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Poemcrazy: A Recommended Book

Posted on Oct 29, 2006 by

This book, by Susan G. Wooldridge, is one I recommend when someone tells me that they’d like for their writing to become more creative, more playful—or when someone tells me that their writing is a bit stuck. Wooldridge is a teacher. She’s worked for many years with CPITS, the California Poets in the Schools. She’s a teacher, but, as she says in her introduction, she doesn’t believe it’s possible to teach someone to write a poem. Instead, she says, “. . . we can set up circumstances in which poems are likely to happen. We can create a field in and around us that’s fertile territory for poems.”

Poemcrazy is that fertile territory. Sixty short chapters. You can read the chapters in order—or not. Many of the chapters contain ideas for writing practice. And each chapter holds out the possibility of replenishing and rejuvenating language. Language for poetry, yes. But also for sentences, paragraphs, journal entries, letters, stories, myths—and perhaps for healing—

Much of the inspiration for Poemcrazy comes from children—both Wooldridge’s own children and the children she’s worked with in the schools. She’s particularly adept at hearing and noticing those moments—those words—and combinations of words—in which language illuminates. She writes of a Cherokee child in Thermalito, California who can’t stop raising his hand during one of her workshops and then breaks out in a Cherokee song which he subsequently translates (p. 119): “I am one with the magnificent sun forever forever forever.” She writes of an image of “smelling sunlight,” that emerges from a Hmong child who knows very little English. And she writes of the images that she hears emerge in her own children’s language—

Her son, Daniel, saw his newborn sister, swaddled, with only her head visible, and thought she looked “yike a hotdog”. Cows on a hillside looked “yike popcorn”. And, my own personal favorite, Daniel’s observation after they’d transplanted a small tree from its pot to a hole in the ground: “The world will be its new pants.”

“Sometimes,” Wooldridge writes (p. 32), “part of writing a poem is as simple as looking carefully and bringing things together through simile and metaphor. This bit of moon looks like a canoe. The moon is a cradle, a wolf’s tooth, a fingernail, snow on a curved leaf or milk in the bottom of a tipped glass.”

Yes. And those connections she makes—right there—the moon looks like a canoe—the moon is a cradle—a wolf’s tooth—this strikes me as the kind of fertile territory a person might want to visit in order to rejuvenate language for writing—-