Sunday, June 5, 2011

Poetry for Readers Young and Old

This week I briefly listened in as poet and prose author Sarah Messer presented a poetry workshop for second grade students. One of the things that was immediately evident was that children enjoy poetry and many were able to jump right in to create some thoughtful, humorous, imaginative poems.

Often adults neglect to bring the joys of poetry to the children around them. My theory is that many of us had that natural appreciation of poetry chased from us through many long hours in English classes that asked us to delve into the hidden meanings of each and every word until we no longer heard the heart of the work. (I have seen reviews of a book called Readicide: How Schools are Killing Readings and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher. I have not read it, but it is a tempting title, isn't it?)

To counteract this feeling that poetry is deep and difficult, even painful, many people turn to humorous children's poets like Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. Both of these men have created poetry that kids love to memorize and share. My favorite Silverstein book is Runny Babbit and you won't want to overlook Prelutsky's Scranimals or the beautiful illustrations and haiku in If Not for the Cat.

Unfortunately, many people stop with those two stellar poets. This means that they may never learn about nature with Joyce Sidman in stellar collections like Ubiquitous, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, and Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Sidman has also made one of my favorite poetry book to read to cover-to-cover; This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness which is filled with humor and a generous shot of heart-wrenching emotion. For concrete poetry at its best, Sidman gives us Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry which appears to tell a simple story unless you take the time to read the free verse that is a part of every picture.

Speaking of concrete poetry--poetry that is in the form of a picture--be sure to look at A Poke in the Eye: A Collection of Concrete Poetry presented by Paul B. Janeczko. These poems pack a lot of punch. Then you can join Janeczko in other explorations of poetic forms in A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Form and A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout.

Douglas Florian always presents beautiful illustrations along with his poems, many of which explore nature in new and interesting ways such as in Insectlopedia which introduces insects, Poetrees that talks of trees, Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings, and Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs. Look for the many more titles Florian has presented. They will amazes, delight, and inform you.

Naomi Shihab Nye visited Emerson School several years ago so I hold a special place in my heart for her. Her poetry is a little more challenging than some of those above but do not let that deter anyone over eight or ten from giving it a try. 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East speaks to Nye's connections to the Middle East and her concerns for its future with one of the poems telling of her experiences on September 11, 2001. Explore her other books, both of her own writings and collections of the works of others. You are sure to find words that will move and inspire you.

Humor is not out of the question for older poetry readers. Check out the concrete poetry arranged to tell a story in two by John Grandits. Blue Lipstick introduces fifteen year old Jessie as she tackles life with often humorous observations. I laughed out loud the first time I read through this book. Technically, It's Not My Fault offers a similar look at Jessie's eleven year old brother Robert.

Poetry offers many options--humor, pathos, description, excitement, heart, history, stories, and visual images. Enjoy it all in bites large and small.

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