Poetry to encourage imagination could help children

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 13, 2001

So much depends.

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

So much depends

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a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


– William Carlos Williams

This is probably my favorite poem. We need more of this poetry in our lives to relieve us from all the nonsense that surrounds us these days.

I often think of this poem when I need relief.

Reading it seems to allow one’s mind to explode in all sorts of directions where one mental picture leads to another, especially for those remaining few of us who know what a wheelbarrow is.

My dad used to call a wheelbarrow by its Czech name – a rudvanidtz (I apologized for the misspelling).

Kids in school, in any grade need to be looking at poetry such as this to allow their minds to visualize the red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens and then just sit there and see where this image leads them.

Unfortunately, most kids are given a poem and there is a worksheet assignment to go with. So instead of freeing the imagination it becomes some kind of task – comparing two poems so they have to look for the correct answer from the text rather than letting their minds travel – stirring one’s imagination.

I’m continuing to read more on Austin’s own Richard Eberhart from some books sent by Gretchen, his daughter, a result of a book exchange from their visit in October – when she and Dikkon were here to dedicate the media center in honor or their father as well as canoe the Cedar River – the river that meant so much to their father.

I gave her a book by Brenda Ueland, Minnesota’s first "feminist" author, who lived on into her late 90s and said, "Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say."

How often do our children hear this? How often do we say this to our children?

I gave Dikkon the pocket book size of Natalie Goldberg’s "Writing Down the Bones," one of best books available on writing. A copy of this book ought to be handed out to students when they come to high school instead of assignment books. Maybe they could punch a hole in each copy and carry that around their necks instead of student IDs. They would all become writers and match up with what Brenda had to say.

Gretchen sent two books and a couple magazine stories. One, "Negative Capabilities," besides having an interesting title, has numerous stories about Eberhart – two citing Eberhart’s English teacher who he says is responsible for his poetry. The other has poetry written to Eberhart by other poets to honor his 75th birthday, including one by Allan Ginsberg, the "beat poet" Eberhart encouraged.

I also think screwdrivers are important, too.

The other day I used one to chip the ice off the door handle of my car and a couple days later I used it to chisel the ice flow under my back bumper that created a high level rattle with the tail pipe.

I guess besides wheelbarrows and screwdrivers other things are important too.

I always thought trains were important. During the summer it’s a nice "poetic sound" to listen to the train whistle as it passes near Buffy the cow.

However, I see people are fussing about more trains passing through Austin carrying coal. I guess I can see Rochester being concerned because they are "above trains."

And here in Austin, one could say the city’s goals are important, too.

The one I find bothersome, though, is the one that says council members will focus on supporting initiatives and services for the changing community "in coordination with Apex Austin in the area of housing, transportation, education, child care, health care and public safety." So how can "the people" of Austin help? Isn’t this the nature of people – to care about and help others?

Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic’s president, pointed out when he spoke at Macalister two years ago, "Human beings are creatures who want to be with others, who yearn for various forms of coexistence and cooperation, who want to participate in the life of a group or of a community and want to influence that which happens around them."

You’ll notice he doesn’t say "a group of appointed leaders."

I think there is a place in the changing face of Austin for all of us to help.

Also people speaking their native language cannot be denied.

I’ll end with one of own little writings – a tribute of sorts to my father, the only one in our family who wasn’t a teacher, but really he was.

i’m slipping

into my father’s chair

now it’s my turn

to sit at the table

and tell stories

some of them

over and over

again and again

– Bob Vilt