Go ahead, it won’t bite.
Well…maybe a little.
More a nip, like. A tingle.
It’s pleasurable, really.
You see, it keeps on opening.
You may fall in.
Sure, it’s hard to get started; remember learning to use
knife and fork? Dig in:
you’ll never reach bottom.
It’s not like it’s the end of the world –
just the world as you think
you know it.
Rita Dove’s poem “The First Book” (above) offers students insight into how reading could change their life. Dove states that the poem came after a visit to her daughter’s school and discovering how many youth were averse to reading. I too share her dismay as a previous teacher. I found that students in our present context, especially African American students in poor urban contexts are either afraid to learn or refuse to believe that learning will help them reach their goals. But then I question myself and ask, are they not reading because we have not provided them with SMART goals; goals that are simple, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely? Most youth want success and they want it now because they feel as though they have the talent. But have we first recognized that talent then taught them how to strengthen that talent? Have we provided them with books on that talent? The rationale that the generation of Blacks before their time fought for an opportunity to go to school is no longer a resolution for them to become invested in reading or their education when economic times are hard youth need finances to support their families more quickly than they can obtain by growing through 12+ years of education. However, in Dove’s poem, she validates the challenges and anxieties that getting started on something new brings and pinches the curiosity bone that is in all of us to take a risk and see what will happen if we allow ourselves to fall into a new adventure of words. She uses a metaphor that digging into a book is similar to digging into a meal with a knife and fork- echoing her sentiments that reading is like eating. The use of short punctuated phrases allows the student to feel like reading is a stop and go process and that it is okay to break up the length of the story for breath, but know that when you get interested it is difficult to stop reading, which is noted by her changes in punctuation and no punctuation in some cases.
Because Dove has a way of bringing out political issues in her poetry, I would like to see a poem by her on her views of the American educational system today. I would like to ask her what she believes are the reasons youth no longer care to read or to receive an education. Dove ends this poem by saying that world as they know it may end, which may inspire some but may appear unrealistic for others. Change for most youth today, especially in urban communities, is an everyday adventure that they may not want to relive in a novel unless the change is for the better. The kids I taught had to take care of their younger siblings due to either an absent parent from long work hours or substance abuse so yes they would love to have a different life but that change is more systematic than a turning of a page. When would they have time to read – what then becomes their metaphor for eating because reading or eating may not be an everyday occurrence for some of them.
In taking some pointers from Dove spiritual exercises, I would create a spiritual exercise for myself and sit in one a class of students in an elementary school or even in Sunday school and observe the conflicts of reading students display. Then offer the students, especially those who were more challenged with reading to get out their internal thoughts in color, in painting, in writing then put words to what they drew, colored or wrote. Spiritually, sometimes it can be tough to read when your mind cannot process another word beyond hunger pangs, beyond the doubts that God will rescue your family from poverty or violence, beyond the words that were screamed at you while getting dress for school- placing ourselves in the place of our children will help us articulate and see spiritual and physically what they are in need of.