Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Poetry in costume

The school year is winding to its inevitable close and every day I'm inundated anew with art and science projects, half-used workbooks and stubby pencils. I imagine my kids' teachers in a spring-cleaning fervor, gleefully denuding bulletin boards and cubbies and sending students home with backpacks stuffed with paper, some of it precious, some of it semiprecious, some of it not even close. The challenge: where to store this stuff, and how to get rid of some of it without enraging my pack-rat children.

It's hard to edit. I find myself doing preliminary culling, then stuffing everything marginal into a box that I hope I'll be able to return to at a later date with more clarity and objectivity. So far that's worked: I've had a good laugh over the way I saved my elder daughter's every scribble on every scrap of butcher paper—before double-bagging it and putting it in the outdoor trash can under cover of darkness. But I know this is a task that will probably dog me for the rest of my life.

Being thrust back in this familiar situation reminds me of Poetry in Costume, a school project created by some precocious young miss back in May of 1945, which I bought at an estate sale a number of years ago when my elder daughter was still in preschool and my younger was too young to put crayon to paper. I wrote about this book in O Magazine, because it's so lovely (I'm only showing about half of the illustrations and I didn't even include the pages of poetry that fall between each costume, like intertitles in a silent movie) and because it was pretty hard to get around the irony of the lovingly preserved note written by this girl's teacher: "This is a beautiful book...and I am sure will be something to cherish and pass on to your children." I took her children—or whatever surviving family remained some 60 years later—to task for heartlessly selling this family treasure at her estate sale. How could they?!

How could they indeed. I was newer to the estate sale circuit then, and a little more judgmental. I mean, I don't know how something as nice as Poetry in Costume ends up in the "to sell" pile but I've got a lot more dioramas and sculptures and shoebox floats in closets than when I wrote that little piece—and a lot more sympathy with the seller than I did then. What to save, what to let go—these are the questions.

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