Saturday, May 17, 2008

Where are the Poetry readers?

I think I am living in the wrong Age ~ or perhaps I just don't know the right people ~ but where are all the poetry readers? In a century where there seems to be a dearth of readers of any sort poetry has become the first casualty.

corbis ~ T.S.Eliot

Generating a love of reading & good books is not necessarily easy. I should know. I have 3 dyslexics & 5 ADD kids. One of my dyslexics is so bad I thought I was going to have at least one illiterate child. I worked very hard to ensure that didn't happen but a child doing grade 11 who scores a zero in comprehension has big problems. If you understand how some forms of dyslexia work you will understand how that is possible even if the child can read, even read well, but that is a topic for another post.

I think I am the only household I know where children who came for a sleepover looked forward to bedtime. I had 4 children & our ritual went like this: Each child was allowed to choose one story book then I would choose a bible story & a poem ~ for each child. Start counting. That's quite right; that's eight storybooks, a chapter of Narnia & 4 poems heard by every child every single night. If we had extras they too got to choose something from the book shelf & yes story time in this house could literally go for hours. It helps that I did drama at Uni & worked in the Children's Library for a brief period. I am also the only parent I know who could attract children from the more amusing pursuits of face paint & water play at the Under Eights Day for the duller joys of Story Time. I do not mind making a fool of myself if it means a child's face lights up with pleasure at the telling of a good story.

At this period Jossie was working his way through the Narnia books, the twins were still in picture books & Liddy was a baby. Ditz, who is such a big personality, was not even dreamed of yet. Story books & bible stories I know lots of parents do but poetry? Who, besides that insane woman Down Under, reads poetry to their children? And what did I read? I read the sort of poetry I myself like. I read Australian balladeers like Banjo Patterson & Henry Lawson. I read things kids also rather like like Young Lochinvar & The Highwayman. I also read Marvell & Donne & Shakespeare, T.S Eliot, Judith Wright & Sylvia Plath & I read things like The Lyke Wake Dirge & The Green Knight. Did the kids understand much of it? Nope! Does it matter? I don't think so. Poetry works so strongly in images it evokes an emotional response. Understanding is a developed skill but one can still take pleasure from what one doesn't understand & to this day I prefer my instinctive response to The Hollow Men over an more educated analysis.

There is an added benefit, one I certainly did not anticipate. Jossie was certainly seen as gifted & one of the ways his giftedness showed up was in the way he used language. Even in primary school his story writing was littered with simile & metaphor, symbolism & symbols ~ caught, not taught, from years of hearing English used in beautiful & clever ways.

Do I have readers? Yes. Even my dyslexics read. My biggest dyslexic is also my biggest reader. He has found a genre that works extensively in strong images. Do I have poetry readers? No. I have poetry writers (if one uses a rather broad definition of the term poetry). One day that may change & when it does they will come to poetry as one meets up with a long lost & neglected friend, familiar & not too intimidating.

If we don't introduce our children early to the best our language has to offer then we can hardly be surprised if they find it too difficult & intimidating later on & dispense with books for the T.V, the computer or the wii (is that what one calls it?) And we lose a great deal when we lose our ability to deal with poets & their poetry for it is they who see *the whole world in a grain of sand* & that

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the act
And the motion
Falls the shadow.

I do like Eliot! I find him enormously satisfying.

There is another unseen benefit, one I am presently using to tease Ditz who likes to put her nose in the air & pretend her mother knows very little about the arts because she is the arty one in this family. Ditz is doing a term of Shakespearean drama, Macbeth to be precise. She was very snooty when I started quoting from the three witches opening speech & mortified to find I did actually know the play. A smattering of poetry can make even mother seem very well educated :D & that is a very necessary thing when one owns a Ditz!


kimba said...

Eliots Hollow Men made no sense. The Lyke Wake Dirge I liked, tho apparently its a song rather than poetry. I like Paterson and Lawson and Shakespeare. I insist on poetry rhyming and making sense, so don't like a lot of modern stuff.

Ganeida said...

Kimba, I should have been terribly surprised if we agreed on poetry of all things. I think The Hollow Men makes perfect sense, certainly on an emotional level, but we shall have to argue this in person as I don't think there's space enough in these little boxes.

MamaOlive said...

My brother writes poetry, but as it doesn't rhyme and isn't metered, I say stick some punctuation in there and call it an essay! :-D How do you define poetry?

BTW, we are reading MIlly-Molly-Mandy and like her very much.

Ganeida said...

Oh good! I did think you would like MMM.

As for poetry, lots of what I like isn't rhymed or metered or even punctuated as such so I define it by two things really ~ & this is not a technical definition. Firstly I expect to find a single sustained image working throughout the poem in some fashion. Other images/symbols may be used but there will be a pivotal one around which all the others swing. For example Marvell,in To His Coy Mistress, uses Time as this central theme. He waffles on with lots of other images but they are in the context of the passing of Time until it culminates in those wonderful lines'' Let us roll all our strength, & all/ our sweetness up in to one ball:/ And tear our pleasures with rough strife /Through the iron gates of Life./ Thus, though we cannot make our sun/ stand still, yet we will make him run.'' Secondly I expect the strong use of simile & metaphor ~ much more so than one finds in prose. For preference I like the language to be exceptionally beautiful ~ but that is a personal preference & why I prefere some poets over others & why I like Eliot best of all. One can read Eliot aloud & he just flows.