Friday, January 19, 2007

POETRY FRIDAY: The What and Why of Poetry

I guess any of you who are regular readers of the Blue Rose Girls blog must have figured out by now that I am an avid poetry enthusiast. I love both children's and adult poetry. I believe poetry should live in the lives of children from the moment they are born. I think they should grow up having nursery rhymes and poetry read and recited to them at home and at school.

I often go searching through books to find quotes about the importance of poetry in our lives and poems that speak to the essence of what poetry is. Today, I'd like to share some prose and poems about poetry.

Before I give you two poems that attempt to explain WHAT poetry is, I’d like to provide reasons for WHY we should read poems. First, I quote from Donald Hall’s “To the Student” that appears at the beginning of the second edition of his book TO READ A POEM. Second, I provide a quote from Lee Bennett Hopkins’ introduction to SIDE BY SIDE: POEMS TO READ TOGETHER.

Here is the excerpt from Hall's TO READ A POEM:

When we learn to read poems, we acquire a pleasure and a resource we never lose. Although literary study is impractical in one sense—few people make their living reading poems—in another sense it is almost as practical as breathing. Literature records and embodies centuries of human thought and feeling, preserving for us the minds of people who lived before us, who were like us and unlike us, against whom we can measure our common humanity and our historical difference. When we read our contemporaries, they illuminate the world we share. Whatever we claim for literature in general we must especially claim for poetry, which concentrates the virtues we attribute to drama and fiction. If we learn to read poems first, we will begin the study of literature as literature itself began—with the most concentrated and intense of utterances.

When we read great poetry, something changes in us that stays changed. Poetry remembered becomes material to think with, and no one who has absorbed Shakespeare or Keats is quite the same again. Reading poetry adds tools by which we observe, measure, and judge the people and the properties of our universe—inside and out.

I would say Donald Hall, the current Poet Laureate of the United States, gives us good reasons for reading poetry. Now let's hear from Lee Bennett Hopkins, one of America's most highly esteemed anthologists of poetry for children. He has traveled throughout the United States and spent time sharing poetry with children of all ages.
Here is the excerpt from Hopkins’ SIDE BY SIDE: POEMS TO READ TOGETHER:

Poetry comes naturally to those discovering the magic of language. Pictures develop in young minds, stretching imaginations, evoking fresh visions, generating smiles, reflections and satisfaction.

Poetry should flow freely in the lives of children; it should come to them as naturally as breathing; for nothing—no thing—can ring and rage through their hearts and minds as does this body of literature.

Those are some reasons for WHY we should read and share poetry. Now here are two of my favorite poems that attempt to explain WHAT poetry is:

by Eleanor Farjeon

What is poetry? Who knows?
Not a rose, but the scent of a rose;
Not the sky, but the light in the sky;
Not the fly, but the gleam of the fly;
Not the sea, but the sound of the sea;
Not myself, but what makes me
See, hear, and feel something that prose
Cannot: and what that is, who knows?

by Eve Merriam

You can be immersed in good prose, like swimming
in a lake on a warm summer afternoon.

In poetry
the ice-cold moon
drops down
into the lake,
to surround you,
and then
you fly back home
to the sky.

If you would be interested in reading more poems about poetry, I recommend the following book:

Selected by Bobbye S. Goldstein
Illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben
Published by Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press (1992)

This is a lovely themed collection of poems about poetry. It contains works by well-known and award-winning poets—including Eve Merriam, Eleanor Farjeon, Karla Kuskin, Lilian Moore, and X. J. Kennedy. Zalben’s unimposing watercolor illustrations complement the poetry. In Judy Freeman’s brief review of the book at Judy Freeman’s 40 Favorite Poetry Books for Children, she writes: “This elegant collection of 20 poems, accompanied by meticulous watercolors, is just what you need to explain the miracles of verse.”

A Few Poetry Links for Poetry Friday

Judy Freeman’s 40 Favorite Poetry Books for Children

Poetry by Eleanor Farjeon at Old Poetry

Three Poems by Eve Merriam at the Academy of American Poets website,


Becky said...

Terrific post, Elaine, and thanks for the Eleanor Farjeon, who always perks me up! I've linked over at my blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Elaine.

Here is one of my favorites - I guess it is more about writing poetry than reading it -

I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of Eye--
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--
For Occupation--This--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--
--Emily Dickinson


Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks, Becky! Eleanor Farjeon is one of the great writers of children's poetry.

Thanks for the poem, KT. I think some of us who enjoy reading poetry often take to writing poetry. I believe reading and writing form a kind of cycle. Readers become better writers and writers (good writers) usually enjoy reading.