Apr 7, 2013

The Timeless Triumph of Poetry

Here I am again , whining about the double-edged swords of monthly themes (Black History, Women's History, Hispanic Heritage, etc.). In my opinion the sharpest of those double-edged swords is the designation of April as POETRY MONTH.  The benefit, of course, is the likelihood that kids (and adults!) will experience poetry more often and with more attention this month than is usually the case. 
My HOPE is that some will encounter a category of language and literature that reaches out and grabs them by the heart and never lets go.
My REGRET is that so many kids (and adults!) do NOT experience poetry daily, despite its power and potential to reach our hearts and minds in a matter of moments using only a few artfully chosen words.
Just a few examples are shared here, with more to follow in the weeks to come.

Books for Young Readers, 2011
Let's start with poetry collections that reach back several centuries: 
I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: Poems of American Slavery, written by Cynthia Grady and illustrated by Michele Wood. Awards and recognitions for this title include Parents' Choice Award in the poetry category, New York Public Library, Children's Books 2012: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
I wrote on Goodreads:
With my love of quilts, southern heritage, and appreciation for both poetry and art, this oversized offering from Eerdmans BYR earns the highest rating. Each free-verse poem is ten-by-ten (ten lines, ten syllables each) to mimic the structure of a quilt. Each left spread includes the title of a traditional quilt pattern, a poem, a strip of the quilt pattern, and an historic note about the role of quilts in slave history. The right side spread combines the abstraction of the pattern with an artistic image of the slave life that inspired it. Brilliantly done!

Chronicle Books, 2012
Moving on to the past century brings us to WHEN THUNDER COMES: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, by J. Patrick Lewis, Children's Poet Laureat. This collection has the unusual distinction of being illustrated by multiple artists, including Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So. (Each of these links is worth a second look.)

My Goodreads notes on this title:
Of the many books written about civil rights leaders, some lesser known than others, these poems capture their voices and spirits better than anything else I've read. These are definitely for an older audience, not only because of the challenging vocabulary and language, but because of the depth of conflicts, emotions, and issues explored.

Disney Press, 2013

When it comes to history, nothing matters more to each of us than personal history. Hearing poems, reciting poems (individually and in chorale groups), and memorizing poems are experiences that stay with us for life. That's why I'm such a fan of POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART collected by Caroline Kennedy with paintings by Jon J. Muth.

I'm also a fan of Kennedy's previous anthology of poems: A FAMILY OF POEMS (below). This more recent collection exceeded my expectations. Once again Jon Muth's illustrations serve the poems well, subtly extending and exploring meaning. The organization by themes is effective, back matter additions are helpful and well organized.
Given its premise of rote memorization and oral recitation, the collection offers something for everyone, from Langston Hughes's eleven word "Bad Morning" to the epic "Casey at the Bat".

Disney-Hyperion, 2005

The earlier anthology by this duo should be in every family and classroom collection, too: A FAMILY OF POEMS: My Favorite Poetry for Children collected by Caroline Kennedy with paintings by Jon J. Muth. Poetry anthologies are always an asset, but some offer more than others. In this case the poets represented range from the Bible to Anonymous to Edward Lear- and on and on and on...
In addition they are wisely arranged (About ME, So Silly, Animals, The Seasons, The Seashore, Adventure, and Bedtime). The forward, first line index, and foreign poems in original languages make it all the more useful and informative.

The title of this post reflects my conviction that poetry transcends time- reaching back into history, capturing voices from the past, and easily evoking our own personal memories. 
Poetry is powerful for the same reasons as picture books are. 
Make poetry a part of every day, starting TODAY!

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