Sometimes we need to be reminded that, yes, profundity can be endlessly procured from simple things, but sometimes things are profound because they are so, so simple.
Sharon Creech’s “novel” collection of poetry is one of these blessed reminders, appropriately brought to us from the mouth of a child. Jack, the narrator, tediously and at first, unwillingly, steps into poetry writing at the request of his English teacher, Miss Stretchberry. His stubbornness melts away as he writes more and more, discovering the intimate, rhythmic junction of words and sounds that create each delicate line of each poem. This discovery builds on itself until the end of the book, and Jack removes his self-doubt as he ultimately discovers what it means not only to be a poet, but a person.
Jack’s discoveries, like those of any child, take small steps. He begins with no ability to recognize a poem and travels through disbelief, uncertainty, recognition, and finally a full development of understanding and preference for poetry. His words and thoughts are simple, much like we would expect from a child, and his poems reflect this simplicity. However, as his poems begin to reflect the maturation of his questions and thoughts, they never stray from their simplistic style. Jack experiments with different styles of poems, but finds himself able to convey his growing, multi-faceted, more inclusive emotions and questions through a simple, straightforward, accessible method of adolescent poetry.
Through Jack’s character, Creech includes commentary on poems by William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, and Walter Dean Myers. She presents the most primitive questions asked when confronting these poems for the first time, struggling with their meaning and especially wondering what makes them so important.
Jack never answers this question explicitly, but he definitely learns the answers. And when Creech brings us through to the end of this diary of poems, we learn the answer right along with him. The importance of each poem becomes, for Jack, the impact of his experience, specifically his experience with the death of his dog. Jack is able to bring out the memories of his dog through the inspiration he gets from other poets and channel these memories into the poems he writes. He stops wondering what makes the poems important, or what makes them “real poems,” and revels in their creation instead. He stops doubting himself, and his poems contain less uneasy questions and more of the profound observations that give poems such meaning and authority.
Creech provides this illustration of a life-changing, and life-creating, process through the view of a very small window. In fact, everything about this book is small. The words, the lines, and even the pages were made to fit in the palm of a child. This seems to contrast the deeply profound and great ideas that the novel uncovers, only to remind us that these ideas are the simplest in the world.
This book allows us to join Jack in taking a step back, to stop wondering and exploring and uncovering what makes everything so important. It gives us that little bit of help we need to revel in a simple voice within poetry, literature, and life itself.