Live Poets Society

I can’t really say that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love to write. Because I do remember that time, quite vividly in fact. I must have been seven or eight, and my mom tried everything to get me to write. Finally, she gave me an assignment to write a letter to the Tooth Fairy. I was supposed to explain how I had accidentally swallowed my loose tooth, and request the customary remuneration despite the absence of the actual article. I can still visualize the kiddie-lined paper with my cop-out missive written in large awkward letters and callously denying the very existence of that benevolent fairy:

Dear Mommy, Please bring me lots of money.

I think I ended up with my quarter, but my writing was not much improved. Somewhere down the line, though, I did learn to love writing. In fact, it became my passion. So it was not surprising that upon viewing Dead Poets Society, I decided that it was high time to form my own secret literary club. Fortunately, I had at my disposal three willing acolytes (aka long-suffering younger siblings). And so on a rainy afternoon in the family room, the Live Poets Society was founded.

Our first order of business was to christen each of the poets with a mysterious nom de plume. I was fond of clever word puzzles (and bad puns). I remember my undying delight upon learning of Shakespeare’s secret message in Psalm 46 (made even more exciting by the fact that his name reputedly hid a secret identity in the first place — ah the delicious layers of mystery). As ringleader, I had first dibs on a nickname, and could not but choose the Bard. I took the name “Quiverlance,” and thought myself almost as clever and mysterious as Shakespeare himself.

The rest of the names, though, were a bit more difficult. Benjamin ended up with “Otto Scratch” (Karl Marx=car mark=auto (otto) scratch. OK?). Samuel was “Loose Lyric” (Lewis Carroll). By this time we were really running out of ideas. We finally decided we could make something out of Hergé, itself the pseudonym of the Belgian creator of Tintin (surely a work of literary genius by any criteria). Transliterating it into English got us “Her Jay,” and from then it was an easy (and charming) step to Lady Bluebird.

Now that we had our esoteric noms de plume, all we needed was a little grist for our literary mill. We found it in the form of a delightful little volume by Chris Van Allsburg (of Jumanji and Polar Express fame). The book is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and contains a dozen or so fascinating black and white drawings with a provocative title and caption for each. In Van Allsburg’s inimitable style, the drawings are so eerie, so beautiful, so mysterious that they practically cry out to be explained in story form.

Elaborate on them we did, producing a variety of interesting, silly, and (of course) heart-wrenchingly beautiful tales. So I was amused and intrigued to learn that fourteen “real” authors have recently taken on the task to produce their own stories inspired by Van Allsburg’s book. The new volume, entitled The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, includes stories by such authors as Lois Lowry, Lemony Snicket, and Stephen King. I am unfortunately easily terrified/creeped out, so I may not be reading the anthology, at least not in its entirety. Still, it’s a fun celebration of a book that has inspired the imaginations of millions of aspiring writers of all ages.

Let the Live Poets Society live on!

Note: Special thanks to my brother Benjamin for bringing this to my attention, and for condescending (even at the dignified age of eleven) to write under the pseudonym of Otto Scratch.

photo credit

8 thoughts on “Live Poets Society

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  • November 23, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Update: Unfortunately, it looks like Lady Bluebird’s is the only Harris Burdick manuscript to have survived (complete with poping light bulbs). The official Live Poet’s Society folder I found contains some animal stories. For the record, Samuel was “Grey Token” and my kids had some pretty decent cursive writing skills.

  • November 23, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Fortunately, I still have that Live Poet’s Society manuscript. It will make fine Christmas reading material.

  • November 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    That rings a bell with me too . . . is it possible that Jesse was old enough to participate? I guess we’ll have to consult Samuel. I had completely forgotten Otto Scratch until it was brought to my attention by Benjamin.

    And yes, there was not much better than the fresh literalism of your poping light bulb.

  • November 21, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    I thought somebody was “Grey Token” (J. R. R. Tolkien). Then again, my memory of that period of my life is quite fuzzy… All I can really recall clearly are the light bulbs poping in my head.

  • November 21, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Ha, Samuel and Hannah still talk about the Live Poets Society all the time! I love it.


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