Friday, August 20, 2010

Poetry, toddlers, and pet peeves

I love it when poetry for children pops up in the news or popular culture. I recently encountered a video on YouTube of a sweet three-year-old boy reciting poetry from memory (thanks to a tip from poet Donna Marie Merritt). First, I watched the clip of him reciting “Litany” by Billy Collins which is very impressive. He manages to capture the staccato rhythm of the poem perfectly. Then I followed a link to another clip of him reciting one of HIS favorite poems, “The Eagle” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. He clearly LOVES this poem and his “performance” of it is so engaging. Check it out below (at the bottom of this posting).

My favorite CHILD_LIT listserv led me to an article on SLATE last month that would support the contention that sharing classics with kids is a meaningful way to connect young people with poetry. It’s entitled “Wild Child” by Robert Pinksy and I loved the tagline: “The best poems for kids aren't the soft and saccharine ones.” He goes on to talk about the “bodily” form of poetry that “helps make one a more amusing or engaging reader vocally: The rhythms effectively coach us to read aloud well.” He then briefly discusses four poets who embody the “dual ideals of musicality and truthfulness”: Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear (1812-88), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94), and Walter de la Mare (1873-1956). I couldn’t agree more and love the emphasis on the oral quality of poetry—particularly for young people.

My only quibble is the lack of current poets cited in a discussion of the musicality and truthfulness of poetry for kids today—much great poetry has been produced since 1956. What about David McCord’s “Pickety Fence"? Shel Silverstein’s “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout”? Mary Ann Hoberman’s “Brother”? It’s one of my Poetry Pet Peeves—the notion that the best poetry for kids is by “dead” poets resulting in the neglect of contemporary poetry for kids. In fact, I’m currently working on an article about the last 20 years of poetry for young people and I was really struck by the emergence of several big name poets during that period (since 1990)-- Douglas Florian, Joyce Sidman, Naomi Nye, Alice Schertle, Calef Brown, Betsy Franco, J. Patrick Lewis, Pat Mora, Carole Boston Weatherford, etc. In fact, it's hard to imagine the field of children's poetry withOUT their works-- despite how much I love David McCord, Karla Kuskin, Aileen Fisher, and other greats of the past. More to come on that topic…

Meanwhile, I’m honored to be mentioned on Laura Evans’ blog, Teach Poetry K-12, this week as she hosts Poetry Friday and features the benefits of poetry and nursery rhymes for very young children just learning language. Join her here.

Now here is that amazing three year old sharing his favorite poem (while wearing Superman pajamas!):


Toby Speed said...

Sylvia, I hope you will dedicate some future posts to the poets you mention post-1990. I'm working on catching up on contemporary poets after a decade of being a little removed from the poetry world due to other things in life taking precedence. I always learn a lot from your posts.

"Pickety fence" is one of those poems my kids loved hearing and saying (and me, too).

Sylvia Vardell said...

Hi, Toby, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I'll be writing more about the post-1990 poets. Meanwhile, check out the poet links listed on the right side of my blog. MOST of those are newer, contemporary poets. (The "older" poets mostly don't have web sites-- which is something else to discuss!)

Elaine Magliaro said...


"It’s one of my Poetry Pet Peeves—the notion that the best poetry for kids is by “dead” poets resulting in the neglect of contemporary poetry for kids."

I'm in complete agreement with you about the lack of contemporary poets/poetry mentioned in the article! I was disappointed when I read the Slate article on-line. I think there's a feeling among many adult poets that most contemporary poetry for children is schlock. Could that be because they aren't familiar with the work of McCord, Kuskin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Lilian Moore, Hoberman, Valerie Worth, Fisher, Lucille Clifton, Eloise Greenfield, J. Patrick Lewis, Sidman, Rebecca Dotlich, Florian, Nancy Willard, Barbara Juster Esbensen, Janet Wong, Kris George--and so many others who have written wonderful poetry for children???


Here's a link to "Children's Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome" that I originally wrote for the Blue Rose Girls blog in 2006 and reposted at Wild Rose Reader recently after reading Betsy Bird's post "Baby Wants Another New Award: Poetry Time!" at SLJ. In my post, I talk about the lack of respect that children's poetry receives.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Elaine, thanks for stopping by and for sharing your "Cinderella" article again-- which is so articulate! Perhaps (children) poetry's time is finally coming!

Jazmin Orozco said...

I think exposing children to poetry at such a young age is an excellent idea. Poetry does much to contribute to a child's reading and writing skills. I have written an article explaining the ways in which poetry can benefit children: