My eighth grade yearbook, titled with a nod to big hair and Bic lighters, “Don’t Stop Believin’,”was recently uploaded to my Catholic grammar school’s Facebook page. When I looked through it, I realized with dread that the yearbook had my feeble attempt at a poem bidding the graduating class of 1982 goodbye when we went our separate ways to various public and private area high schools. The following words will forever make me cringe (especially since they’ve been saved for posterity):
Graduation day is here, the time to say goodbye is near.
Hopefully we won’t go our separate ways, but remain friends as in past days.
I’m happy to announce that my second attempt at a poem (when I was a love-struck college coed) was blissfully rhyme free.
It seems, though, that sometimes children grow into adults who feel that poems have to rhyme in order to be, well, poems. My friend shared that at a Thanksgiving dinner her sister wrote and read a rhyming poem linking the holiday to her family. The rest of her family applauded her sister’s efforts but my friend remained silent, not overly impressed with what she felt was an adult writing like a “high schooler”, with the rhyme scheme taking over the poem to the point where it detracted, instead of enhanced, the feelings her sister was trying to express. At a recent poetry reading, poet Edwin Romond (Alone with Love Songs , Dream Teaching , Grayson Books) was asked by an audience member “Why don’t your poems have rhymes?”
How can parents expose their children to poetry beyond Mother Goose nursery rhymes? Rachel McKibbens, a poet (Pink Elephant , Cypher Books) and mother of five, takes her kids, the two youngest ages four and three, to poetry readings, including her own. She also suggested reading kids “Jabberwocky ,” by Lewis Carroll and “ The Naming of Cats,” by TS Elliot. I bring my kids, ages nine and twelve, to poetry readings, and although sometimes it seems to be more about the food (cookies and cheese and crackers) and the drink, they’ll sit, listen, laugh and later on question some of what they heard spoken by the poets.
Of course you’ll need to vet the poetry before you bring your kids to readings. Some poets tackle subjects that you don’t want your children hearing. I’m going to a Mark Doty poetry reading this week (sweet early birthday gift for me) and many of his poems are for mature ears only (my upcoming birthday assures me that my ears meet this criteria).
Does poetry smack of being highbrow, and therefore isn’t relatable? Do we not introduce our children to poetry because we were introduced to it in high school and we were terrified of it? Do we remember having to memorize the difference between a haiku and a sonnet and shudder?
Romond, also a playwright, composer and retired educator says, “I think that most people feel that poetry doesn’t have anything to say to them.” In his high school classroom Romond tried to offset this by introducing poetry alongside the literature his students were reading. For example, when his class read Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller he had his students read poems about father and son relationships. For younger children Romond suggest parents use poems to tap into a child’s emotions.
“The language of poetry is varied and delightful. The beauty is the issue of discovery and looking at things differently,” said Romond, “Poems can be funny but can also deal with serious issues like missing a friend who moved away.”
The Poetry Foundation, an independent literary organization, has named a new children’s poet laureate every two years since 2006. According to the foundation’s website (www.poetryfoundation.org) it “aims to raise awareness that children have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specially for them.” The site has poetry suggestions for children of all ages, along with videos of poets reading their poetry.
So don’t be afraid to grab How to Eat a Poem, A Smorgasbord of Tasty and Delicious Poems for Young Readers instead of a bedtime story next time you tuck your child in for the night. It’s filled with Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Nikki Giovanni and the first children’s poet laureate, Jack Prelutsky, along with many other poets.
A Poet on Poetry:
Poetry Books Selected by Edwin Romond
Knock at a Star edited by X.J. Kennedy.
I Like This Poem: A Collection of Best Loved Poems Chosen by Children for Other Children edited by Kaye Webb.
Reflections on a Gift of a Watermelon Pickle edited by Stephen Dunning.