The Crazy Man, Pamela Porter

Wait, so, you’re telling me you haven’t read The Crazy Man?! I’m honestly not sure how you’ve gotten through life thus far then, because this book is a game changer. This book should be used with middle schoolers, with high schoolers, with your friends who hate to read (or for those who only “have time” to read blog articles all the live long day but couldn’t possibly finish a novel). This is a book you should read every year to remind yourself as a writer or a reader what innovation can bring to a story. This is a book that makes me love books even more than I already do, and gives me hope as the weird, un-genred writer that I am that there is a place for all kinds of storytellers.

Okay, so maybe I’m just a dork, but I think Pamela Porter did an amazing thing when she took a story for a YA audience and shaped it into a novel of readable, imagination-rich verse. Yes, that’s right, poetry-haters, this is a novel-length poem, and if you don’t read it because of that, you’re the crazy one.

A man from the mental hospital
came by today to check on Angus,
see how he was doing. Mum
and Angus and the man walked
around the fields,
looked at the gardens. I sat
on the porch steps and listened
best I could. The man said Angus
was the best gardener they ever had.

Mum looked at the man. Then
she looked at Angus. “Oh,” she said,
like she’d never thought about
Angus knowing how to do anything
except be crazy. (p 83)

See! Easy! Nothing to be scared of here. No fancy poetic tricks (beyond Porter’s uncanny ability to turn a simple story into a delicious read). No rhyming. No degree in poetry necessary to enjoy this story.

This book appeals to me on so many levels, it just makes me want to pry open every English curriculum and squeeze it in there. It’s such a great introduction to poetry for people of all ages because it’s not intimidating. The story is compelling, the characters well-drawn, the situation believable. The vocabulary is straightforward – it’s in the way she molds the language that brings the story to life. This is break down the walls because story telling should be open to every kind of voice poetry.

Angus was clanking around
in the machinery shed. And Miss Tollofsen
strode straight and tall over to Angus
and stuck out her hand. Introduced herself.

She knew all about him. Everybody in town
knows there’s a crazy man on the loose,
and some insane people are letting him
                                                          work for them.

In her class, she always said
                             every day is a fresh start.
No matter what hijinks
someone had done the day before, or
what condition you came to school in yesterday,
it stayed in that day. Didn’t spill over.

I like that.  (p 85)

I just love this book. I’ve read it a couple of times now, and every time I do, I’m glad all over again. It reminds me of the infinite possibilities we have to create something fresh, something outside the box. When I was in school, I always wanted my teachers to nurture the weird perspectives I brought to my writing assignments, and it always chipped off a little bit of my heart when I got a piece back that I was so proud of, that actually felt powerful and ME-like, with a note in red pencil saying “Re do or Zero.” I was a conscientious student, so I would go home and rewrite it into exactly what that teacher wanted to hear with tears in my eyes and a feeling of shame. Like the work I thought was so special was worthless…

Years later, I still get stories rejected more often than accepted, but I’ve conquered the fear that the part of me that sees the world differently is not the best part of who I am as a writer. The thing I worry about now is all those students who don’t. Who see that red note and decide to stop trying. Or who think their unique voice is not worth hearing.

This is a book for students like that, and for teachers and parents and librarians and friends who need a reminder that the story-teller inside of us should be free to experiment. To tell our stories in the very best way we can – unabashedly, and with great faith in the power of our own voice.

Pamela Porter doesn’t appear to have a personal webpage, but plenty of interviews, quotes, and poems can be found on the internet.

3 thoughts on “The Crazy Man, Pamela Porter

  1. Haha, you reminded me of my High School English teacher with that last line. She spent the whole of our senior year stressing the development of a voice and to be honest it is the greatest gift I have ever been given. Once I discovered my voice my writing improved and made sense to me. I will try to get a hold of this book.

  2. Well, you have made MY senior year English teacher very happy with that comment! She was actually younger than I am now when she taught me (I think it was her second year of teaching), but she still managed to instill in me a desire to uncover my own unique voice.

    Also, I just wanted to say that I love your flash fiction piece. Flash fiction is my favorite form of writing (I just started doing it a few months ago), and I love finding others who are getting into it. I hope you’ll keep at it!

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