Saturday, July 26, 2014

P&PC's New Acquisition: First Thoughts

Check out this neat little reward of merit, probably made in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and originally given to Imogene Hayes of Fillmore County, Minnesota, for three months of perfect school attendance. (Go Imogene!) Rewards of merit oftentimes included poems—the verse here is the first stanza of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Swing"—and were a common vehicle by which connections between poetry, school, childhood, and femininity were positively reinforced around this time, contributing to what Angela Sorby has called "the infantilization of American poetry: poets framed as children, children seen as poets, children posited as readers, children recruited as performers, and adults wishing themselves back into childhood."

You can certainly see how this reward of merit posits children as readers and performers of poetry, and no doubt their proud parents looked upon the card and wished for the real or imagined carefree days of swinging in the air so blue. But where, one might ask—as one of our interns did—is the child seen as a poet? That's one of the beautiful things about this card: not only is it a reward of merit, but it's an ink blotter as well—a reward that hails the student not just as a reader of poetry but as writer of poetry too. Add in the American flag motif of the child's dress (as she swings freely "o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave"), and you've got a potent little piece of ephemera linking the values of poetry, childhood, education, and American patriotism. Who knew that just three months of perfect attendance could come with so much extra baggage?