Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Brain Squint: Reading Memory






Grade 4 in Northern Ireland. Late afternoon in our private school which looked like a small stone castle. A older man (the superintendent of the school?) would come into our class, thin, worn, in a shapeless overcoat. He’d sit at the front and tell us Irish Fairytales from memory. I remember few details, but do remember the slanting sun across the ancient desks, his sonorous deep voice, a story about a girl choosing a cape that seemed the most plain but being rewarded by its having a bejewelled lining. That year, I was never able to be ‘a knight of the times table’ — who knew what to do with the 8 times table?– and I was always placed far in the outfield of the cricket matches where I would be lost in revery under the tall oaks, the cricket match a distant ritual between white clothed classmates. Others would talk to the teacher about the proper application of linseed oil on cricket bats and other fine points of cricketry like sticky wickets. Sometimes the whole boys school had a running meet, dressed only in our white underwear and plimsoles. We swan naked. We hit each other with our red pocket sized hymn books. I felt disconnected and dazed. But listening to the teacher read this stories, I was THERE. I was transported. I heard every detail. Even the grass blades and trees seemed different as I walked home after hearing him. At home, I wrote strange incantatory texts on cue cards trying to evoke the numinous preternatural language of the folktales, the teacher’s mysterious voice. At eight or nine years old, my brain learned to squint, to hold things in resonant soft focus, to use language to uncover what I thought was really going on.


Kristen Den Hartog has a great blog. She has invited fellow Trillium nominees to muse about children's literature. Phil Hall wrote a great post which inspired me to comment on an early reading/literary experience. That's the memory above. Thanks, Kristen. Thanks, Phil.

1 comment:

Eccentric Scholar said...

Beautiful, Gary.