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Thoughts on Childhood Creativity from the Editor of Rattle Poetry Magazine

Adrian Patenaude

I follow Rattle Poetry Magazine on Facebook and Twitter, and every once and a while, the editor of the magazine will post his thoughts on poetry. Today he responded to some criticism he had been seeing for poems in the Rattle Young Poets Anthology. It's a powerful anecdote on the importance of adults believing in the budding creativity of children.

People keeping doubting that the young poets have written these without help. It's such a weird comment to me—why care one way or the other? What percentage of the adult poems in Rattle haven't had help from workshops or teachers or friends? I have no idea, because I don't ask, because I don't care. But I assume the majority of poets in every issue have received some advice, if not a great deal of advice.

When I was in Boy Scouts there was the annual Pinewood Derby—you get a hunk of wood, nail on some wheels, and race them down a sloped track. I didn't have a helpful father to graphene the axles or front-load the weight on a jeweler's scale. That's what it took to win. But there was a prize for best-looking car, and I dedicated myself to that darn thing. I carved out a rear spoiler and spent days sanding—days—my knuckles bled. I painted it silver and the wood looked like polished metal. In my memory, anyway, it was gorgeous, and I'd done it all myself. I wanted that best in show ribbon. After admiring my car and moving on to the next table, I heard one judge mutter to the other, "His father did it."

I didn't win the ribbon, and I'm still pissed. I can still hear that voice in my head.

The next year I just hacked my car into a roughly aerodynamic shape the night of the derby and left the wood bare. The year after that I was done with Boy Scouts forever.

The point is: Just enjoy the poems. Maybe some of them had help, maybe none of them did—who cares? These are kids expressing themselves through wonderful poetry. It's great for them to write, and it's great for us to read, so just enjoy it.