Transcript: Roads to Aversion | Jun 17, 1988

An enthusiastic university class welcomes Leland Jacobs on stage. The title appears in big white capital letters: “ON CHILDREN’S POETRY. Roads to aversion.”

Jacobs is in his eighties. He has short grey hair and is clean-shaven. He wears glasses, a dark suit, white shirt and contrasting tie.

He says
A GREAT AMERICAN POET HAS
SAID TO US THERE IS NO WAY
ABSOLUTELY TO DEFINE POETRY,
BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE TRIED
TO COME AT IT ONE
WAY OR ANOTHER.
ONE PERSON HAS SAID
THAT POEM IS A WAY
TO CALL SPECIAL ATTENTION.
AND ARCHIBALD MACLEISH HAS
OFTEN BEEN QUOTED AS HAVING
SAID, “A POEM SHOULD
NOT MEAN, BUT BE.”
ANOTHER PERSON HAS SAID
THAT A POEM INTENSIFIES OR
TRANSFORMS THAT WHICH
IS MATTER OF FACT.
ANOTHER PERSON HAS SAID THAT A
POEM IS THE MAXIMUM EMOTIONAL
EFFECT WITH THE MINIMUM
OF VERBAL DECORATION.
ANOTHER HAS SAID THAT A POEM
SINGS OF SOME ASPECT OF THE
WORLD IN A MELODY OF WORDS.
SEVEN-YEAR-OLD JEFF SAYS
POETRY IS WRITING PICTURES
IN RHYMES.
HERBERT REID, THE GREAT
THEORETICIAN DEALING WITH
POETRY, HAS SAID THAT “A POEM IS
THE SPONTANEOUS UTTERANCE OF
THE POET, AND ITS JUSTIFICATION
IS IN THE SENSE OF WONDER OR
GLORY OF SYMPATHY OR DELIGHT
THAT IS COMMUNICATED.”
AND ROBERT FROST HAS SAID THAT
POETRY IS “SAYING ONE THING
AND MEANING ANOTHER.”
AND A TEN-YEAR-OLD SAID, OH,
POETRY IS LIKE THE STARS
LEFT UNDISCOVERED.
AND ELIZABETH DREW, ANOTHER
THEORETICIAN SAID, “A POEM IS
THE RIGHT WORD IN THE RIGHT
ORDER OF WHAT WE ALREADY DIMLY
AND DUMBLY FEEL.”

He stands in front of the class and reads to them holding his notes as he moves across the room.

