I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t entranced with language, the musical flow and rhythm of words. My parents read to me when I was small, and my clearest memory of that time is of the poetry. I was fortunate to be born into a family that not only prized books, they owned them. What riches! In particular, we had a set of volumes called “Child Craft;” the first two, “Poems of Early Childhood” and “Storytelling and Other Poems,” were devoted solely to poetry. Those were my first introduction to the magic carpet ride of words, one of both enchantment and escapism.
Leafing through the pages I hear the familiar siren’s song calling to me, calling to the remembered best of my childhood, pressed between the covers. Here I find familiar names that read like a literary “Who’s Who:” A.A. Milne, William Blake, and three Roberts–Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Browning, Robert Frost. Christina Rosetti; Aileen Fisher; Eugene Field. Here are nursery rhymes (Jack and Jill, Little Boy Blue, Humpty Dumpty), and poems that tell stories; poems about trains and planes and automobiles, lighthouses and boats. Some of them, like the fairy tales of old, have a dark side (To The Little Girl Who Wiggles; The Potatoes’ Dance; Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors For Fun and Perished Miserably). The illustrations are charmingly old-fashioned, reminiscent of a vintage grade school primer.
My father was a creative reader, often improvising as he went along and using different voices for the different characters. It wasn’t until later, when I was able to read alone, that I discovered this. I can still remember my sharp disappointment, taking the book to my mother and asking, “Where’s the good stuff?” And I remember the sound of his voice, reading The House That Jack Built, (a lengthy and humorous poem where each verse repeats the one before), his pace picking up speed until, by the end, we were breathless and laughing.
Built on that foundation, it’s hardly surprising that some of my first writing efforts were poetry. We had a treehouse on stilts in our backyard, under the old willow tree; the branches hung down around it like living curtains, sheltering and hiding me. Armed with pencil and paper and imagination, I escaped there as often as I could, daydreaming and writing, with the hum of insects and the sound of the wind whispering inspiration. Sometimes I took a book along, and an apple or a chocolate chip cookie filched from the jar when no one was looking. While I was there, the world, and my place in it, ceased to exist. I could be anything, do anything, live in an enchanted realm of my choosing. Nothing mattered but the words.
Throughout my life, I have sought and found solace in words–my own, and those written by others. Reading introduced me to a broader world than the one outside my window, and writing helped me find my way when the road ahead seemed uncertain, shrouded in darkness. Writing is intensely personal, a distillation of who I am, at the core. It is my heart and soul, the accumulation of hard won wisdom and experience. Sharing that with others, people I know and those I haven’t met, is an act of courage. But if by doing so even one person finds comfort or inspiration, or simply the recognition of a shared experience, it will have been well worth the risk.