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Poetry Doesn't Have to Be Yawnsome

By Mary & Sarah Phoenix

Mary Lydon Phoenix is a writer who homeschools her children, Sarah (12) and Antonio (4). Mary can be reached c/o Editor@Homefires.com.

When I mentioned to a few friends that our next column would be about poetry, the response was less than enthusiastic. It seems that poetry has fallen into some disfavor, viewed with the same disdain reserved by many for modern art. Don't be deterred if your own experience has been limited to the excruciating analysis required by an English professor or mandatory memorization in elementary school. Poetry is at least as varied as the many faces of prose. Here are some of our favorite volumes, beginning with Sarah's recommendations:

Joyful Noise (1988) and I Am Phoenix (1985), with poems for two voices by Paul Fleischman, are truly spectacular. On each page are two columns of verse. The readers' voices blend together, greatly adding to the poems. At times, however, the reading gets difficult since each person is reading a different line. Joyful Noise is filled with poems about insects such as grass-hoppers, digger wasps and house crickets, while I Am Phoenix has poetry about birds. I highly recommend both books.

The Random House Book Of Poetry For Children (1983), selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, is another of my great favorites. I like almost all of the poems, which is impressive since the book has 572. Arnold Lobel's drawings add a great deal to each page. The book is divided into different sections. For example, there is a section titled "The Way of Living Things" and another called "Where Goblins Dwell". There are many humorous poems that are sure to tickle your funny bone.

Reflections On A Gift Of Watermelon Pickle (1967), compiled by Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith is a wonderful anthology. The title poem, by John Tobias, is my favorite. I like this poem because it captures childhood and summer adventures with friends so well. The author has created delightful imagery and each line flows smoothly. There are a large number of very unique poems in this book, including ones about rodeos, lions, and the unfolding of a bud. I really enjoyed this book. I think that others will, too, since it contains poetry about such a large number of topics.

Now, here are Mary's thoughts on exploring poetry.

The library catalog lists a huge number of poetry books for children. A good anthology can help you sift through this wealth to find poets who speak to you. In addition to the Random House book mentioned above, Jack Prelutsky has edited several other collections, including The Beauty Of The Beast: Poems From The Animal Kingdom (1997). He has also compiled a set of volumes devoted to anonymous verse, beginning with Poems Of A. Nonny Mouse (1993). X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy are two popular anthologers who have collaborated on a number of books. Talking Like The Rain (1992) offers a lovely selection for younger children, while Knock At A Star (1982) arranges its poems into sections which look at the intent of poetry, examine how different poems are put together, and explore specific poetry styles. It provides ideas for beginning poets and suggestions to the adults who are assisting them.

Once you've found a poet whose voice resonates with your own, it's often easy to find whole collections of his/her work. I still harbor a fondness for Robert Louis Stevenson, perhaps because A Child's Garden Of Verses was one of the few books my parents owned when I was growing up. My own children have delighted in The Flower Fairy Books by Cicely Mary Barker. Hailstones And Halibut Bones by Mary O'Neill (1961) gave us a new way to look at colors. The light verse of Shel Silverstein in Where The Sidewalk Ends, A Light In The Attic, and Falling Up never fails to make us laugh.

But don't limit yourself to poets who write specifically for children. Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickenson, and William Blake are all accessible to children. In some cases you can find selections designed to appeal to young people. Two examples of these are You Come Too, which highlights poems by Robert Frost (1959), and Don't You Turn Back: Poems By Langston Hughs, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Poetry doesn't have to be a dead language. It is meant to be read aloud, to be shared and savored, to reveal the rhythm of the language and to call up crystal clear images. In "How to Eat a Poem", Eve Merriam says:

Don't be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the
juice that may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

Copyright, Mary & Sarah Phoenix, All Rights Reserved.