Jacobs continues
AND CHRISTOPHER FRY, THE
DRAMATIST HAS SAID “POETRY IS
THE LANGUAGE IN WHICH MAN
EXPLORES HIS OWN AMAZEMENT.”
AND CARL SANDBURG SAID THAT
“POETRY IS THE JOURNAL
OF A SEA ANIMAL ON LAND
WANTING TO FLY IN THE AIR.”
BUT BEST OF ALL, FOR ME, IS
WHAT AN AUSTRALIAN BOY IN THE
FIFTH OR SIXTH GRADE WROTE:
POETRY IS A BRIEF VISION OF
ECSTASY GONE BUT CAUGHT FOREVER.
AND WHEN YOU PUT ALL OF THIS
TOGETHER, WHEN I LOOK AT
CHILDREN, AS THEY COME TO
SCHOOL, IT SEEMS TO ME THEY
COME TO US, EITHER IN NURSERY
SCHOOL OR IN KINDERGARTEN, OR
IF IT'S FIRST GRADE, WHEREVER
IT IS THAT THEY FIRST COME TO
SCHOOL, THEY COME ALREADY VERY
CLOSELY AKIN TO THE POET IN
MANY, MANY WAYS.
NOT ONLY IN THE AMAZEMENT OF
THE WORLD, BUT IN SOME VERY
SPECIFIC WAYS.
FOR INSTANCE, THE YOUNG CHILD IS
IN MANY WAYS A RHYTHMIC BEING.
THAT CHILD IS LEARNING TO
SKIP AND TO HOP AND TO CLIMB.
ALL IN SOME RHYTHMIC PATTERN.
A PATTERN THAT GIVES HIM JOY,
A SENSE OF PLAYFULNESS, BUT
NONETHELESS, A SENSE OF THE
ORDERLINESS OF SOMETHING
THAT IS RHYTHMIC.
BUT NOT ONLY IN THE PHYSICAL
SENSE IS HE A RHYTHMIC BEING,
OR SHE, ALSO IN ANOTHER SENSE.
THE SENSE OF THE MEASUREMENT
OF TIME AS RHYTHM.
AND THE YOUNG CHILD OBSERVES
HOW WINTER SLIPS INTO SPRING,
AND SPRING SLIPS INTO SUMMER,
AND SUMMER INTO FALL,
AND FALL INTO WINTER,
AND AROUND IT GOES.
AND AS ONE POET HAS SAID, THEN
COMES A BIRTHDAY WHERE YOU SIT
ON A FENCE ALL BY YOURSELF.
AND THE MEASUREMENT OF TIME
BEFORE DAD COMES HOME, AFTER
DAD COMES HOME, AND THE GREAT
RHYTHMS OF NIGHT AND DAY, HOW
THERE ARE ACTIVITIES FROM SUN
UP TO SUN DOWN, AND TOMORROW
WHEN I'LL SEE YOU IN THE
MORNING WHEN THE SUN COMES UP.
AND IN THIS SENSE, THE
CHILD IS TERRIBLY CLOSE,
AKIN TO THE POET.
BUT IN A SECOND SENSE, A CHILD
IS VERY CLOSE TO THE POET.
AND THAT'S IN THE
FEEL OF LANGUAGE.
NOT ONLY IN THE FACT OF
LANGUAGE, BUT IN THE
AMAZING FEEL OF LANGUAGE.
AND SO AT THE BEGINNING OF THE
SCHOOL YEAR, THE KINDERGARTEN
TEACHER IS GETTING THEM ALL
READY IN THE MORNING, AND
THEY'RE ALL GATHERED TOGETHER
TO GET STARTED, AND SHE'S
JUST ABOUT READY TO SAY
SOMETHING WHEN ONE LITTLE
FELLA SAYS, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH,
BLAH, AND BEFORE SHE COULD SAY
STOP IT, THEY'VE
ALL PICKED IT UP.
AND SHE MIGHT JUST AS WELL
JOIN IT, IN FACT, I WOULD ASK
HER TO JOIN IT BECAUSE WE
ADULTS HAVE ALREADY, SOMEHOW,
ALMOST FORGOTTEN FOR THE MOST
PART, THE LOVELY FEEL OF
SOUND IN OUR MOUTHS.
FEEL AROUND THE TEETH.
FEEL IN THE CHEEKS.
DOROTHY ALDIS WROTE A POEM
ABOUT THIS CALLED BLUM.
AND SHE SAID BLUM DOESN'T
MEAN ANYTHING,
BUT ISN'T IT A LOVELY FEEL?
DON'T YOU GET A
LOVELY FEEL TO IT?
SO THE FEEL OF LANGUAGE,
THE PLAYING AROUND WITH THE
UNUSUAL WORD, IN FACT, THE
RIGHT WORD IN THE RIGHT PLACE.
AND IN THIS SENSE, THE CHILD
IS ALSO VERY CLOSELY AKIN
TO THE POET.
AND IN A THIRD WAY.
AND THAT IS IN THE KINDS OF
QUESTIONS THAT THE YOUNG CHILD
VERY OFTEN IS ASKING.
OH, SO OFTEN THE
LITERAL-MINDED ONLY HEAR A
WHATNESS IN THE QUESTIONS THAT
THE CHILDREN ARE ASKING, WHEN
BACK OF THAT WHATNESS LIES
THE MORE IMPORTANT WHYNESS?
WHY?
WHY STARS?
WHY ANGELS?
WHY?
THEY MAY WORD THEM AS
WHAT, BUT IT'S WHY.
THE WHY OF THE NATURAL WORLD.
THE WHY OF THE SOCIAL WORLD.
THE WHY OF LIFE AND LIVING.
IN YOUNG TERMS, TO BE SURE,
BUT JUST AS IMPORTANT.
OH, WE SOMETIMES THINK
THAT SOME OF THE STUFF OF
LITERATURE BELONGS TO ADULTS,
AND SOME TO CHILDREN.
NOT SO, MY FRIENDS.
FOR THE GOOD LITERATURE FOR
CHILDREN, PROSE OR POETRY,
WAY DOWN UNDERNEATH DEALS WITH
THE SAME STUFF OF LIFE AT THE
APPROPRIATE LEVEL,
WHETHER YOU'RE 6 OR 66.
FOR IT DEALS WAY DOWN
UNDERNEATH WITH THIS BUSINESS
OF LOVE, AFFECTION,
BELONGING, BEING.
IT'S SO IMPORTANT TO US IN
TERMS OF THE WHYNESS OF THE
MEANING OF LIFE, LIVING.
AND IN THIS SENSE, TOO,
THEY ARE VERY CLOSELY AKIN
TO THE POET.

