2. It can say a lot. In just a few words, or a line or two, a poem can capture an emotion, a look, a feeling. I read my classes the opening page of Pearl Verses the World yesterday – and the students could quickly connect with Pearl’s isolation.
3. It leaves you thinking. The best poems don’t tell you how to think or feel. They evoke feelings, certainly, and present ideas and images, but then leave you to form your own response.
Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what was seen during a moment.
Yup. A moment to read. An hour (or a week, or a lifetime) to ponder. And as for the writing of that poem – waaaaay more than a moment, I can guarantee.
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.
When is a photo not a photo? When it’s a poem.
I write across a range of genre and markets in writing for children. My shortest book has only 26 words. I’ve written fiction and non fiction for preschoolers, emerging readers, confident readers all the way to upper primary. And I write poetry.
When the rest of my life is swirling madly and it seems there is no time to write, that’s when poetry is my salvation. When I have no time to work a plot, refine a setting and get to know my characters, I do have time to catch an image, to write a poem.
I think of writing longer fiction as being a bit like filming a movie and a poem as capturing a single image. A poetic image can sneak up and snare me and often does.
Of course capturing the idea is just the beginning and there’s work to be done refining it, just like post editing a photo. Framing, light, shading. The more I catch in the original image the better, but I know as long as I have the essence, the rest will come.
On Glenelg Pier
I lean against the wind
as waves clap pylons
and explode upwards
in daygrey fireworks
sea thumps shore
pull in their lines
only sealboys smile
ride water to sand
then footprint the pier
to leap again
into deepest wavecrest
I was in Adelaide last year and went for a walk on a windy pier. Black wetsuit-ed teenagers were running along the pier, carrying surfboards. Then they’d watch the wild choppy waves and leap into the crest. They’d catch the next wave to shore then do it all again. Joy and exhilaration was written loud across their faces, in complete contrast with all the other beachgoers, all struggling with the wind and cold. It was a lovely juxtaposition and I can still see the scene in my mind.
round and ripe
the moon is a mango
with one slice gone
I was driving home late one night, quite tired and feeling not a little jaded (too much to do, not enough time to do it etc) . I turned a corner and there was the moon, hanging orange and large, just above the horizon. It was almost full, but not quite round. It was stunning. I slowed down and just kept stealing glances at it. It slowed down my racing brain too and reminded me of the beauty that is all around. Cheered me up no end.
A friend of mine suggests looking at the world through poetic eyes, looking for surprising details in the ordinary, the everyday. It took practice at first, but then it became almost second nature and images sneak up and grab me as I’m walking, or driving, or just about anywhere.
Somewhere in my recent reading I read a piece of writing advice that spoke a little at the time, but resonated further later on. The writer, speaking about poetry, advised writers to be succinct – to say what they want to say and then stop. Too often, he said, a poet will presume the reader is a little stupid, and not only say what they want to say, but then say it again differently, or even interpret what they’ve had to say.
Yesterday, I wrote my daily poem from the perspective of a child whose mother is an author. I imagined the poem giving all sorts of examples of how the child appears in his mother’s books. But, in line ten, before I got to the list, I wrote ‘those characters are me.’ Suddenly, that earlier advice came back to me. A list would be nice, it would certainly make the poem longer, but was it necessary? I’d just made the point of the poem: The kid sees himself in the stories his mum tells. So, I stopped.
Then, just to be sure, I read the poem to my kids – and guess, what? They got it. They didn’t need me to explain that the kid sees himself in those stories. Just saying ‘those characters are me’ was enough.
I wish I could remember exactly who offered the advice I read (I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately) so I could properly attribute it, but, like so much good advice, it took a little while to make its mark and so someone is missing out on the credit. But I wanted to share it, because, whether you write poetry or prose, it’s advice that bears heeding, especially when writing for kids.
Children are smart. They can interpret things for themselves. Give them the information and let them have the satisfaction of arriving at the answer, the emotion, the response. Use your dialogue, your description, or your rhythm to create that response – then leave them to it.
And I’m going to say no more – for fear of not taking my own advice.