Friday, July 23, 2010

My Children Love Poetry,

There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million. -Walt Streightiff

Do your children read poetry? Better yet, do they enjoy it? My children do. For the last two years, poetry has been a part of our curriculum. Or more correctly, a part of our lives.

I remember when I was a teenager. I had essentially been kicked out of the day care that my city called a school, and was spending the remainder of the year reading. I lived a short distance from my local library, which had been a second home for me since the second grade, and through bored browsing, I discovered poetry.

It started with an intentional search for T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. I was a big fan of musicals, and I wondered about the original poems. They were charming, but I was still skeptical about poetry in general. From there I moved to the other big names, and found the playfulness of e. e. cummings and the wistfulness of Emily Dickenson. At the librarian’s amused suggestion, I moved on to beat poetry, and embraced the collective works of Kerouac and Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso. Can there possibly be better poetry for an angst-ridden teenager? I think not.

Despite my love of poetry, I didn’t think to introduce it to my children. It was sheer good luck that my daughter picked up my battered copy of T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and chose to read it. I saw her enthusiasm for the rhyming words, and taught her how to read the poems with rhythm, like a song. My son couldn’t read yet, but would stop what he was doing to listen. Encouraged, I recalled silly childhood poems for them, bringing purple cows, invisible men, and hairless, fuzzy bears into their view of the world. They loved it.

Later that year, when my son Micheal had the flu, I sat with him in bed and read The Land of Counterpane out loud. He lay in bed, hot with fever, and kept his eyes closed while I read. But he smiled the whole time. When my daughter learned to write book reports, she chose Eliot’s book for her first report. Now poetry is a part of our lives, with my entire family giggling at the poems and drawings of Shel Silverstein, and my children sketching their visions of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

Yesterday, our copy of Falling Up arrived, and the kids gathered around while I opened the box. They eagerly swarmed the couch, and my children insisted that we sit there for the next half an hour, reading together. I read some out loud, and my daughter read some out loud, and my boys laughed and laughed. Angel took the book to the table with her, to read while we ate lunch together.

It’s possible that they would have discovered poetry if they attended a brick-and-mortar school. I’m sure that some schools, somewhere, introduce good poetry to children. But even if my children were lucky enough to attend one of those schools; I wouldn’t have seen it unfold. And I can’t imagine missing this.

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