Thursday, August 19, 2010

Recitation, Early Learning and Hope for a Literate Future

The summer is quickly coming to a close (Why is it that the most glorious ones fly by and the rainy, damp ones stretch on forever?) and work e-mails are creeping steadily back into my inbox. It must be close to September because Captain Safety has just asked me about the date for my car's next oil change; the correct response apparently not, "You think I write that stuff down? "Yes Judy, it's that little white sticker on your windshield, you see it every day." He missed me so much that we celebrated my homecoming with a Thursday evening session of Financial Interrogation Night. Tonight's topic was bill payment, scheduling and organization. (I nodded off at one point - I think when he took the calendar from the kitchen during the scheduling segment - and may have drooled on the dog).
I've just come home from camp (Yes, it took 44 years and I finally got to go to camp and it was magnificent. Literacy camp at a beautiful lake in Parry Sound with 45 other educators) and am getting ready to "head back to school." After four days immersed in the power of the collective mind, I even started my "Plan for Action" for the initiatives I will be working on this year. I made lists of books and websites as suggested by the excellent keynote speakers and prioritized my "To do, to search, to save" files. Of course, much of this was on the drive home in the car. When I am driving (which if you really know me, will understand that it is with minimum competence - after that whole oil change harassment, I mean discussion tonight, I had to ask Wayne where the hazards were again) I totally solve all the problems in my life, and sometimes in the world. And sometimes I pretend that I am saving someone from a burning building and humbly reply "no comment" when I am asked for an interview. Today was one of those days. I travelled along the 400 and had all the answers for effectively supporting literacy in the world of academia, and of course, world hunger. I also looked like Jennifer Anniston while doing this. I rely heavily on visualization as a comprehension strategy.
Then, I saw the sign. Big highway billboard sign off to my right. Exit 89, Cookstown Outlet Mall. I lost all my answers for solving our joint concerns for literacy in the 21st century and the only hunger problem I solved was my own when I went through the Harvey's drive-through (and I even made sure I upgraded to poutine just in case). I definitely did not look like Jennifer Anniston. I passed a mirror in one store and found that my stretch blouse with dainty ruffles had opened at the bottom and my belly was giving a great big shout out to the world. My hair was in a full blown Ontario humidity crisis, you know the kind where even though you use a straightener and every product possible you still look like you have a blonde tumbleweed growing out of the side of your head. That was me. I'm not sorry about the poutine. I'm sure on Monday that I will be ready to get serious about my healthy living agenda. Maybe Tuesday, that's a long car ride home from the cottage. I may pull out the big guns when I visualize this scenario - maybe have to change from Jennifer to Kirstie Alley. Kirstie Alley rocks. Remember when she was married to Parker Stevenson? A Hardy Boy!
So tonight, I was reading from my RSS feeds on my Google Reader and I came across a video clip of a three-year boy reciting Billy Collins poem, The Litany (The New York Times, Aug. 19th - Youtube). An amazing recitation. Of course, I have no way of knowing if this child derives meaning from the poem, but in that regard, many adults themselves admit to struggle with the meaning of this poem. I do know that he speaks fluidly, articulately, expressively. His acquired grasp of vocabulary is astonishing. He is engaged. I bet his family reads to him. If only all our children were so lucky. I look forward with greater zeal to the positive changes that the early learning initiative will bring to our students. And I hope our adolescents refuse to have life choke the poetry out of them. May they never be considered a lost generation.

I've posted the poem and two video clips. The first is the recitation by a 3 year old boy and the other is a poetry recitation by a group of adolescents.

"All babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too."
Billy Collins, The Washington Post, 2007

Litany by Billy Collins (Nine Horses)

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry,
I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.