Ask someone what they think about poetry and they will most likely belong to one of two camps: love or hate. Dig a little further and you would probably find most opinions were formed early in life. How do you encourage your kids to embrace poetry if you never learned to enjoy it yourself?
Does the school system have the answer?
Somewhere amongst the strict rules, literal analysis, and themes? Composition?
Prior to my senior years of high school, I disliked poetry. Zero inspiration, and zero interest. This changed when a renegade teacher, a student teacher, showed us poetry as song and lyrics. We examined, poked, prodded, and admired the lyrics to some of our favorite songs and, audaciously, called it “studying poetry” With this brief, sweet taste of freedom, there was no going back – I had actually learned to enjoy poetry (much to my surprise and delight).
My step-by-step guide for building an appreciation for poetry:
- Write down everything you remember about poetry from school
- (write it down on a piece of paper)
- Look at the paper
- Admire the paper
- (isn’t it nice?)
- Crumple up the paper
- Place in recycle
- Start fresh, with a clean slate unhampered by previous encounters
When you write poems, write them your way. Be inspired by writing. When you read poems, read them your way. And if you must interpret poems, interpret them your way. There isn’t one “right answer”. There is the poet’s original theme, interpretation, and meaning, and they are right. But yours are right too, just a different kind of right. Your right. Poetry will mean something different to different people, which is why it’s so awesome.
Just as a potter shapes clay, a poem is shaped by life experiences and views of the world, and the meaning you may find is unique to you. Unique, but not permanent – with time, there may be changes, which is why I love to go back and reread my favorite poems to look at them in a new light.
Like all art, there are rules of composition and methods to forming poetry. Despite my previous assertions, these are not without use! To continue with the clay analogy, there are definite “good ways” to try if you want a specific result. But also like clay, there’s nothing stopping you from doing whatever you want! Use the rules as guidelines, and leave the rest up to inspiration. Think of an idea, and hold it in your head. Mentally sculpt it and examine it. Is there a specific set of poetry that would suit it? If so, excellent! Go with it! If not though, don’t cram your balloon of an idea into a porcupine of a form!
To put it another way, a poem could inspire a form, but the form rarely inspires a poem. Any child who has stared at a blank piece of paper with the instructions to “Write a Haiku” or a “Rhyming Couplet” knows this discouragement – and it’s even worse for those not predisposed to writing.
You don’t have to wait for poetry to be taught in school; it can be enjoyed by your whole family! Poetry is a great place for new readers to explore: a book is daunting but a poem is fun!
There’s a lot of potential enjoyment in poems! Your child may be too young to know what the word onomatopoeia means (a word that sound like what it represents), but they will have a great time hearing and saying these words! Tongue twisters introduce alliteration, rhymes help to build vocabulary, and similes & metaphors give them descriptive tools. You can introduce these concepts at a young age, well before poetry pops up in school.
Poetry suffers from an image problem: it looks stiff, formal and old-fashioned – basically, everything kids today DON’T want to be. Sometimes it takes finding a connection, such as my teacher bringing in music and lyrics for kids to embrace poetry. Does your child love listening to music? Encourage them to create new lyrics to their favorite songs. Perhaps they are more into comics and graphic novels? Have them retell their favorite poem visually, or flip it around and create a poem to match the visuals. Poems can also inspire painting, sculptures, photography, dance and other art forms.
You can also introduce different types of poetry to your family through family outings. Go to a reading or a poetry slam, a theater presentation, or other poetry focused community event.
Poetry is a tool for self-expression. It allows you to explore who you are and gives you a way of processing your thoughts and feelings. It can be public or private, structured or free, the most important thing is it allows you to be creative. Creativity is what true poetry is all about!
What are your feelings on poetry? How do you explore poetry in your family? Please share your ideas below!