Is Poetry On Your Playlist?
Way back when, before the abundance of printed and pixilated words we enjoy, people told stories. They told their stories over and over again, because, let’s face it, there wasn’t much else to do on a long, cold night. And in order to make their stories easy to remember, they used lots of rhyming and had a simple meter: three or four beats to a line.
Many of us think of poetry with a capital P—meaning, Poetry lives in a castle high on a hill surrounded by a deep moat and a drawbridge. Beautiful from a distance, probably beautiful inside, but a little scary and, unless you know the owners, pretty inaccessible.
Or we think of poetry as a kind of moral or educational hygiene, like flossing—we know we should do it, but fun? Not so much.
I won’t lie to you, poetry can be beautiful, and poetry is definitely good for you, but it doesn’t have to be high-flown, and it should be way more fun that flossing.
After all, poetry is verse and verse is song and song is…music! Way back when, before the abundance of printed and pixilated words we enjoy, people told stories. They told their stories over and over again, because, let’s face it, there wasn’t much else to do on a long, cold night. And in order to make their stories easy to remember, they used lots of rhyming and had a simple meter: three or four beats to a line.
Think of the verses you know from your childhood: those “nursery” rhymes that stick in your head with their Jacks and Marys in their corners quite contrary. There’s a reason we can still say those words—it’s because the rhythms the words make are like our breath and our heartbeat—they’re an extension of our bodies, our living and breathing.
Kids have the music of poetry in their bodies already and it’s always brimming over, especially when they’re just beginning to speak: they love the sound of words, the feel of them in their mouth, all the weird things they can do with spit bubbles.
They naturally gravitate toward rhyming and, have you noticed??? Repetition! Even at 10 my son will still latch on to a scrap of song or some phrase he’s made and say the same handful of words over and over and over, until I think I’m going to scream but he’s blissfully oblivious, just making those sounds with his breath and body (There’s a little of the brain, too, but not the thinking part—we’ll talk more about that another time.).
Now, I’m definitely not saying all poems should rhyme, but if you want to learn poems to say aloud with your family, it does help to start with some that have strong music to them. Kids also love call and response; they want YOU to play, too.
So for this first column I offer up a simple, but truly satisfying poem that my daughter discovered in 3rd grade, and still appreciates, even at the age of 13. It’s a poem by Christina Rossetti, called “What Are Heavy?” (Don’t you just love that title?).
What Are Heavy?
What are heavy? sea-sand and sorrow:
What are brief? today and tomorrow:
What are frail: Spring blossoms and youth:
What are deep? the ocean and truth.
If you really want to hear this poem, make sure you read it out loud. Several times. And if you decide to add this poem to your family’s playlist, you can say the questions, and your child/children can say the answers, or vice-versa, it’s all good. BTW, it’s OK if the kids don’t get the “heavy” meaning in the poems they learn; good poems get deeper over time. For now, it’s enough to enjoy the saying.
It so happens that this poem is included in a really fine anthology edited by two women of the Hilltowns: Susan Todd and Carol Purinton. It’s called Morning Song: Poems for New Parents, and it’s got a wide range of poems about conception, pregnancy, birth and parenting, from Sappho to Patti Smith. You can get the book or they also have a CD. Someone might like to get it for their Mom. Hey, Mother’s Day is coming! Just sayin’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.
[Photo credit: (ccl) Éamonn O’Brien-Strain]