I loved 4th grade, and a big part of that was because I had an amazing 4th grade teacher. She had a knack for bringing out the best in her students and recognizing that each kid excels in different activities. She made sure to provide opportunities for each and every child to shine—whether it be in sports, spelling, math, art, or another area. I wasn’t the best student in the class, and I was a terrible athlete (that might be a very large understatement). So I appreciated her efforts to help the “rest of us” stand in a spotlight—however briefly.
Every year, she put together a book of poetry written by the class. Every student could submit a poem (or more if you wished). Naturally, I seized the opportunity to submit my poetry. In fact, I took “or more” to the extreme and submitted 20% of the total poems in the book. Clearly, 4th grade is when I learned the principle of “quantity over quality.”
Some of the poems I wrote were simple and sweet—what you’d expect from a 4th grade girl. Take this one for instance:
THE DOVE Oh I really just love Oh that beautiful dove, Way way up high, In that blue blue sky, Oh why can't I, Fly in the beautiful sky.
(You’re going to have to ignore the punctuation disaster in all of these poems.) Beautiful birds, blue skies, and the desire to fly are all very wholesome and innocent—very age appropriate. This poem sat nicely in the book with the other kids’ poems.
Some of my poems, however, were a little darker. Well, darker for a 4th grader anyhow.
THE SNAIL Once there was a snail, Who loved to sail and sail. He slammed the door, And fell on the floor, And he was there no more.
Deplorable punctuation AND dead snails. Lovely. Okay, I didn’t come right out and say that the snail was dead; I took the gentle approach for that poem. And at least we had an adventurous snail. Fun stuff for a 4th grader. Then, further in the poetry collection, we get to my existential phase:
THE CAT There was a cat, That had a hat, That was flat, Because the dog was a rat.
I’d like to think I was already starting to explore canine identity in an absurd or meaningless world. But it’s possible that, after so many bad poems, I just ran out of ideas and words that rhymed. (Though I did later develop a fixation on Kafka and Dostoyevsky so the former is still possible.) My poems were starting to stand out a bit from the other kids’ poems, but they still seemed benign.
And, then, there were a number of poems that seemed to cross a line. Apparently, my fascination with all things dead started in that class.
THE DOG I had a dog, He was a hog, He ate a log, And sat on a frog. (By the way the frog is dead.)
Pair that poem with the lovely one below, and one might start asking what’s going on with my home life.
THE FOG The fog was so foggy, The hog was so hoggy, the dog was like a doggy, The frog was so froggy, And the rat was dead.
And there we have it, folks: dead frogs and rats. If my daughter Erin had produced these poems in 4th grade, I would have hoped the teacher might have said something to me. My 4th grade teacher never did say anything to me or my parents. She never let on that any of the poems might have seemed a little off. Maybe she just knew that I needed to explore different ideas and imagery via poetry.
But, then again, she taught all of my 5 siblings before me. I guess being the youngest of 6 kids kinda explains it all?