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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Real Poetry for Kids. Really.

I've mentioned before that I like the idea of reading poetry to my kids. But it's one of those ideas that I like very much, but that in practice crosses my mind more than the poetry crosses my lips.

Of course, I read them poetry in the form of Sandra Boynton books (we, too, love our "Belly B's") and Mother Goose, but the plan to expose them to "adult" poetry hasn't been in full force much of late.

But now, quite suddenly, I have an in. Son has a favorite "pome" (his pronunciation). He has worked hard to memorize it (!), and he likes to recite it for me. I, of course, cannot get enough of his little voice, and his still-idiosyncratic pronunciation of some letters, reciting a "pome" that he will explain in a deliberate manner was written by "Will-yum Car-yos Willy-ums."

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

When Son recites this, he puts a lot of emphasis on the probably, pronouncing it in a long drawn-out way that add some considerable irony to the poem. And he grins at the end every time he remembers that the plums "were delicious" -- because he often skips straight to "so sweet and so cold."

When I asked him why he liked this poem so much, he said, "because it's just so funny! He ate her plums!" And he laughed. Then, out of the silence a minute later he said, "I bet his mama was pret-ty mad." Which, of course, I found funny. I have never, in all my history of reading scholarly comments on this poem, read one that suggested this was a note from a son to a mother whose plums he had pilfered.

That comment of his, though, provided a revelation. Getting kids to love poetry is all about giving them an in. If it's a poem that could be from a son to a Mama, then Son gets it. I suspect the reverse would also make perfect sense to him. He just needs some context. Although I have long known this to be the case for my students, for inexplicable reasons, it just never clicked with me in terms of approaching poetry with a preschooler. Suddenly, worlds of possibility are opening for me, and I can see myself reading him all kinds of things that we will talk about and imagine pictures for.

He is even talking about wanting to write his own poem -- after he finishes writing down "This is Just to Say." And since he can only get about 20 letters per page before space runs out, I'm thinking the writing of that one may take a while. But I say, let it take as long as it needs...because if I have a son who loves language enough to play with probably and imagine relationships to go along with poems he hears, I'm willing to play with letters and words on paper as long as is necessary.

And just in case you're wondering how he memorized this little gem -- and worrying that, perhaps, I am one of those insane over-achiever mothers who pushes absurd skills on four-year-olds, full disclosure requires me to credit HBO with this newfound love of Son's. The series Classical Baby has branched out from its wordless offerings of classical music, jazz, and quiet animations of famous artwork to produce a poetry show. It is a high-quality (animated, set to music) show that features the likes of Langston Hughes reading his own poetry, and Gwyneth Paltrow delivering an Elizabeth Barret Browning sonnet complete with a perfectly pitched lesson on how to understand her somewhat archaic language. Son fell in love with the Williams poem from this show, and asked me to help him "remember the words," so I looked it up in a book and we worked on memorizing it together. Here's the key, though: he asked me. So now it's up to me to seize this opportunity and run with it.

How do I love thee? my poetry-memorizing Son? Ah, just let me count the ways...


Kimmylyn said...

Does Chica Chica Boom Boom count? :) haha

I can honestly say I have never even seent he HBO series you mentioned.. I will check it out..

lattemommy said...

Just another reason for me to wish we got HBO! I love his take on Williams' poem - puts a whole new twist on it, doesn't it?

I have to admit that I've never really "gotten" poetry. I've done a number of classes at the university level (and I must admit that I got a kick out of the bawdy humour of the Earl of Rochester), but I just don't "get" poetry. I've never read it for pleasure. Maybe my kids can make me appreciate it more?

Fawn said...

Awesome. Just awesome.

LceeL said...

As the once upon a time writer of some really bad, anguished poetry, I can say nothing but encourage the boy. The world needs more poets. The world REALLY needs more poets.

foolery said...

For the most part my brain zooms through poetry without appreciating it. PLEBE. But I LOVE almost anything I've ever read of Billy Collins -- and I have even found an on-line link of sound files of his readings, which are even better to hear than to read. If you're interested in the link I can send it from home (bookmarked).

And I have always loved this poem. It was profiled on NPR Sunday, I think -- go to npr.org to find it if you can; it's worth it. Humorous takes on the poem by other writers.

Thanks for reminding me to share it with the rugrats!

mommythe said...

wow i just heard that poem on NPR a couple of days ago. i thought it was quite poignant.

Lisa said...

Oh your son is absolutely adoreable! This is such a great story. Makes my heart all gooey from the cuteness.

Mr Lady said...

My kids know all the words to Green Day's latest album. Does that count?

Mrs F with 4 said...

Number 1 Son loves poetry (or at least, anything that rhymes and /or is funny) but can't carry a tune given two buckets. Utterly tone-deaf.

Number 2 son.... great voice, perfect pitch, but completely poetry-blind.

Number 1 daughter has both.... so heaven help the tail end number 2 girl as she'll likely have neither.

I do think you're right though, it doesn't seem to matter how much you 'do it' with them, they don't get until it's personal.

Or perhaps it's because I was somewhat obsessive with No. 1, relaxed with No.2, a smidgen lackadaisical with No.3.... and I can tell you're feeling sorry for No. 4 already...

And Happy Birthday for yesterday!

Amy said...

I think that is pretty awesome that he is being introduced and liking poetry at such a young age. We have a book of animal poems by Jack Prelutsky (sp?) that the girls really enjoy. I think it's a good stepping stone. But I will definitely have to check out this series on HBO, sounds great!

MamaGeek said...

Isn't HBO da bomb? We kept HBO for the longest time just to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm alone!

Your son is truly 32 flavors of cuteness!

MommyTime said...

Kim and Mr Lady, all poetry counts as a start!

Latte, HBO coming your way (check your email).

Foolery, I'd LOVE to have the link. I'm always looking for more poets reading their own work sound files (truly) for a class I teach.

Mrs F, it may be something you're doing differently, or it may just be that kids are different from each other. As for #4? She'll probably become an exquisite carpenter or a math genius, just to shake things up a bit.

Amy, thanks for the recommendation; I look forward to checking it out.

ConverseMomma said...

Oh sweetie. I love William Carlos Willams. Love the take. I love this whole post actually. We need to talk one day. I swear I'd chew your ear off about literature and poetry. Love! Love! Love! I recite a line of shakespeare to my children each night as I tuck them. I read them Pablo Neruda lines while we take our bath. I am having a beautiful ring made with E.E. Cummings lines inscribed around the band. Seriously, I'm head-over-heels for the stuff. Hope my babies are too, one day.

MommyTime said...

Oh Conversemama, yes, please, we need to talk! I don't know that I'll ever STOP talking, for you seem like someone I must must know better. I would love to know so many things -- but for now I'll say: I adore how much you have already infused poetry into your children's lives. What a wonderful gift to them.


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