As he speaks, the screen shows a few of the faces from students in the room.

Jacobs continues
THE MOTHER GETS A PHONE CALL
THAT SAYS COMPANY IS COMING
FOR DINNER, AND SHE LOOKS AND
SHE DISCOVERS SHE'S GOT STUFF
FROM SANDWICHES AND
SALAD, EXCEPT FOR BREAD.
SO SHE SAYS TO THE LITTLE
FELLOW, COME ON, WE'RE GOING
TO THE STORE.
AND HE'S GOING ON AN
ADVENTURE, AND SHE'S GOING FOR
A VERY UTILITARIAN PURPOSE.
AND ALONG THE WAY, HERE AT
THE SIDE OF THE SIDEWALK IS A
LITTLE WHITE STONE
THAT SPARKLES.
AND HE PICKS IT UP.
AND HE PESTERS HER ALL
THE WAY, WHY SPARKLE?
WHY SPARKLE?
WHY SPARKLE?
WHEN SHE WANTS BREAD
FOR SANDWICHES.
AND IN A FOURTH WAY, THE YOUNG
CHILD COMES TO SCHOOL TO US
VERY CLOSELY AKIN TO THE POET.
AND THAT IS IN THE STRONG
SENSORY IMPRESSIONS THAT MEAN
SO MUCH TO THE YOUNG CHILD.
AT OUR HOUSE, WE HAVE A LITTLE
CERAMIC HORSE THAT I BOUGHT
MANY YEARS AGO THAT WHEN A NEW
YOUNG CHILD, NEW TO US, IS
COMING TO THE HOUSE, I LOVE TO
PUT IT OUT ON AN END TABLE.
YOU FIRST OF ALL LEARN WHAT
THE PARENTS METHODS OF
CHILD REARING ARE.

The class laughs.

Jacobs continues
FOR THERE IS THE ONE WHO LOOKS
LONGINGLY AT IT AND WILL NOT
TOUCH IT UNTIL ADULT APPROVAL.
BUT THERE'S THE OTHER END OF
THE SPECTRUM, WHERE THEY GRAB
IT, AND YOU ARE QUITE SURE
THAT BEFORE IT'S THROUGH,
YOUR LITTLE HORSE IS
GOING TO DISAPPEAR INTO
A HALF A DOZEN PIECES.
BUT IT'S A STURDY ANIMAL.
NO MATTER WHICH, THERE IS A
STRANGE THING THAT HAPPENS
NINE TIMES OUT OF TEN.
AS UNCALLOUSED AS THE YOUNG
HANDS ARE COMPARED TO OURS,
AFTER A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF THE
FEELING OF THE LITTLE HORSE
WITH THE HANDS, THEY GO FOR
THE MORE SENSITIVE FEEL, AND
PUT IT IN THEIR MOUTHS.
WHERE YET THE TONGUE GIVES
YOU THE STRONGER SENSATION
THAN THE HANDS.
IN THE DETROIT ART MUSEUM,
THERE WAS FOR MANY YEARS,
WHETHER IT'S THERE NOW, I
DON'T KNOW, A BEAUTIFUL SMALL
BRONZE OF A DONKEY.
IT WAS TARNISHED EXCEPT FOR
THE BACK, WHICH WAS BRIGHTLY
POLISHED.
ADULT AND CHILD COULD NOT
RESIST THE FEEL OF THE FORM.
A NUMBER OF YEARS AGO, IN THE
DAYS WHEN WE WERE BUILDING
THOSE BLOND SCHOOL BUILDINGS,
ALL GLASS AND BRICK AND VERY
BLOND WOOD, A FRIEND OF MINE
WHO TEACHES AT THE COLLEGE
LEVEL IN THE CURRICULUM FIELD
SAYS BLOND BUILDINGS ARE
LIKELY TO HAVE
BLOND CURRICULUMS.
I MADE A MISTAKE, IN AN
IN-SERVICE COURSE IN ONE OF
THOSE BUILDINGS ONCE OF
MENTIONING SCOTCH TAPE,
AND IT REVERBERATED ALL
THE WAY THROUGH THE HALLS.
HAD I MENTIONED THUMBTACKS, IT
WOULD HAVE EVEN BEEN WORSE.
THEY ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL
TO BE USEFUL.
I KNOW OF ONE WHERE THEY
DIDN'T HAVE A PIANO FOR A
FIRST GRADE.
THEY HAD FIVE OFFERS OF A
PIANO, BUT THEY WAITED FIVE
YEARS TO BUY ONE THAT
MATCHED THE DECOR.

The class laughs.

