As my teenage sons encounter poetry in school, they greet the imposter with more hostility than hospitality. In an effort to persuade them that poetry is a gift and not a conspiracy to￼ siphon GPA points, I recently talked to them about one of my favorite poets￼, William Carlos Williams.
WCW first won my affection because his quick, spare imagist stanzas take a fraction of the time it takes to read, say, “The Waste Land.” But these days I am drawn to Williams for more than just brevity. Williams was a pediatrician who wrote plays and poems when he was not practicing medicine￼. Creative work is my side hustle too, so I find it encouraging that he penned part of the American canon while moonlighting outside a nine-to-five gig.
That’s what I was trying to explain when I read “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say” to my kids over breakfast. My boys inherited strong analytical pragmatism from the daddy Fox, so I want to be sure they look up from quantitative commitments of algebra, sports and their Fox Bros. Mows lawn-care business to enjoy lyrical pursuits.
I showcased “This is Just to Say,” because I want them to get the subtle joke when￼ they see allusions to the poem. Then, as if to prove my point, Jennifer Puryear over at Bacon on the Bookshelf referenced those sweet, cold plums the next morning — the next morning! — with an excerpt￼ from The Washington Post book blog. I read Jennifer’s column to my children, punctuating it all with as gracious an I-told-you-so￼ as I could muster. They listened begrudgingly￼, then headed out to remove some leaves and brush from a neighbor’s yard.￼
But they couldn’t find their red wagon, the decade-old Radio Flyer they use to haul the leaf blower and other lawn implements of their Fox Bros. Mows enterprise. The wagon usually parks in the backyard, beside the henhouse, but it was MIA.
The whole landscaping operation came to a screeching halt, because, as I gleefully recite and my boys now graciously concede, so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow (or wagon) glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.
At that moment, Poetry came alive in our house. Or maybe it was just Poetic Justice.