Poetry Day in Florida
    by John Cech

Its already gotten warm in Florida, the kind of warm that sets you dozing and dreaming. And one of the most famous poems ever written about Florida, Samuel Taylor Coleridge s Kubla Kahn came out of a dream. Back in eighteenth century England, Coleridge had fallen asleep, with a volume of William Bartrams Travels open to a chapter about Florida on his lap, in which he had been reading about one of the remarkable springs in this Northern part of the the state -- crystal clear, 71 degrees year round, that effervesce from the aquifer. This, of course, was several centuries before they made The Creature from the Black Lagoon in one of them.

The spring Coleridge happened to be reading about, the Itchetucknee, is located a few dozen miles north of Gainesville, where these programs are produced, and it s a place that fills up with young people and families during the summer who are there for whats called tubing -- drifting down the miles of the meandering spring until it empties into the Sante Fe River. This is the same river that Coleridge called Alph in his poem, and a little above the springs, the river actually sinks into the ground at a place called Oleno, which used to be a railroad and a gambling town in the middle of the last century, but has since disappeared from the face of the earth, except for the historic markers and the eerie memories that palpably haunt the place.

I grew up in Chicago, and had to memorize Coleridges poem when I was in eighth grade, and I can still say most of it: In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn a stately pleasure dome decree, where Alph the sacred River ran, through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea. I didn t know then that it was inspired by Florida. And today, most Florida kids probably dont know Coleridge s poem, or if they do that he was writing about their state, and that the pleasure dome he described isnt in Orlando or Tampa, and the river isn t part of a theme park ride or a twisting, fiberglass flume. Its poetry day in Florida today, and if it were up to me, I d have every Florida schoolchild read Kubla Kahn so that they might hear the poetry that is always, really, bubbling up right beneath their feet, if you look for it, and dream.

Copyright 2001 by John Cech

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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:24:09 EDT

"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for the Study of Children's Literature and Media and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."