I don’t know whether the appreciation of poetry depends on nature or nurture, and I’d argue that it probably doesn’t matter as long as it happens—but if nature provides the spark, then nurture offers the opportunity.
For me, I think, it was both.
My Dad passed along a love of haiku and questionable limericks and Mom an interest in Chaucer and Shel Silverstein, and both of them pushed the Seuss and Lewis Carroll like whoa. Poems were there to be enjoyed, or not, and read aloud and questioned—and occasionally sung, though the less about that the better.
This casual familiarity meant I had fewer objections—and maybe a little less impatience—when my teachers
forced told me to take up the knife and dissect them for cultural clues and subcutaneous meanings that had to match whatever was on the homework key.
And despite my persistent belief that over-analyzing poetry is like yanking out the innards of a golden goose to see how she used to do what she would have done gladly if we’d only left her to it , I managed to get through the experience with fewer scars than some and almost no PALD.*
In short (too late) I credit my parents with instilling an appreciation for poetry and I’d like to foster than in my own kids. Luckily, Mom and Dad are more than willing to help.
Before either of my two daughters were born, my folks—helped by my in-laws—made sure we were stocked up on almost every Susan Boynton and Dr. Seuss book ever, down to replacing the family heirlooms that had fallen apart from a generation or two of readers (and chewers).
And every year since, they’ve given the gift of poetry—not only picture books in rhyme, but collections that are modern-child** and also parent friendly, like Oops by the brilliant Alan Katz, which was last year’s treasure.
These are fun poems—they don’t take long, and you can dance to ’em. They aren’t particularly age-specific, either: when I couldn’t remember the title on my way out the door this morning, my five -year old, Sunny, answered before her sister could, and told me her favorite poem was about the Allicatter Gatorpillar.
I’m not sure who read the collection to her, or if she just eavesdropped, but either way, she obviously enjoyed it. Victory!
Sunny received a picture book, Stanza by Jill Esbaum and Jack E. Davis, that Jane insists isn’t really a poem, even though it rhymes—I’m planning on following up her reasoning on this, but I was rushed for time and it’s about a poet and this is my blog, so it counts.
Stanza is a dog who swaggers through the neighborhood with his two brothers, bullying everyone they meet. But Stanza has a secret—he writes poetry about fire hydrants and starlight, and chicken pot pies. He knows his brothers will never give him any peace if they find out, so he hides it all, until he decides that the potential rewards for sharing his work is worth the risk. He doesn’t win the contest, and his brothers react about the way he’d expected, but he also wins some admiration from other and quite a bit of self-confidence.
I like the realism of the message. Bullying aside, I don’t know of one poet, one writer, who couldn’t relate to the idea that there may be real risks to sharing one’s passion, including ridicule, but in the end, it’s worth it.
Plus, I’ve read it seven time since Christmas morning and I’m not sick of it, yet.
That’s some pretty high praise, right there.
Anyone have any other suggestions to encourage kids to read—or write—poetry?
*Post-Academic Literary Disorder. Just because I made up the name, doesn’t mean it’s not a real thing.
**There are a lot of ‘classic’ children’s poetry collections out there that are supposed to enlighten young minds, which they do about as well as liver and onions will enlighten the average child’s palate, if by ‘enlighten,’ we actually mean ‘close the borders and put up roadblocks and sow anti-personnel mines.’ Please read carefully before you buy.