Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rediscovering My Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gredunza

There are many great things about being a parent: the opportunity to teach, seeing your children gain knowledge and confidence and independence, boarding the plane first. Among my favorite is the rediscovery of things I loved as a kid. Today's rediscovery was The Cat in the Hat.

I think many people recall Dr. Seuss fondly, no? And I'm not aware of a person who doesn't get the reference when I say "I do not like that, Sam I Am" (usually right before I try something and discover I like it). But this morning I had the chance to listen to the cat voiced by someone who isn't familiar with the story, who doesn't hear the voice of Allen Sherman in his head while reading, who isn't contaminated by an image of Mike Meyers. And let me tell you, it was remarkable to hear someone discover the story, to encounter the words fresh and repeat and repeat and repeat them just to hear them again.

This is a reminder for me of the casual disdain some artists have for the work that's preceded them. Well, maybe disdain is a harsh word; call it a lack of respect. I think poets are more guilty of this than practitioners of other art forms because technique is - to some - less obvious in poetry than in visual or performance arts. The old-fashioned Broadway musical is sometimes mentioned in the discussion of current shows, or at least the great performers they showcased. Most people can appreciate paintings because they're aware they can't produce similar results with their own brushes and bottles.

But for some reason, it seems hard for some people to pull down their Nortons and reinhabit the old works without mild derision; indifference at best. I haven't recently come across a person (teachers excepted) who thinks of EA Robinson the same way I do. I know the works well, I'm not surprised by the twists, but I read and reread the works to appreciate and relearn the art of the set up, the musicality of his language, the way the rhythms set up the pause before the punch. There's brilliance there, even if the poems belong to the past.

Have you read The Cat in the Hat lately? This is a book that works on at least 4 levels. The language is musical and repetitive and great for an early reader. The story is colorful and loud and funny for a young reader not struggling with words to enjoy reading many times. The artwork complements the story marvelously, and is itself a multilayered experience. And for seasoned readers - and hammy performance parents such as I am - the joy of reading the book aloud to an appreciative audience is almost unmatched.

I think there's something to be learned from that. Something we can think about in our poems. The great works work on the page, in the hear, and in the mouth. They look different from different perspectives, mean different things at each reading and for each reader. Which teaches us: Consider musicality. Consider meaning. Permit ambiguity. Let there be fun.

Let the cat in when your mother is out.

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