Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Four Tips Guaranteed to Kill a Developing Love for Poetry

Welcome to part two of my series on poetry for children -- and all of us. In part one, I offered several tips for enjoying poetry with your children. Today I'll address some surefire ways to kill the joy, douse the flame, squelch the delight, sever the connection, and set your children on the path to lifelong irritation, derision, and other means of unappreciation: poetry is "boring, a waste of time, weird, difficult. . . ." Just in case that's your goal. I'm trying to address all options here.

Here we go:

  • Avoid reading poetry with your children. Pretty straightforward. Children never exposed to beautiful and, especially important, evocative poetry will never develop an appreciation for it.
  • Succumb to your children's resistance. Young children seem to have a natural predilection for poetry. My children loved (and still do) the poems of Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, A.A. Milne, Walter de la Mare, Sara Teasdale, Hilda Conkling, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Emily Dickinson. Even now, if we need to soldier on in an activity (say, housecleaning), I'll cry out, "Excelsior!" and they know what that means, thanks to Longfellow. But now that they're older, I'm getting some flack or a touch of boredom. Bad attitudes, all. Now's the time to throw in the towel.
  • Read a poem once and slam the book shut. Poetry, check! If you decide to expose your children to some poetry after all, do not talk about it or the poet. No background information, no short biographical sketch, no exploration of emotions or images the poem might have inspired, no thoughtful consideration of the beauty of the words . . . nothing. Make no attempt to encourage any connection with the poem whatsoever.
Alternatively. . .
  • Read a poem and immediately begin to dissect its parts. go beyond mere rhyme scheme. Peruse the poem for instances of dactyl, anapests, enjambment, caesuras, elisions that preserve the poem's meter, etc. Analyze the poem's metrical pattern. Is it iambic pentameter, blank verse, free verse, etc.? What's its arrangement, so to speak: sonnet (Petrarchan or Shakespearean?), villanelle, epic, sestina, epigram, lyric, blank verse, or perhaps an elegy? This is crucial if your children are in the middle grades. Nothing kills poetical delight easier than early and accelerated literary criticism.

Of course, it goes without saying that if your aim to to engender a love of poetry in your children, then you'd strive to forgo these tips. Basically:

  • Do read poetry with your children.
  • Do persevere in the face of discontent. (I'm planning a separate post on this topic.)
  • Do talk about the poem with your children. Share your thoughts, but take care not to trample on their own experience.
  • Do postpone serious literary criticism until the later years, perhaps until college. Considering a poem's rhyme scheme (ABBA, etc.) for middle graders is fine by me. If you'd like, casually add in a consideration of figurative language: simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia (which is fun!), and the like. If your children are in high school, a basic understanding of poetic analysis would put them on the right road for their literature classes. (Hmm. This would make a nice post topic, wouldn't it?)

Take at look at part one of this series for more ideas.

What are your experiences with poetry? Did any of the above points ring a bell with you, perhaps in your own education? How would you like things to be different for your children? Respond in the Comments section to your heart's content!


  1. I have not talked about the poets or poems much. My girls are seven and five, and I tell them the poet, and proceed to read one or two poems every day.

    They are starting to pay attention to some of those poems, and they know, for example, who AA Milne is when we read his poetry because of Winnie.

    But AO year 2 is round the corner, so I believe I will do an intro to the three or four poets we will soak into next year.

  2. That's very interesting, and I concur with all your tips for reaching either desired effect. I especially agree about the application of literary criticism. Even at university level, it can be a great killer of love for literature.

    My 14-year-old now really dislikes being read to, so I'm thinking I must try and somehow incorporate poetry into our lives a bit more. On the plus side, she recently told me that one of her most favourite books is a child's poetry collection.

  3. Silvia, at your girls' ages, a simple intro to the poet is all they need. I love how you write, "they are starting to pay attention." What a wonderful beginning to a lifelong appreciation. And yes, you'll begin to study a few poets per year with AO, so you can really immerse yourselves into his/her work.

  4. Christine, that's a good point about your daughter's unwillingness to be read to. She IS 14, after all! :-) One idea: perhaps you could both read a poem on your own and then talk about it? (Casually, of course! Anything too serious would be the kiss of death.) Or she might be amenable to listening to a recording. Librivox has quite a few poetry selections available for download (FREE!).

  5. I love how you approach this Ellen. Fun!


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