For many years—since I was 19-years-old—I’ve taught poetry to children, though “taught” has never been the most accurate word for what I do. Really, I’m a door-man—a door-woman; I open the door to imagination and hold it open, inviting children to walk into their own worlds. Most kids accept the invitation; I keep holding the door open for easy in-and-out access. Recently, a 4th grade boy wrote his first poem ever with me. That day I’d asked the class to write about themselves in the third person. (I encourage you to try it; you’ll discover things you never could by sticking to writing in the first person.) The poem Aidan wrote hit me with force. “He’s got something,” I thought—depth, awareness, honesty, skill with language, and that ineffable more.
When I chose his first poem for our poetry anthology—a booklet with one poem from each child—a poem he’d given his permission to have included, and we met again for a rehearsal in advance of our recital this evening, Aidan read his poem as the others did, but afterward, accompanied by his teacher, he came up to me, a bit hesitantly, and expressed discomfort with his poem. I suggested he choose another of his poems to read and made clear I’d not meant to cause him displeasure. Then I asked what he didn’t like about it.
His response is why I’m writing this. It was as if he’d not even written this poem, that’s how startled he was by his own words, uncomfortable with having written about the shadow side of his personality. Keep in mind that he’s a 4th grader with an awareness of this side of himself! His teacher and I explained that we all have this side and chatted about it with him. Aidan then said, “Now that I understand my poem, I’m fine with reading it.”
This is not an experience unique to 4th graders but something that can happen to any of us when we write or make art, because within us is a well of awareness and knowledge that we’re not conscious of. Part of it’s our own well and part of it is part of the well of collective unconscious that’s shared by all people. When we write or make any kind of art and enter a state of mind beyond conscious understanding we are able to articulate things far beyond what our rational, linear minds can give us access to. We may tap into that which is beyond our individual experience. The world is troubling these days; we may find through making art we’re able to process and sort out some of that.
Here’s the last part of Aidan’s poem:
“Some people say that Aidan is a spirit of nature.
They see that the lonely Aidan is a myth,
a mystery from beneath the scene.”