Thursday, April 15, 2010

... and National Poetry Month!

Twice in the last week, intrepid Emerson Breaking News reporters have cornered me after school to ask about my favorite poem. As a real live reader of poetry, I had a hard time coming up with 1) a single poem that was 2) genuinely one of my favorites and that 3) I could share with fourth graders. I mean, yes, I like Shel Silverstein as much as the next person. But would he stand up against Mark Doty, Marie Howe, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, Walt Whitman, Derek Walcott as my "favorite"? It felt disingenuous to give an answer that was predictable to students but not actually true. I ended up naming "The Illiterate" by William Meredith and "Night Ferry" by Mark Doty, two old favorites that I loved enough to memorize a few years ago.

I've been thinking of alternative answers ever since, and weighing which I could have shared with students. It felt risky, unsettling, to honestly share my adult favorites with such young people. At the same time, it was important to me to name poems that I love as an adult reader; it reminded me of how supporting our children to become readers doesn't just mean taking them to the library, but showing them that we ourselves read for pleasure. Browsing through some older books of poetry here in the library, I was struck by how many of them were not collections of poems written for children but instead adult poems that children, as intelligent readers, may revel in despite the challenge of understanding (or not understanding) them. The book I'm holding now has funny poems as well as serious ones; D.H. Lawrence's "Snake" juxtaposed with Ogden Nash's "The Guppy." Poems to grow with remind us that young readers deserve respect.

I hope you'll share poetry with the readers in your life this month, and take time to explore it yourself. If you find one you love, share it with your favorite school librarian!

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