05/23/03
Poetry Day in Florida
    by John Cech

It's 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 Bartram's 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 what's 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, in the middle of the last century, used to be a railroad and gambling town, 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 Coleridge's 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 don't know Coleridge's poem, or, if they do, that he was writing about their state, and that the pleasure dome he described isn't in Orlando or Tampa, and the river isn't part of a theme park ride or a twisting, fiberglass flume. It's 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 2003 John Cech

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