The next excerpt from my PYI keynote in a series that started in December 2011…
My son is in the bathroom shaving
the water runs. I hear the scrape
across his upper lip, the rinse, the tap
three times on the side of the sink
which makes me wonder if this is some
primordial or innate rhythm all men
are born to repeat this razor tapping
male music ritual.
I wonder this of course
so I won’t stop to wonder
how this child of mine
grew this hair upon his face
it wasn’t much a newspaper smudge
of a mustache
but he told me it was time
It is time
that I am weeping for
how once this child
whose every body part was mine
to clean and tend to
is now a young man
who locks the bathroom door
Can you identify the poet who wrote that poem, “Coming of Age”?
It appears in a book called In this house are many women, and it’s by . . . Sheree Fitch.
I chose this bit of sock fluff to show you for two reasons.
I have a son who inspired one of the first manuscripts I dared submit to a publisher. Annick published Big or Little? in 1983, with illustrations by Robin Baird Lewis. They sold rights in French, Spanish, and Japanese, kept it in print for 25 years, and then issued an updated version with illustrations by Toni Goffe. Matt’s bathroom door has been in his own home for almost half his life now, but Sheree’s poem still has the power to move me.
There’s a song that takes similar hold of me with regard to my daughter, who, thirty years ago, inspired Red is Best – now available, at last, as a board book. And that song is (don’t worry, I won’t try to sing it here) “Rise Again” by the Rankins. It happened to be playing as Kelly and I took down the Christmas tree, the first Christmas she was no longer living at home, and I turned the cd player up loud, set it to keep repeating the song, and we belted it out at the top of our lungs as we finished taking down the tree.
My kids were instrumental in kick-starting my writing career and my family continues to be a rudder for me as I navigate the waters of my life.
The other reason for “Coming of Age” and not “Monkeys in My Kitchen” or “Toes in My Nose” is because it’s not what many readers expect from Sheree Fitch. She established herself well as the author of “lip-slippery” poems for kids, but I’m glad she didn’t allow herself to be pigeon-holed by what she achieved recognition for first. Instead, she writes about things that matter to her, intensely, that she can’t do justice to in the form that had made her popular. (Sheree not only writes poetry for adults but fiction for teenagers, as well.)
I know how hard it can be to get people to notice that you’ve changed direction, artistically, because I’ve done that too. Not that the public recognition is the reason for doing what we do. People like Sheree Fitch and me, Anne Laurel Carter and Margaret Mahy (a New Zealand writer who has long inspired me with the breadth of her work) follow creative impulses where they lead us.
It used to be that if I got an idea for a certain kind of book that I hadn’t written before, I’d say to myself ‘Oh I can’t write that, I don’t write…’ historical fiction, biography, whatever. Not all my pursuits have been successful – I have a psychological thriller in my files that’s not ready to submit to a publisher and may never be. But I’ve had fun with it and success with enough other things I dared try my hand at – partly just to see if I could – that I can’t imagine ever again saying, ‘oh I don’t write…’ any kind of story that might present itself.