In this recent Poetry Friday post, award-winning Australian author Sally Murphy urges teachers to share and enjoy classic and contemporary poetry with kids.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately writing and speaking about children’s poetry and the challenges of getting poetry in front of children, especially in Australia where very little children’s poetry is published. One of the things I keep saying is that kids need accessible poetry, and that we must be sure to include contemporary poetry in our offerings.
BUT, that doesn’t mean that I think we should only offer contemporary poetry, just as it isn’t necessary to only offer contemporary fiction. It’s just that when we offer classic poetry, we need to be sure that it is accessible to readers. One of the problems is that too often we offer poetry with difficult language and then too quickly ask what the poem means. My strong feeling is that, modern or classic, our first point of discussion for any poem should be about how it makes the reader feel, rather than about what it means. The pleasure, the physical response, the emotions aroused, the confusion are all so much for important than knowing exactly what it’s about (and a good poem should not be about just one thing anyway).
So, take for example this old favourite of mine:
by William Blake
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
(you can read the rest of the poem here)
Woah. There are some big words (immortal symmetry?). There are some very old words (thine, thy?). There is a word with funny spelling (tyger). And there are some words which don’t rhyme as we pronounce them today (eye/symmetry). And yet when I read it, I can imagine a beautiful, big, fearsome looking tiger, and can tingle with pleasure at the rhythm and flow of the lines. And, if I read it aloud to (or even better with) children, I give them the chance to share that pleasure. If instead, I print it out, give to to kids and ask them what it means, many eyes would glaze over, and hearts sink at the difficult language and the quest for a right answer.
My point? If you’re a teacher – don’t be scared to share poetry with kids. Share classics like this one. Share contemporary poetry too. But share it. Enjoy it. Savour it. If you must take it apart to look at meanings or poetic devices, do that AFTER you have had time to enjoy the poem. The child who has enjoyed the poem will find the seeking of meaning a whole lot easier.
(Original post re-blogged with permission)
- For more interesting posts about writing, visit Sally’s blog http://sallymurphy.com.au/#blog