The River

Thursday, September 23, 2004

On seeing the natural-born artist in your child

My amazing just-turned- five-year-old girl sang us a song the other day. It was about the fish in the sea. She made it up as she went along. She referred to the porcupine fish and its defenses, the clown fish and some others.

But I was most struck by the lyric, “the fish can’t see the stars.”

Born poet, I’m tellin ya.

Other times over the past two years or so she’s come out with:

When having a picnic on the front lawn and looking out at the trees and sky during a quiet moment: “Daddy, where was I before I was born?”

When her parents were planning a meal including lamb: “We don’t eat baby sheep!”

When eating dinner: “Is the chicken happy that we eat it?” (If it had a good life and we respect it, “yes,” I answered. So, “no,” I didn’t say.)

When her mother played the tiger for a second time in a make believe game at bath time: “So this is a recurring character?”

After viewing “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”: “Did the Grinch make himself happy?”

When naming the ballet she was about to perform: “It’s called Spirit of the Summit.”

But it’s not all “magic in the air,” as she termed a make believe game in which she plays a fairy. One night she became so upset with a parental decree that she flew into a rage so intense that she couldn’t articulate any words for at least five minutes.

That night, enjoying a peace not unlike the feeling after the passing of Hurricane Ivan, I read the following apropos passage from “The Courage to Create” by Rollo May:

When I use the word rebel for the artist, I do not refer to revolutionary or such things as taking over the dean’s office; that is a different matter. Artists are generally soft-spoken persons who are concerned with their inner visions and images. But that is precisely what makes them feared by any coercive society. For they are the bearers of the human being’s age-old capacity to be insurgent. They love to immerse themselves in chaos in order to put it into form, just as God created form out of chaos in Genesis. Forever unsatisfied with the mundane, the apathetic, the conventional, they always push on to newer worlds. Thus are they the creators of the “uncreated conscience of the race.”

This requires an intensity of emotion, a heightened vitality – for is not the vital forever in opposition to death? We could call this intensity by many different names: I choose to call it rage. Stanley Kunitz, contemporary poet, states that “the poet writes his poems out of his rage.” This rage is necessary to ignite the poet’s passion, to call forth his abilities, to bring together in ecstasy his flamelike insights, that he may surpass himself in his poems. The rage is against injustice, of which there is certainly plenty in our society. But ultimately it is rage against the prototype of all injustice – death.

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