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Poetry For Kids
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The best way to introduce poetry to kids is to
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Some children like poetry, some children don't. They are human beings, mostly smaller than adults. Apart from that, there isn't much difference between children and adults. You find some children who won't read a poem and others who are absolutely addicted to the stuff. They write loads of poems and read loads of poems. It absolutely varies.
I think we all introduce children to poetry whether we like it or not. We do it through nursery rhymes, and we do it through making up little jingles with their names. When you have a baby, you will sit there saying "do bee do bee do" and making up little poems almost without knowing that's what you're doing. The question is how do we carry on, how do we expand poetry, and I think there are hundreds, if not thousands of books that we could be reading to them. Whether we do or not is another matter, but they're all there waiting to read to them and to perform to them.
I think most children would be attracted by funny poems. I think with most people here in England, you could read them, say Spike Milligan poems, Silly Verse For Kids and they'll find them funny. On The Ning Nang Nong, that sort of thing. The question is rather they'll get intrigued and puzzled and amazed by other types of poetry too, and I think in my experience most children will be intrigued by things that relate to their lives, or are in some way or another wondrous and amazing.
I think you could say that there are rhythms to do with our bodies. There's heartbeat, and there's our pace of walking and there's our pace of running. If you create rhythms in language, that almost certainly has something to do with our bodies. So when you create rhythms, there's some kind of echo in our bodily system. The other thing is that we have words in our ears, and if you play with those words, let's say alliteration or assonance, things like that, then in some way or another that intrigues us because then it's making language into something physical that we can play with, with our lips and tongue and teeth. I think that all that is quite important. Whether it's instinctive, I don't think I'd say that, but it's certainly to do with our bodies.
Children will learn language just by listening to the people around them and practicing. Which if you sit around a one year old and two year old, they are doing it all the time. But if you introduce children to poetry and carry on reading poetry, well then, in a way you are introducing them to extraordinary specializations of language. You are giving them cadences that they wouldn't otherwise have come across. But more than that, you are also introducing them to all kinds of feelings that they might not otherwise have come across, things that don't resolve themselves and strange ironies and absurdities and strange juxtapositions where you use figurative metaphorical language. I mean, these things are present in language overall, it's just that in poetry, they get compressed into an individual poem. So, it's like any art form, it's got that ability to do something rather special for a child.
The best poetry resource for children is as simple as this thing that was invented a few hundred years ago. It is called a book. They are in libraries, they are in bookshelves, they are in schools, they are there. All you have to do is open them, and see them. What you then do with it, whether you perform it, or whether you write it up on a wall, or whether you find a way of performing it, that is another matter. But, in terms of a resource, they are there. It all exists. There are beginning to be resources on the internet. If you put in the word poetry or poetry for children into Google, all sorts of things pop up. There's the poetry archive, for example, and there are poems performed by people like me. I am trying to set up an interactive poetry performance site for children. That is something that I am in the process of doing. So, yes, there are various ways. Some poets come into schools. If you look in your local listing magazine, there might be a children's poet coming your way. That person will be a resource.
The children's poets that I like are nearly always the ones I've met and performed with, because it's so wonderful to engage with the sound and feeling of their poems. John Agard, Grace Nichols, James Berry, William Gough, people less well known like Francesca Beard, Jered Luce, Jacob Sam Larouse, and James Stricklind. These are all people that I've really enjoyed performing with. I've done shows with Adrian Mitchell, which was absolutely wonderful. These are people that I like doing shows with and I love listening to what they've written.
I don't think there's an easy or hardness kind of league table in writing poems. I suppose if you sat down and said, I will now write a sonnet, and it's got to be a classic Petrarchan sonnet, that would be pretty hard I guess and that would take me about a month to do. On the other hand, if you say, can you write a little jingle about chocolate or something, I could probably turn one out in about a couple of minutes. Whether it would be any good or not is another matter. So it is possible, once you've got into the groove, to entertain children with quite funny wordplay things. That is comparatively easy. And writing about complex, strange things for adults in a way, that would surprise and interest them. I guess that can be complicated. But at the same time, if you want to write something that is simple and important, for children, I reckon that's pretty difficult.
I think if you look across the history of children's poetry, I think you'll see that children's poetry has used virtually all the forms that poems for adults have used. If you take it with Edward Leo for example he's someone who uses an enormous range of complex rhythms and rhymes. If you look at somebody like American poet Carl Sandberg who was crucial to the invention of American popular free verse you can see that he's experimenting with forms in a way that are pretty important. I think you can look across children's poetry and say its been as complex formally speaking as adult poetry.
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