When I think back to when I was in school, I don’t remember reading or studying poetry very much. Which at first I think is sad, but then considering how many people say they were turned off poetry because of either having to “…analyze it to death in high school or memorize it in elementary school” (Bucher & Manning, 2006, p. 256), I guess I’ll take the sin of omission over the sin of commission. (Although I do love the quote: “tie the poem to a chair and torture a confession out of it”…)
It’s really a shame because poetry really has so many great things going for it when it comes to younger readers. Of course, and we’ve been saying this all along, it’s about finding the right poems or types of poems for the readers.
I realize I’m about to make teacher-type comments and not librarian-type comments but here goes…
I really enjoyed working with poetry with the kids. Now these kids were only in grade 5, so that makes them 10-11, so even on the young side of tweens. And I remember they eye-rolling and sighs of despair when I introduced the poetry unit (particularly from the boys). But I assured them they wouldn’t have to (unless they wanted to) read poems about rainbows, love and falling snow…that not all poetry was like that, and by god, it didn’t have to rhyme! And I like to think at the end of it, they enjoyed it: both the process of reading and writing and talking about poetry. From John Lennon and Joni Mitchell, to Lewis Carroll and Carl Sandburg, we read and listened and talked about a whole wack of stuff. And some of those kids ended up writing (what I think) are some amazing pieces of work. There are some bits that have stayed with me: William, writing about his cat, described him as “he is his own himself”…oh, my gosh. That makes my heart get bigger just thinking about that. Ryan, writing a persona poem about his old hockey stick, left standing in the hall, wishing it were out playing hockey again. And it previous years, Isabelle (grade 3) wrote a poem about waking up in the morning in her room, she said: “A pinch of sunlight touches my face”…a pinch of sunlight! How perfect is that?!
And the thing I found about poetry was that because it is not restricted by conventions, complete sentences, specific punctuation, it becomes really accessible for the kids who may struggle with, well, conventions. And this ties into reading poetry as well, which the article mentions: that because poetry can be short, it can be less intimidating for reluctant readers.
The other thing too, although my guess would be that with the older kids this wouldn’t be so true, but the younger ones write without the self-consciousness that we develop as we get older and because of that, their writing is so clear. It’s quite lovely.