One of my favorite things about children’s poetry is the beginner’s mind. Babies acquire up to 40 words a day. As the baby grows she will share her word collection: “Da Da” and “Ma Ma.” In the next step, she will actively start collecting words by asking, “What is it?” Sometimes children don’t even need to know what it is, to appreciate a word.
When my son was three, we moved to a new house. After checking that I had packed his toys, he asked, “What else are we taking?” I said we would take our couch, chairs, and tables. Then he asked, “But, Mom, what about the furniture?”
Young children appreciate the sounds of words. To my son, “furniture” sounded like a grown-up word. It was big enough to correspond with the huge task of moving a household. Children like the way that words snap, tickle, and slide over each other. They enjoy the musical sounds of rhymes.
Besides sound, poetry deals in details. Nothing is too small to be captured in a poem. The answers to “what is it” are the details of life. A child begins by naming the things around her: banana, apple, a spoon, a cat or dog. In poetry, the details are so specific that readers are compelled to step closer to see them just as we draw near to examine a small painting. So, when poets write about the red-winged black bird or a giant panda, readers are brought closer to the natural world.
As children grow they continue to gather more words. Words become a basic part of their relationships in life. A child might talk to his Mom different from how he talks with his best friend. A boy can tell his Mom that he was scared at a movie. But he will not admit this to his friend.
Poets use words to crack open silence. Then we gather the silence back around the words in the art of the pause. This creates a frame to showcase the language. A poem may be built on the tension between pauses and the right words. And the right words are arranged on scaffolding that disappears in the poem, especially in free verse poetry.
Choosing exactly the right words is part of the thrift of poetry. Words are chosen and spent with great care. Non-poets will collect and discard words to participate in a common vocabulary of a community. But a poet will not limit herself. She collects words that lay on the fringes of society. Poets extend a democratic hand to any word. Then they save it and wait to use it in the right poem.
By the time a child reaches adulthood, the world can begin to look a bit tarnished and old. Adult poets try to find new ways of looking at our old world. This brings us back to the beginner’s mind. When it is applied to poetry, this is the stuff of miracles. Anything can happen.
Thanks for dropping in Laura and for sharing such insightful thoughts. Laura Evans has published more than five dozen poems in literary journals. Her blog at http://www.teachpoetryk12.com/ introduces newbie
children’s poets to the world of children’s poetry. And she reviews poetry books for teachers and parents.