences that we derive our understanding of the world, and make the myths we live by and the goals we strive for, it is beneficial for us to have as wide and deep a range of childhood experiences as possible. So I believe, anyway.

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin. It may feel like an unfortunate post for a time of Covid and lockdowns in various parts of the world, but the days of good travel should return soon, and we can start planning…

Photo: “Pink Sand Beach” by Cédric Z is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0