John Keating once suggested to his class of young, impressionable boys that language was not invented, as one of his students timidly suggested to communicate, but rather to woo women. There are plenty of reasons to disagree with this, primarily since my intent in writing this blog is to get words out of my head that seem to need their space and freedom. My wooing days are, for the most part, over now. I do try and keep my poetic license up to date, and I have been known to put a sentence or two together now and again to get the embers of my true love's heart burning. Without the actual heartburn, if possible.
This week at school, I have been attempting to drag poetry from the hearts and minds of third, fourth and fifth graders. When prodded, most every one of them could come up with this chestnut: "Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet and so are you." This came after painstakingly working through the mechanics of rhyme. It's not the first letter or sound that matters, it's the last. Even so, many found it perplexing that "good" and "food" were not a rhyming pair. I wrote several examples on the board, but the majority of my students surrendered to the inevitable observation about the colors of various flowers and the relative level of saccharin found in your basic household sweetener.
Maybe what was missing was a muse. Someone for whom they could compose a sonnet, or at least a couplet. Most of the kids made Valentines for their parents. A few for their grandparents. They understood that the limits of their composition would hardly be noticed by this audience. There was one fifth grade boy who kept his work very quietly to himself. He made a very pretty background on which he could place his verse, but was completely stumped when it came time to write. "Mister Caven," he whispered, "what rhymes with 'love?'"
I gave him a flurry of suggestions, not wanting to tip the scales in any one direction: of, glove, dove, above, subversive. I left him to stew and continued on my rounds, watching as the number of red roses and blue violets threatened to dull my senses to the point of paralysis. When I finally returned to my quiet little friend, I saw that he had inscribed the name of one of the girls in his class at the top of his carefully drawn by wholly inaccurate heart. Inside he had written two words: "Love" and "Shove."
"What do you think, Mister Caven?"
I had seen the two of them, the intended recipient of his card and her suitor, racing about the playground in recent weeks, alternately shrieking at one another and then pulling on the other's backpack or colliding as they made their awkward and desperate lunge into line. I told him that I figured he had single-handedly epitomized fifth grade romance. I printed it out for him and wished him luck.