Saturday, January 26, 2013


My first memories of poetry were from A Child’s Garden of Verse by Robert Louis Stevenson,
yup the same author who wrote the beloved classic Treasure Island and from A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young, Now We Are Six, and the Winnie the Pooh stories. These beloved verses and the illustrations of E.H. Shepard were to see me through my childhood filling my mind and fertilizing my imagination as they did for so many children. Yet where did that love of poetry go for so many people? I think it is in the way poetry is taught in today’s world. For instance, on my first day of Honors English class in college as the professor was giving us the curriculum for the semester. She listed what we would cover in the order in which we would cover it. The very last on the list was poetry, with a shrug she said “I’m not really comfortable with poetry, so am leaving it for last. I hope there isn’t time.” I heard much the same, when I joined the editorial board of the college Journal of the Arts. The poetry picked for the journal by and large was full of abstract thought. It was as if the general consensus about poetry is if it’s abstract and difficult to figure out the meaning behind the words than it must be good. No wonder so many say they don’t understand poetry or don’t like poetry, when English professors admit they don’t understand it. It is a shame that poetry has such a bad rap, (no pun intended) as poetry weaves through our entire lives, even if we don’t know it. You hear it in the lyrics of the music. It is in our greeting cards on coffee mugs, in commercials, you name it and you will find poetry. Yet many parents shy away from either reading it to their children or picking it up and reading it to themselves. What is the meaning of poetry to me you might ask? Poetry and verse are short stories telling the tale lying in the heart and mind of the author.
It doesn’t matter if it is adult or children’s poetry, “I don’t want to have to study the poem to understand the concept behind the verse. This doesn’t mean that if it is complex and difficult to figure out its bad,” Maya Angelou, any more than a piece of abstract or minimalistic art is bad art. It only means it isn’t a preference of mine. I prefer my poetry to speak to me. I want it to carry me into the emotions and thoughts of the poet. If I am reading or writing poetry aimed at children, I prefer it speaks to a child in their language and doesn’t talk down to them. I like it to help me remember those feelings I had as a child thus connecting me both with the child within and with children in general. The same goes with adult poetry I want to feel something to see a picture and experience the mind and emotion of the author. As I see it the main difference between the children’s and adults’ poetry is children think more literally. They feel the same emotions but don’t always understand where they are coming from. They are still learning and their vocabulary is growing. They see the world with more innocence and wonder. An adult on the other hand has seen more of life which usually means they will have a larger vocabulary and understand their emotions more or the subtle nuances and complexity of a poem. Poets, who have stood the test of time and are considered great poets, tell a story in their poetry. Between children and adults the stories differ, but still there is a story and the use of imagination and/or emotion.
If you read the work of a contemporary poet like Maya Angelou, who is universally acclaimed as one of the finest poets of our generation she tells a story in her poetry. It is full of beauty, sorrow, imagination, and hope. One of my favorites is her Phenomenal Woman you can find the link to the rest of the poem below as well as a youtube video of the reading. Maya Angelou, Phenomenal Woman Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size But when I start to tell them, They think I'm telling lies. I say, It's in the reach of my arms The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I'm a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me……
You can also find that same lyrical, storytelling style in the poetry of any of the classic poets. For example look at Edgar Allan Poe’s, A Dream Within A Dream, below is the link to the whole poem and a short example of the poem itself. Edgar Allan Poe, A Dream Within A Dream. A Dream Within A Dream Take this kiss upon the brow! And, in parting from you now, Thus much let me avow- You are not wrong, who deem That my days have been a dream; Yet if hope has flown away In a night, or in a day, In a vision, or in none, Is it therefore the less gone? All that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream.
Some classic poetry rhymes, all of it is lyrical. Most children’s poetry rhymes because children remember rhymes more easily making it simpler for them to learn. They enjoy the rhyming and it helps spark their imaginations. Many articles have been written on how rhyming helps children learn and why the classics are a great way to both entertain and teach children. You can read it in many articles, one of them is classic poems for kids. It shows the simplicity that inspires children’s poetry. This simplicity is shown so well in, William Makepeace Thackeray’s At The Zoo. First I saw the white bear, then I saw the black; Then I saw the camel with a hump upon his back; Then I saw the grey wolf, with mutton in his maw; Then I saw the wombat waddle in the straw; Then I saw the elephant a-waving of his trunk; Then I saw the monkeys-mercy, how unpleasantly they-smelt!
Or in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems The Cow and The Land of Counterpane, which describes so intensely just how a child’s imagination works. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Land of Counterpane The Cow by Robert Louis Stevenson The Cow The friendly cow all red and white, I love with all my heart: She gives me cream with all her might, To eat with apple-tart…. The Land of Counterpane When I was sick and lay a-bed, I had two pillows at my head, And all my toys beside me lay To keep me happy all the day. And sometimes for an hour or so I watched my leaden soldiers go, With different uniforms and drills, Among the bedclothes, through the hills….
In Wee Three: A Child’s World, you find a similar rhyming quality that helps a child stretch their imagination and will speak to them in the language of youth. This language is full of imaginative, innocent, and literal ways children look at the world. There are many children’s poets but the ones that seem to stand the test of time all write as though they were looking at the world through the eyes of a child.
In my book A Poet’s Journey: Emotions, my style is more like the poets of the past and present who tell a story in their verse and less abstract. It tells of the emotional roller-coaster that life can be. If you read either children’s or adults poetry I believe you will agree the main difference between poetry written for a child and that for an adult is in the sophistication of the poem and the type of story it tells. At least this is true of most of the classic poets.