Jacobs continues
WELL, I WAS VISITING ONE OF
THOSE BUILDING ONE DAY, AND
THERE, AS I PASSED THE
KINDERGARTEN WITH ALL THAT
GLASS, I THOUGHT, WHY THOSE
NASTY CHILDREN, THEY'RE
STICKING THEIR
TONGUES OUT AT ME.
AND I MIGHT BE A NICE PERSON.
WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT?
AND THEN AS I REFLECTED ON IT,
I THOUGHT, WELL, THEY WEREN'T
REALLY STICKING THEIR TONGUES
OUT, THEY WERE LAYING THEM OUT.
AND THEN THE SECOND THOUGHT
CAME TO ME OF NORTH AMERICAN
THOUGHT NAMELY,
OH, A DIRTY WINDOW.
AND WE COMPLETELY KEEP
CHILDREN COMPULSIVELY CLEAN.
SOME OF THEM CAN'T EVEN
ENJOY FINGER PAINTS IN THE
KINDERGARTEN BECAUSE
THEY MIGHT GET MESSY.
AND THEY MAY NOT BE ABLE TO
DANCE IN THEIR STOCKING FEET
BECAUSE THEIR FLOOR
MIGHT NOT BE CLEAN.
INNER CITY KIDS HAVE A
MUCH GREATER OPPORTUNITY
IN THOSE FIELDS.
THEY ARE PRIVILEGED
IN THOSE REGARDS.
AND THEN I GOT THINKING,
WHAT THEY WERE DOING WAS
FEELING GLASS.
AND MAYBE IT WAS DIRTY, BUT
THEY WERE FEELING GLASS.
AND AS SOON AS I GOT HOME, I
RUSHED UP TO THE BATHROOM,
I LOCKED THE DOOR --
I WASHED THAT MIRROR.
PLEASE, WHEN YOU GO HOME
TONIGHT, YOU HAVE NOT FELT
GLASS FOR A LONG
TIME, MY FRIENDS.
IT'S A WONDERFUL FEEL.
YOU SHOULD ENVY US, YOU YOUNG
ONES, YOU NEVER HAD AN ICE
WAGON TO FOLLOW, AND IN THE
SUMMERTIME, TO GET THOSE
CHIPS OF ICE.
WE WEREN'T THIRSTY.
IT WAS THAT FEEL OF ICE.
OR TO FOLLOW THE TAR WAGON
WHEN THEY WERE TARRING THE
STREETS FOR A LITTLE
CHUNK OF TAR TO CHEW.
OR TO TAKE A DANDELION STEM
AND RUN IT IN AND OUT OF YOUR
MOUTH FOR THE ACRID TASTE
AND FOR THE FEEL OF CURLING
IN YOUR MOUTH.
THE YOUNG CHILD DEPENDS,
TREMENDOUSLY, ON SENSORY
IMPRESSION.
AND SO DOES THE POET.
AND SO IN THESE FOUR WAYS, AND
PROBABLY MANY MORE, BUT AT
LEAST THREE FOUR WAYS, THE
YOUNG CHILD IS VERY CLOSELY
AKIN TO THE POET.
AND THEN WE GET HIM IN SCHOOL.
AND THEN WE GET HER IN SCHOOL.
AND NOT BECAUSE WE'RE SADISTIC
PEOPLE, BUT PERHAPS BECAUSE
WE'RE PURITAN, OR PERHAPS
BECAUSE WE TAKE LITERALLY THE
IDEA OF AN ELEMENT-ARY SCHOOL.
THAT WE BEGIN TO DO THINGS
WITH POETRY THAT DOESN'T KEEP
THEM CLOSELY AKIN TO THE POET.
LET ME MENTION FOUR.
THE FIRST THING I THINK KILLS
POETRY DEADER THAN A DODO FOR
A GREAT MANY CHILDREN
IS TOTAL NEGLECT.
THERE ARE TOO MANY TEACHERS
WHO'VE HAD SUCH BAD EXPERIENCES
THEMSELVES THAT THEY DON'T
DO ANYTHING WITH POETRY.
AND YET, MY DEAR FRIENDS, IF
WE DON'T, IT IS QUITE LIKELY
THAT THE CHILD ISN'T
GOING TO GET ANY POETRY.
IT'S A RARE HOME, ANYMORE,
WHERE THE POETRY IS GIVEN THERE.
AND, CERTAINLY, TELEVISION
DOES VERY LITTLE TO HELP
IN THIS REGARD.
IF WE DON'T GIVE IT TO THEM,
THEY ARE LIKELY NOT TO GET IT.
WHEN I STARTED TO TEACH, WHEN
I TAUGHT A COURSE ON JUST THE
KINDERGARTEN MANY YEARS AGO,
EVERY KINDERGARTEN TEACHER
TOOK IT FOR GRANTED THAT THE
CHILDREN WOULD COME TO SCHOOL
WITH SOME MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES,
WHICH FORMED A BRIDGE BETWEEN
SCHOOL AND HOME IN
THE FIELD OF POETRY.
BUT INCREASINGLY,
WHERE I LIVE, NO MORE.
MAYBE NOT SO HERE.
BUT WHERE I LIVE, YOU CANNOT
COUNT ON CHILDREN HAVING
MOTHER GOOSE IN THEIR LIVES
WHEN THEY COME TO SCHOOL.
THEY HAVE TO BE INTRODUCED
TO IT, IT SEEMS.
THAT'S SAD.
NOW, IT IS PERFECTLY TRUE THAT
MOST OF OUR LIVES WE'RE GOING
TO READ MORE
PROSE THAN POETRY.
THERE'S NO QUESTION
ABOUT THAT.
WE'RE GOING TO READ MORE
INFORMATIONAL MATERIAL, MORE
FICTIONAL MATERIAL, MORE
BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL IN
PROSE, UNDOUBTEDLY.
BUT THAT IS NO
REASON FOR NO POETRY.
NOR IS IT A REASON TO DO
WITH POETRY WHAT WE DO
DO SO OFTEN, THAT TURNS
THEM AWAY FROM POETRY
THAN KEEPS THEM
GOING ON TO IT.
LET ME NAME FOUR THINGS THAT
I THINK STAND IN THE WAY OF
KEEPING CHILDREN ALERT AND
ALIVE AND AMAZED BY POETRY.
THE FIRST I CALL
MASS MEMORIZATION.

