Mind you, I went to school for poetry; I got my MFA in writing poetry.
But maybe it’s this presumed expertise that’s fueled my ferocity of my critical ear: So many poems are lousy, I felt, including the ones aimed at kids. They either veer into sing-song land, don’t say anything, or rely upon confusing construction to appear complex.
I think I was in a post-grad daze of jadedness.
And in that daze I found myself avoiding reading poetry to my kids. Of course, I read Mother Goose rhymes and books written in rhyming stanzas, but I winced when I saw the books of collected poems.
I was sure my kids get bored if they didn’t understand the content, and I didn’t think I was tough enough to handle trying to explain metaphors and outdated phrases and soaring romps of the imagination without factual root.
But one day I found myself reading a particularly eclectic and inspired collection I’d found at a booksale – Poetry Speaks to Children – and guess what? The kids love it. They ask for it again and again. The poems – from Billy Collins and Nikki Giovanni to Lewis Carroll and WB Yeats – are varied in type and length, subject and tone, but we haven’t come across one they don’t like.
And why is that? It’s because poems rock, that’s why! Didn’t I know that? Whether capturing a thought or a feeling, an image or sound, a poem delivers a moment of language in a new and pleasing way, and so of course, of course, whether they understand all the words or not, children – who play with language and sound all the time – who love repetition – eat it up.
And I love reading them.
My faith in poetry is happily restored.
That’s what kids do for you, right? Make you remember why you loved things, like beauty and poetry and sunsets and first days of school.