I began by writing poems for my kids, envisioning a single collection for all ages, to be read by families, preferably fireside.
I have no idea where this fantasy originated since as a single parent, after I was done working overtime to make ends meet, after the kids’ play practices and homework, if we did sit down together as a family it was to watch reruns of the Cosby Show, not read a potpourri of poems for teens and toddlers. Family friend Betsy Byars straightened me out on that score; she told me if I could sort my poems out by age and subject matter, there was a chance I could get published. I snapped out of my fantasy world and followed her advice.
I mostly write about my own experiences and neuroses and have never been inclined to write forty poems about dinosaurs or holidays, poems that would cleverly fit into a single topic and therefore grade level lesson plan. However, I have done my best (with a whole lot of editorial assistance) to group my poetry by age level. A pouty poem such as “I Hate My Body” just doesn’t work for second graders, for instance. They may be able to decode the words, but the sentiment of the poem doesn’t catch up with them until adolescence.
Today I received the following email from a fourth grade teacher: “Question-what reading level is your poem, Lies? What age level is the audience of this poem? Please respond asap, thanks!”
I answered: “I have always thought that part of me was stuck around the age of 12 – I often find myself writing in a voice of that age. But I have to confess, that I have not even as an adult totally outgrown the sentiment of this poem. This poem is about putting on your game face instead of facing up to how you really feel. When do kids start to do that? I’m not sure.”
She responded: “Thank you!! I teach fourth grade and am required to teach this poem to 9-10 year olds…I am not finding they have the maturation for it….and I so appreciate your telling us what you meant when you wrote it. Thanks again!”
The word “required” makes my teeth itch.
The 9-10 year olds are required to read this poem?
She is required to teach it?
Whose fireside fantasy was this? That it would be beneficial for us all to be introduced by requirement?
I am developing increasing sympathy for the ghost of William Blake.
can’t say that I’m abused,
should have smiled
everything’s all right.
should have said,
scared to spark a fight.
I’m all buffed up
can’t say I’m victimized.
arson is my crime.
fire to my insides
let my hurting
Walking on the Boundaries of Change
Hint: If you are required to teach this poem, begin by
asking kids if there was ever a time when their insides did not match their