Some of the students take notes as he speaks.

Jacobs continues
THIS IS WHERE A POEM IS EITHER
PASSED OUT OR FOUND IN A
BOOK, OR PUT ON THE BLACK
BOARD, AND THE TEACHER SAYS
NEXT TUESDAY, EVERYBODY
WILL KNOW THE POEM.
NOW, THE MOTIVATION IS
PROBABLY ALL RIGHT.
NAMELY, I WANT THE KIDS
TO KNOW SOME POETRY.
BUT I DOUBT VERY MUCH THAT
THE PROCEDURE IS A GOOD ONE.
SO COMES NEXT TUESDAY
AFTERNOON, AND THE TEACHER
GETS OUT THE GRADE BOOK.
AND SAYS, ALICE ADAMS.
AND ALICE ADAMS GETS UP AND
WANDERS LONELY AS A CLOUD THAT
FLOATS ON HIGH OVER VALES
AND HILLS FOR AN A MINUS.

He grabs his notes and a pen and uses them to enrich his presentation. The crowd laughs.

Jacobs continues
THEN BILLY BOONES GETS UP, AND
WANDERS LONELY AS A CLOUD
FOR A D.
35 TIMES AROUND THE CLASSROOM
WANDERING LONELY AS A CLOUD
UNTIL YOU HOPE YOU NEVER
SEE A DAFFODIL AGAIN.
WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S WORSE?
HAVE YOU EVER SAT IN A
CLASSROOM AND GONE INTO THE
VALLEY OF DEATH WITH THE 600?
IT'S A GORY MESS.
DID YOU EVER HAVE TO NOT ONLY
LEARN THE POEM, BUT BE ABLE
TO WRITE IT WITH PUNCTUATION?
I WAS IN A CLASSROOM IN THE
STATES A WHILE AGO, WHERE THEY
WERE LEARNING MY
COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE
AND THIS IS THE WAY
THEY WERE SAYING IT.
MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE COMMA
SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY COMMA
OF THEE I SING
SEMICOLON.
WELL, YOU KNOW THOSE KIDS
DIDN'T MUCH CARE FOR
“MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE.”
I DIDN'T LEARN MY
POETRY THAT WAY.
I CAME FROM A
POETRY READING HOME.
AND WHEN IN HIGH SCHOOL WE
ALL HAD TO LEARN THANATOPSIS,
PRACTICALLY ALL THE REST OF
THE CLASS HAD TO GO HOME AND
SIT ALONE WITH THAT BOOK UNTIL
MAMA COULD HEAR THEM SAY IT.
I NEVER GOT IT THAT WAY.
I SAT WITH MY MOTHER AND DAD
WHO KNEW IT, AND WE DIDN'T
WORK WITH THE BOOK, WE
WORKED WITH THE LINES.
“TO HIM WHO IN THE LOVE OF
NATURE HOLDS COMMUNION
WITH THEIR VISIBLE FORM.
AND AT THE END, SO LIVED THAT
WHEN THY SUMMONS COMES TO JOIN
THE INNUMERABLE CARAVAN, WHERE
EACH SHALL FIND HIS CHAMBER
IN THE SILENT HALLS OF DEATH.
GO NOT AS A QUARRY SLAVE AT
NIGHT SCOURGED TO HIS DUNGEON,
BUT SUSTAINED AND SOOTHED BY
AN UNFALTERING TRUST WRAPS THE
DRAPERIES OF HIS COUCH
ABOUT HIM AND LIES DOWN
TO PLEASANT DREAMS.”
IT'S MINE.
