One Clover & A Bee: Poems to Sleep On

A Poem to (Possibly) Sleep On

Sleep figures large in the life of a parent. For some of us it’s a tantalizing mirage, always just out of reach—it was for me, anyway. My daughter had colic for her first six months in the world, and cried for hours on end while my partner and I walked and rocked and massaged and drove her up and down the highway. It didn’t really help, but it gave us something to do while we were in despair. It’s terrible to feel as though you can’t comfort your child.

My son didn’t seem to need sleep at all for the first three years of his life.  A few hours a night was just fine with him. We saw a lot of sunrises during that time. I think. I don’t really remember.

So my partner and I spent many hours trying to soothe our children to sleep, and it happens that I like to sing but my partner is a little shy about his voice (though I think it’s lovely). Sometimes folks like him (and you?) need another way to connect with their babies and kids that feels intimate and musical. Yes, you guessed it: the music of poetry is the answer!

Next bedtime, find yourself a book light, clip it on to a book of poems, flip through until you find something that looks interesting, and start reading aloud. The more you read poems aloud, the more they’ll feel part of your natural language and the better they will sound to you, and to your kids.

If you already have poems/poets you love, by all means start with those. But if not, I have a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke to start you off (don’t forget last week’s poem by Christina Rossetti—now you have two!) and in my next column, I’ll have lots more collections/poets to suggest.

I can’t guarantee sleep, but at the very least you’ll discover poems you love, your children will begin to ingest the rhythms of poetry, and before long you’ll have poems you can say by heart—the seeds of your family’s poetry play list.

In the mean time, if you like this one, you may want to get your hands on one of Rilke’s books—these are poems born for reading aloud—there’s much to enjoy, even—or especially— in the dark of night.

BTW, as always, feel free to substitute she for he and vice-versa in your reading—make it work for you!

TUCK A CHILD

Tuck a child in his bed,
close this letter of life
that will arrive tonight.
We will read it together,
its contents will be spoken
out loud in the dark.

What it contains will end
by creating changes;
we will stop, we will go,
the whole room will capsize
in this sleeping one.

[By Rainer Maria Rilke translated by A. Poulin, Jr. from The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke published by Graywolf Press (1968)]

Until next time: sweet dreams.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

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) Amanda Tipton]

One Clover & A Bee: Poems For Families To Learn And Love

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 Dryansky

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]

Poetry for Young People by African-American Poet, Langston Hughes

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Langston Hughes, The Dream Keeper

“Bring me all of your dreams, You dreamers, Bring me all of your Heart melodies That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth Away from the too-rough fingers Of the world.”

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamers,
Bring me all of your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

This is the opening to one of my very favorite books of poetry for children. Originally published in 1932, The Dream Keeper, written by African-American poet, Langston Hughes, included 59 poems selected especially for young people. Hughes, born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, became an important literary figure during the Harlem Renaissance.

He was a successful poet, novelist, short story writer, editor, translator, and lecturer, publishing dozens of works during his lifetime. His experiences traveling around the world informed his poetry, which readers will enjoy in the section titled, “Sea Charm.”

Poignant, sensitive, passionate, brilliant, beautiful, sweet, musical, intuitive – the poems in this collection are all of the above. Ranging in subject matter from the sharpness of the winter moon to a piano player’s weary blues, Hughes is able to communicate universal truths that ring just as true today as they did 80 years ago.

Through verse that sometimes rhymes, and sometimes doesn’t, and images that are sometimes playful, and sometimes serious, Hughes expresses a love for humanity and a hope for the world which young readers will find deeply inspiring. His ability to write about the life and emotion of black people in poems such as “The Negro” and “Mother To Son,” while maintaining a child-like sense of wonder and whimsy in poems such as “Fairies” and “Snail,” shows his versatility in communicating diverse experiences through poetry and mastery of his craft.

The Dream Keeper was re-issued in 1994 with seven additional poems and more than 50 scratch-board illustrations by African-American illustrator, Brian Pinkney, making Hughes’ poems even more accessible to children today. Readers, both young and old, will be uplifted by Hughes’ message of love and unwavering faith in reaching for your dreams.

The Dream Keeper and Other Poems written by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994. 83 pg. ISBN: 0-679-88347-9


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

Keeping Family History Alive for an Only Child

Family History

With an only child, keeping family history alive is so important. Daisy is the heir apparent to all our collective memories, so I try to take as many photos, write as many stories and letters, and tape as much video as I can. My father’s parents died shortly after I finished college, but my mother’s parents lived on into their 80s and 90s. I had grand ideas of taping my Grandpa Sidney as he talked about his life growing up in Brooklyn, or my Grandma Fudgie recalling her peripatetic childhood — her parents were both actors in the Yiddish theater. I never got around to doing it, and before I knew it my grandfather was struggling with dementia and my grandmother was battling ovarian cancer and the effects of lifelong diabetes. When my grandparents died, so did their memories and stories. I won’t make the same mistake with my own parents. I plan to interview them, and write down their stories and memories before they too become lost to the wind.

I took some of my family history, a story that has been handed down along my mother’s side, and blended it with a bit of fiction to create this tale for Daisy: Read the rest of this entry »

A Banana in a Bunch

The Power of One: Experiment of a Large Family
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

Ophelia the only, says she’s lonely
She wants a playmate at home.
She has toys galore, often asks for more,
But still complains she’s alone.

Would a dog or a cat, be the answer to that?
Would a pet enliven her room?
But dogs bring on wheezes, cats give us sneezes
How to cure such sadness and gloom?

Parties and playdates, visits with playmates
Nothing satisfies our lonely child.
Then we hop on a plane, goin’ up to Maine
To visit with friends for a while.

Read the rest of this entry »

Raven Episode on the HFVS (04/11/09)

HILLTOWN FAMILY VARIETY SHOW
Raven Episode

WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA
Saturday mornings from 9-10am

04/11/09 PLAYLIST

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  • The Be Good Tanyas – “The Littlest Birds” [Putumayo’s Animal Playground]
  • Dar Williams – “The Babysitter’s Here” [For the Kids Three]
  • Station Id: Steve Weeks [www.steveweeksmusic.com]
  • Judy Collins – “Cook with Honey” [The Very Best of Judy Collins]
  • Jon Gailmor – “Just Kidding” [Folk Playground]
  • Terri Hendrix – “Eagles” [Putumayo’s Animal Playground]
  • Anne Bobby & John Kolvenbach – “The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost” [A Child’s Introduction to Poetry]
  • Tom Rush – “Child’s Song” [Hand in Hand: Songs of Parenthood]
  • Steve Weeks – “Someday” [Alphabet Songs Vol. III: Rabbit Run]
  • Secret Agent 23 Skidoo – “Luck” [Easy]
  • Station Id: Steve Weeks [www.steveweeksmusic.com]
  • Anne Bobby & John Kolvenbach – “The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe” [A Child’s Introduction to Poetry]
  • Station Id: The Harmonica Pocket [www.harmonicapocket.com]
  • Billy Jonas – “Some Houses” [What Kind of Cat Are You?]
  • Susan Werner – “Why is Your Heaven So Small” – [The Gospel Truth]
  • Anne Bobby & John Kolvenbach – “Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night Dylan Thomas” [A Child’s Introduction to Poetry]
  • Nick Drake – “Pink Moon” [Pink Moon]

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