While there have always been precocious mathematicians, the ranks of precocious poets are a bit more thin. Gifted young people who read a lot and think a lot can often write clearly and compellingly. But an understanding of the human condition is a bit like wine. It tends to deepen and become more complex with age. As Roald Hoffmann, poet and Nobel Prize winner (in chemistry!) once told me, "Children write beautiful poetry. There is an innocence and power to observations that are not stunted by too many things. Children are also repositories of our romantic notions about innocence. They write interesting poetry." But... "They don't write great poetry."
Of course, adults seldom write great poetry either. One of the reasons we don't write it is that most of us don't read it. Few books of poems make the display tables in Barnes & Noble's. Of major general interest magazines, only the New Yorker publishes it. Consequently we don't know what good poetry sounds like (for often, it is meant to be said aloud) and even people who might write good stuff wind up cranking out greeting card fare.
So that's why I was thrilled to see an article at the Poetry Foundation's website about homeschoolers re-introducing poetry to a new generation. Poetry can be extremely kid friendly (although the tale of the 4-year-old lisping Emily Dickinson is hilarious: "Because I could not stop for deff, He kindwee stopped for me..."). When poetry drills deep into our heads as we memorize it, we wind up meditating on the words and finding deeper meaning in them -- something that often happens for me with songs. But that requires memorization, something traditional schools have all but dropped. That's too bad, because it's a fun challenge for bright kids. Bright pre-school aged kids often commit books to memory just because they like them so much. Why not continue that with poetry? Homeschooling gives you the time to commit a text to memory -- or at least the freedom to read and read the good stuff. Hopefully at least a few regular school programs do this too. Without reading the good stuff, it's unlikely there will be many great poets in the future.
I'm curious about which poetry texts readers of this blog like sharing with their children, and if your kids have been interested in memorizing poetry. Do they like to write it too? Which books are best for parents looking to introduce the genre to their little ones?