WE HAD A CLASS REUNION,
THE 50th A WHILE AGO.
NOBODY THERE KNEW ONE LINE
OF THANATOPSIS EXCEPT ME.
THEY GOT THE GRADE.
THEY GOT RID OF THE POETRY.
MASS MEMORIZATION...
NOW, DON'T YOU
WRITE, IF YOU'VE GOT A PEN IN
YOUR HAND, DON'T YOU WRITE
JACOBS DOESN'T WANT US TO
HAVE ANY MEMORIZATION
OF POETRY.
BECAUSE THAT
ISN'T WHAT I SAID.
OF COURSE I WANT CHILDREN
TO MEMORIZE POETRY.
BUT NOT BY MASS MEMORIZATION.
THE SECOND THING THAT KILLS
POETRY DEADER THAN A DODO IS
VERSE VIVISECTION.
THIS IS WHERE YOU TEAR IT TO
PIECES TO SEE HOW IT WORKS.
FIRST GRADE TEACHERS
DO A LOT OF IT.
LET'S FIND ALL
THE RHYMING WORDS.
SO THEY GROW UP TO READ POETRY
IN SEARCH OF RHYMING WORDS.
IT WAS THE SCHOONER HESPERUS
THAT SAILED THE WINTRY SEA
AND THE CAPTAIN HAD TAKEN
HIS LITTLE DAUGHTER
TO BEAR HIM COMPANY.
MM-HMM.
LOOK UP ALL THE WORDS IN THE
DICTIONARY THAT YOU DON'T KNOW
IN THE POEM.
NOW, A KINDERGARTEN CHILD
WAS MUCH SMARTER THAN THAT.
THE TEACHER JUST NOT TO
IMPROVE VOCABULARY, BUT JUST
OUT OF CURIOSITY, AFTER SHE
HAD READ LITTLE MISS MUFFET,
SAID TO THEM, WHAT'S A TUFFET?
AND A BRIGHT EYED
LITTLE THING SAID,
WHY, THAT'S EASY, TEACHER.
THAT'S WHAT MISS
MUFFET SAT ON.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?
LET ME ASK THE
SERIOUS QUESTION.
WE'VE LOCKED THE DOORS.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU KNOW?
AND UNTIL YOU GIVE US A
PRECISE DEFINITION OF A
TUFFET, NOBODY LEAVES.
HOW MANY OF YOU ARE GOING TO
MISS YOUR SUPPER TONIGHT?
OH, THE REST OF YOU,
DON'T TELL ME YOU KNOW
WHAT A TUFFET IS?

The class laughs.

Jacobs continues
THAT OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT,
THEY ATE WITH A RUNCIBLE SPOON.
WHAT KIND OF A SPOON?
WAS IT SILVER OR COP-- I
SUPPOSE IN A MULTIPLE CHOICE
TEST, YOU WOULD WRITE THE
RUNCIBLE SPOON WAS SILVER,
COPPER, GOLD, OR
SOMETHING ELSE.
WHATEVER RUNCIBLE IS,
IF IT'S ANYTHING AT ALL.
YOU SEE WHAT I'M
SAYING TO YOU?
THAT ISN'T WHERE IT LIVES.
TELL ME NOT IN
MOURNFUL NUMBERS.
HOW MANY OF YOU HAD TO DO IT?
HOW MANY OF YOU
HAD TO DO THAT?
SCAN.
HOW MANY OF YOU
HAD TO SCAN POETRY?
ALL RIGHT, WHAT IS THAT
FORM I'VE JUST GIVEN YOU?
TELL ME NOT IN
MOURNFUL NUMBERS.
WHAT IS IT?
IAMBIC.
I HAVE TESTED THAT
WITH 300 AUDIENCES.
THE ONLY THING ANYBODY
EVER TELLS ME IS IAMBIC,
BUT SOMETIMES THEY
ADD PENTAMETER.
OF COURSE, IT ISN'T.
IT'S TROCHAIC.

