Friday, March 05, 2010

More Irish poetry for kids

I had the opportunity to spend a wonderful week in Ireland traveling with my family in December-January. What beautiful country, what friendly people, if I may generalize. There are ancient ruins in nearly every backyard and 40 shades of green on the Dingle peninsula alone! I was also reminded of the rich literary tradition in Ireland (Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Jonathan Swift, Edmund Spenser, Thomas Moore, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Padraic Colum, Samuel Beckett, W.H. Auden, to name a few).

One of my favorite books of poetry from abroad is a collection of contemporary Irish poetry for young people, Something Beginning with P edited by Seamus Cashman and I’ve blogged about it before (March, 2007). It’s a gorgeous anthology—for both its 100+ original Irish poems and for its sumptuous, iconoclastic art. A gift of this book of poetry was sent to every Irish primary school in Ireland, courtesy of RTÉ Radio in Ireland. Isn’t that way cool? Imagine!

So, I was on the lookout for more poetry for kids on this trip. Unfortunately, my time was so short and bookstore hours were so limited during this holiday time, that my options were limited. However, I was pleased to score a small book of Irish poetry in a shop on that famous Dingle peninsula (my favorite spot!). It’s A Child’s Book of Irish Rhymes compiled by Alice Taylor and published in Dublin in 1996 (Gill & Macmillan). [I have since found it published by Barefoot Books in the U.S. as A Child's Treasury of Irish Rhymes.]

Many of the poems are simple story rhymes for the young by Irish poets, but a few were by “Anonymous,” so I thought I would share one of those. Perhaps you’re familiar with it, but it was new to me. It’s a wonderful way for kids to explain away the whatever goes wrong. In my German household, we always blamed the “heinzelmaenchen”—elves or goblins. Here, it is “Mr. Nobody” who is responsible!

I know a funny little man,

As quiet as a mouse

Who does the mischief that is done

In everybody’s house.

Though no one ever sees his face,

Yet we can all agree

That every plate we break was cracked

By Mr. Nobody.

‘Tis he who always tears our books,

Who leaves the door ajar,

Who pulls the buttons from our shirts,

And scatters pins afar.

That squeaking door will always squeak

For—this is plain to see—
We leave the oiling to be done

By Mr. Nobody.

‘Tis he who brings in all the mud

That gathers in the hall.
‘Tis he who lets the front door slam,

And scribbles on the wall.

When we can’t find the scissors,

Or have lost the back door key,
The one to blame in every case

Is Mr. N

We know he cracked the window

And broke the china plate,
We know he left the kitchen floor

In such a dreadful state.
We know his faults and failings,

His sins are plain to see,

And so we always put the blame

On Mr. Nobody.


Taylor, Alice (Comp.). 1996. A Child’s Book of Irish Rhymes. Dublin, Ireland: Gill & Macmillan, p.22-23.

Isn’t this a great poem to read aloud? The second time around, when you get to the last line, pause before saying, “Mr. Nobody” and see if the kids will jump in and say his name. I predict they will! The poem would also be fun for kids to act out while you read it aloud, pantomiming the actions suggested in the poem—while wearing a blank paper plate mask with only two cut out eyes—as Mr. Nobody. Or perhaps they’ll want to draw each scene —graphic novel style —or sketch an image of what they think Mr. Nobody would look like. 

There are many terrific contemporary Irish poets writing for kids today (in English and Irish). Here are just a few listed below. And what better month to check them out than March?

Seamus Heaney, Thomas Kinsella, Máighréad Medbh * Paula Meehan * Brendan Kennelly * Michael Longley * Rita Ann Higgins * Matthew Sweeney * Biddy Jenkinson * Desmond O'Grady * Richard Murphy * Nuala ní Dhomhnaill * Celia de Fréine * Cathal Ó Searcaigh * Frank McGuinness * Julie O'Callaghan * Tom McIntyre * Paul Muldoon * Dermot Bolger * Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin * Frank Ormsby * Siobhán Campbell * Dennis O'Driscoll * John Montague * Moya Cannon * Peter Fallon * Mary O'Malley * Micheal O'Siadhail * John F Deane

Happy St. Patrick’s Day (coming on March 17)!

Danika is hosting the Poetry Friday gathering today at the TeachingBooks blog. See you there!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Image credit: O’Brien Press


all things poetry said...

Yes, Mr. Nobody, is reprinted in various anthologies I have read. It is a fun poem. And it is so true of kid's antics. Thanks for reminding me of it.

Laura Evans

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Thanks for your great suggestions. I'll look for the Irish poetry books for some classes I'll be teaching.

I am SO READY to travel to beautiful Ireland. Thanks for the armchair tour.

Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

laurasalas said...

Mr. Nobody has been visiting our house for many years now.

Your Irish trip sounds wonderful. My husband and I would love to go to Ireland--maybe someday.

How fun to get to travel overseas and get to look for children's poetry books there--wish you had had more bookstore time, but I'm sure you had plenty to do!