Fiction about kids who write poetry

Found this in my old drafts folder from …. well, more than 10 years ago! I clearly meant to expand on these thoughts with examples from the books but never got it together. Fun anyway though!

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I re-read The Boyhood of Grace Jones the other day and loved it for its mid 20th century genderqueer “tomboy” protagonist, but most of all for her surety that she could choose and make herself. All the kids and adults around her were clueless, insisting that there was a binary choice between heredity and environment – every aspect of a person was controlled by those factors. Grace Jones insisted there was another thing everyone had inside that let them create themselves how they wanted to be! I loved that.

I owe several posts on ETech and SXSWi and SexTech, but I’m going to write about this first!

Grace Jones goes through a lot, but her most intense realization comes when she writes a couple of poems and then doesn’t know what to do next. She is stunned by the realization that these big ideas were in her and she was able to put them out. Then what! Children don’t have much outlet for big ideas or poetry. I found myself contrasting Grace’s, and Anastasia Krupnik’s, fictional-character poems with the ones from girls’ books from earlier generations, like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’s poem she gives to Mr. Ladd (Spoiler: she grows up and marries him.) It is very twee and is sort of about God, and she breathlessly awaits his judgment of whether she could be a “real writer” someday. That happens a lot in girls’ books, doesn’t it?

Note from 2018: Not sure I was remembering this correctly – Rebecca shows her poem to Miss Maxwell first –

This ingenuous remark confirmed Miss Maxwell’s opinion of Rebecca as a girl who could hear the truth and profit by it.

“Well, my child,” she said smilingly, “your friends were wrong and you were right; judged by the proper tests, they are pretty bad.”

“Then I must give up all hope of ever being a writer!” sighed Rebecca, who was tasting the bitterness of hemlock and wondering if she could keep the tears back until the interview was over.

“Don’t go so fast,” interrupted Miss Maxwell. “Though they don’t amount to anything as poetry, they show a good deal of promise in certain directions. You almost never make a mistake in rhyme or metre, and this shows you have a natural sense of what is right; a ‘sense of form,’ poets would call it. When you grow older, have a little more experience,—in fact, when you have something to say, I think you may write very good verses. Poetry needs knowledge and vision, experience and imagination, Rebecca. You have not the first three yet, but I rather think you have a touch of the last.”

“Must I never try any more poetry, not even to amuse myself?”

“Certainly you may; it will only help you to write better prose.

I could only find this bit of Rebecca’s poem:

Then come what will of weal or woe
(Since all gold hath alloy),
Thou ‘lt bloom unwithered in this heart,
My Rose of Joy!

Maybe the scene with Mr. Ladd is in the sequel, which I also remember being mostly about Rebecca agonizing about whether she could ever be a “real writer”.

Laura Ingalls’ poem, on a more frivolous note, but one that shows Laura’s realization of the dangers of verse composition for a popular audience:

Going to school is lots of fun,
From laughing we have gained a ton,
We laugh until we have a pain,
At Lazy, Lousy, Lizy Jane.

I don’t have Grace Jones’s poems handy but remember her reciting Kubla Khan to herself.

Remembering Louise Fitzhugh’s wonderful character, Harriet the Spy’s poem experience as she goes through every letter of the alphabet trying to find words to rhyme with “pain”. Her thought process during this poem was just amazing to me (when I was a kid who thought similarly) and I love her.

And finally, Anastasia Krupnik’s poem. (Which I also don’t have handy but which I recall being in all lower case and about undersea creatures and just a little embarrassing, but good)

Anastasia notably falls off the top of the rope climbing thing in gym class & breaks her arm while triumphantly reciting a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. (O world! I could not hold thee close enough!) Her dad is a poet and professor and a kind of cool, dorky dude. We get an updated version of the old scene of a nervous girl clutching sheaf of poems to her chest as she hands them to the newspaper editor. Anastasia explains to him in outrage how she practiced her poem and read it very fancily to her class and teacher, who didn’t get it. He’s supportive and proud! But the best thing about the scene is that Anastasia is already sure that she did something amazing.

I think it is interesting to consider poetics, and writing, as an important point of resistance to patriarchy, especially for young girls and women. There are just a zillion other examples of women writing about young girls and young women who are trying out being a writer, and what other people tell them, and how they react…. Surely there are also a ton of academic papers about this!

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