The crowd laughs.

Jacobs continues
I AM VERY FOND OF EVANGELINE.
I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE
DON'T CARE A SNAP ABOUT IT,
BUT I'M FOND OF EVANGELINE.
AND WHEN I WENT TO NOVA SCOTIA
THE FIRST TIME, AND EVER
SINCE, I HAVE TO GO TO
GRAND-PRE, TO PAY HOMAGE.
NOW, I DON'T THINK
MISTER LONGFELLOW SAID TO
HIMSELF, I'VE WRITTEN IN
IAMBIC, AND I'VE WRITTEN IN
TROCHAIC, AND NOW I THINK I'D
BETTER EITHER USE ANAPESTS OR
DACTYLS, I DON'T
THINK HE SAID THAT.
I THINK HE THOUGHT
ABOUT THAT STORY.
AND IT WAS GOING
TO BE A SAD STORY.
AND FROM THE VERY OPENING
LINE, HE NEEDED TO BEGIN TO
SET THE FEEL FOR
THE SAD STORY.
BUT ALSO, IF YOU LOOK AT
GRAND-PRE, IN TERMS OF THE
ACTUAL SETTING, THERE IT SITS
WITH THE LONG ROLL OF THE SEA
ON ONE SIDE.
AND THE WIND IN THE
PINE TREES IN THE OTHER.
AND I DON'T BELIEVE THAT
LONGFELLOW WROTE THIS IS THE...
I THINK HE WROTE WITH THAT
LONG FEEL OF THE SUN, THIS IS
THE FOREST PRIMEVAL THE
MURMURING PINES IN THE
HEMLOCKS BEARDED IN MOSS.
THAT IS WHAT HE WROTE.
NOW, THAT STUFF THAT I'VE JUST
BEEN DOING IS NOT FOR US.
THAT IS FOR THE POETRY
SCHOLARS WHO ALREADY LOVE IT
SO MUCH THAT THIS JUST
ADDS ANOTHER DIMENSION
AND DOESN'T SPOIL IT.
IT IS FOR THE COLLEGE
PROFESSOR TO WRITE HIS
DISSERTATION ON THE RHYME
SCHEMES USED BY ROBERT BURNS.
THAT'S NOT FOR US.
YOU DON'T GET IT
THROUGH THE ELEMENTS.
WHEN I STARTED TO TEACH IN
A ONE-ROOM COUNTRY SCHOOL,
WE HAD TO TEACH A
LESSON OF THIS SORT.
THERE WERE THREE
FORMS OF LESSONS.
YOU PRESENTED THE WHOLE,
YOU ANALYZED THE PARTS,
AND THEN YOU
RE-PRESENTED THE WHOLE.
BUT AFTER YOU'VE TAKEN IT
ALL TO PIECES IN THE MIDDLE,
I NEVER KNEW HOW TO GET IT
ALL BACK TOGETHER AGAIN.
I DON'T BELIEVE IN VERSE
VIVISECTION AS BEING A WAY TO
GET CHILDREN TO
GO ON WITH POETRY.
AND THE THIRD ONE IS
POETIC PREACHMENT.
THIS IS WHERE WE GIVE
CHILDREN POETRY TO IMPROVE
THEIR CHARACTER.
THESE ARE THE HEALTH
MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES.
WHERE JACK AND JILL CAN'T GO
UP THE HILL JUST TO GET A PAIL
OF WATER, UNLESS IT'S PURE,
CHLORINATED, FLUORIDATED,
ALL TAKEN CARE OF.
AND OLD MOTHER HUBBARD CAN'T
GO TO THE CUPBOARD TO GET HER
POOR DOG A BONE UNLESS IT'S
GOT VITAMINS A, B, C AND D,
AND WHATEVER THE REST OF THE
STUFF IS THAT YOU FIND ON TV
THAT YOU NOW NEED TO HAVE IN
YOUR BREAKFAST CEREAL, OR
THOSE THINGS THEY GIVE YOU
FOR OLD AGE TO KEEP YOU
HUMPING ALONG.
THEN THERE'S SAFETY
MOTHER GOOSE.
WHERE YOU USE IT TO
TEACH THEM TO BE SAFE.
YOU KNOW WEE WILLY WINKY?
IF YOU DO, SAY
IT WITH ME.
WEE WILLY WINKY, RUNS
THROUGH THE TOWN.
UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS
IN HIS NIGHTGOWN.
RAPPING AT THE WINDOWS,
AND PRYING AT THE LOCKS.
ARE THE CHILDREN ALL IN
BED, IT IS PAST 8 O'CLOCK.
RIGHT.
NOT IN THE SAFETY
MOTHER GOOSE.
IT GOES LIKE THIS.
WEE WILLY WINKY RUNS
THROUGH THE TOWN.
UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS
IN HIS NIGHTGOWN.
RAPPING AT THE WINDOW
AND PRYING AT THE LOCK,
DON'T CROSS THE STREET, IN
THE MIDDLE OF THE BLOCK.

