Tuesday Poetry Teatime: We need photos!
My photo stream for Tuesday Teatimes has dried up! If you send me your photos, with a little explanation of how poetry and tea went in your household, we send you a free already published issue of the Arrow or the Boomerang. Your choice! Send your photos and stories to: Julie.
I was asked recently why the study of poetry is important to a robust language arts and writing lifestyle and thought I’d share those thoughts here.
I did not major in English. I didn’t major in creative writing, journalism or communications. I got my BA in history and MA in theology. My academic writing life has centered on making arguments for or against some historical trend or philosophical/theological puzzle. I didn’t immerse myself in the classic works of fiction until I got married and only read my first Jane Austen in my 30’s. I became a fan of Shakespeare at about the same time. Poetry snuck up on me when my kids and I were walking (more running and tripping and hiding) through the library. I stumbled on the poetry section and loaded up our laundry basket (yes, that is how we went to the library for years) with rhymes, riddles and children’s poetry books. That month, each day during read a loud time, I’d pick a poem to read in addition to our read-aloud novel. The kids loved them and wanted to rip through the entire book at once.
That’s when I thought to myself that poetry deserved a more primary place at the homeschool table, which is how we wound up sitting at the literal kitchen table with tea and a stack of poetry books. No more did they want to listen to my reading of poems. They wanted to read their own! Even the non-readers wanted the fun of picking a poem for me to read (they might choose it randomly or by illustration). On Tuesdays, we didn’t bother with the read aloud. We’d read poetry, drink tea and eat a tasty snack. We’d light a candle and set out a nice table cloth. We used tea cups (if we had them) and nice napkins (if they were clean).
Interestingly, while setting a lovely table (flower centerpieces in spring, pinecones in winter) was always a highlight for me, the kids were more interested in the snacks and books. It’s gotten to the point now where we hardly decorate the table. The goal is to get to those books as soon as possible. I used to have them read one poem each (with five kids, that seemed plenty). But we’ve never managed to stick to five + one (mine). They want to keep reading. So now, we take an unhurried time reading, laughing, rhyming, sipping, crunching (cookies), and reading some more. We go until interest starts to flag and crumbs have replaced the muffins.
The benefits to reading poetry this way are numerous. Kids love the rhyming, humor, and silliness. You’ll love the imagery, word choices and cleverness. Because poetry is necessarily concise, word selection is deliberate and therefore powerful. Each word has punch, life, maximum meaning in a short space. Vocabulary is naturally built from the inside out (the irony or subtlety is heightened in a poetry context); kids learn meanings in context, not in quizzes. The music of the language naturally tunes your children’s ears to the power of language to create a sonic experience, not just to convey information.
Poetry lovers tend to be naturals at metaphor, analogy, simile and any other kind of literary element of association. These skills are vital to all quality writing, including academic writing. The ability to see metaphorically – to relate one thing to the other – is the heart of good thinking skills. Poetry seeds this concept into your children’s direct experience.
For moms, poetry learned through the joy of children lowers the bar and helps you to eventually tackle more challenging poetry for yourself. Once you get the swing of it and realize that through your own maturation process, you can comprehend layers of meaning, you’ll find that poetry can be an oasis of meaning, solace, inspiration in your daily life. It has become that for me, without ever dedicating myself to the study of it in any academic context.
Enjoy poetry today and this month.