The class laughs.

Jacobs continues
YOU KNOW WHAT?
IT'S PUBLISHED.
I'VE GOT IT IN
A BOOK AT HOME.
I DIDN'T BRING IT BECAUSE YOU
CAN'T BE BOTHERED COMING THIS
FAR CARRYING JUNK LIKE THAT,
BUT YEAH, IT'S PUBLISHED.
THERE'S A WHOLE
COLLECTION OF THEM.
OR WE IMPROVE THAT I HAVE
CHARACTER ANOTHER WAY.
THE DAY IS DARK AND
COLD AND DREARY.
IT RAINS AND THE
WIND IS NEVER WEARY.
THE VINE STILL CLINGS TO
THE MOULDERING WALL,
AND OVER IT ALL THE
DEAD LEAVES FALL.
AND THE DAY IS DARK AND
DREARY, BE STILL SAD HEART,
AND CEASE REPINING,
BEHIND THE CLOUD, THE
SUN'S STILL SHINING.
THY FATE IS THE
COMMON FATE OF ALL.
INTO EACH LIFE SOME
RAIN MUST FALL.
SOME DAYS MUST BE
DARK AND DREARY.
I DON'T EVEN WANT TO THINK
ABOUT THAT IN TERMS OF
THE WEATHER OUTSIDE.
SO THEY ARE DOING ARITHMETIC
AND IT ISN'T COMING ALONG,
SO THE TEACHER THINKS, I'LL
INSPIRE THEM WITH POETRY.
SOMEBODY SAID THAT IT COULDN'T
BE DONE, BUT HE WITH A
CHUCKLE REPLIED, THAT MAYBE
IT COULDN'T, BUT HE WOULD BE
ONE WHO WOULDN'T SAY
SO 'TIL HE TRIED.
SO HE BUCKLED RIGHT IN WITH
A BIT OF A GRIN ON HIS FACE.
IF HE WORRIED, HE HID IT.
AND HE STARTED TO SING AS
HE TACKLED THE THING
THAT COULDN'T BE DONE.
AND HE DID IT.
AND NOW BOYS AND GIRLS, WE'LL
GO BACK TO OUR ARITHMETIC.
POETIC PREACHMENT KILLS POETRY
DEADER THAN -- EITHER THAT,
OR THEY DON'T GET IT.
YOU KNOW, THE SUNDAY SCHOOL
STORIES WHERE THEY JUST DON'T
GET THE POINT.
THE LITTLE ONE WHO CAME
HOME FROM SUNDAY SCHOOL,
AND THE MOTHER SAID,
WHAT'S THE GOLDEN TEXT?
AND SHE SAID, DON'T WORRY,
YOU'LL GET YOUR QUILT.
MOTHER DIDN'T THINK EVEN IN
THE MOST MODERN OF VERSIONS
THAT WAS AN INTERPRETATION
IN THE BIBLE.
AND THE LITTLE GIRL SAID,
IT WAS, AND YOU CALL
MY SUNDAY TEACHER.
SO SHE CALLED THE
SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER.
AND THE GOLDEN TEXT
TURNED OUT, FEAR NOT,
THE COMFORTER WILL COME.
THAT KIND OF PREACHMENT
CAN BE MISINTERPRETED.
AND THE FOURTH IS
ADULT ADORATION.
WHERE WE THINK, OH, YES,
IN SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL,
THEY ARE GOING TO NEED
TO KNOW ABOUT THIS POET.
I'LL GIVE IT TO THEM NOW.
KIDS DON'T CARE WHAT
THEY NEED TO KNOW
IN SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL.
SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL IS GOING TO
HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF ITSELF,
MY FRIENDS.
I'M AWFULLY TIRED OF US
SAYING, NOW, WHAT HAD WE
BETTER DO BECAUSE
OF THE NEXT TEACHER?
LET THE NEXT TEACHER TAKE
CARE OF HERSELF OR HIMSELF.
[applause]

The end credits roll.

Unit Manager, Tim Ashley.

Production Assistant, Jane Downey.

Producer-Director, Gladys Richards.

A production of TVOntario, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority, 1980.

Watch: Roads to Aversion