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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Not Kidding: Getting Your Kids into Poetry

Mention the “P” word to a group of parents and you’re likely to see Panic, if not outright dismissal.

“Poetry? Are you kidding? My son would rather die than read it, let alone write it. He’s into running and baseball. That’s it!”

“I have to work really hard to get my kid to crack a book that isn’t assigned. War stories and adventure is about all he’s up for.”

I know, believe me. I had to work really hard to get my son interested in books too. The only way he would read The Sword in the Stone was if I read it to him (which prompted him to tell me I looked like the picture of Madam Mim. Not my favorite).

So why I am saying you should try and get your kid interested in poetry? Simply put:
  1. Poetry’s easy. If you find the right poem or poems, you can read them pretty quickly.
  2.  If you’re trying to get your kid to write (and what parent isn’t)? – poems can be written quicker than almost anything else, including essays, blog posts, creative writing compositions and all the other stuff they make you write in school.
  3. Poetry is a gateway drug. I started writing poems when I was mad at my mom for not letting me do any number of things as a tween. The poems became an outlet for me when nothing else helped.

You don’t have to start with Wordsworth or other classic poets (unless you want to) and there are a lot of fun, interesting writers out there to choose from. I wrote about Beat Generation poets in The Beat on Ruby’s Street because they did such interesting work with language. If you want to explore them and your kid is younger than say, 13 or 14, you may want to be selective, as many of these poems are for adults.

Allen Ginsberg, for example, has written some of the most beautiful, devastating and superb poetry I’ve ever read, but some of it may be too intense for an 11 year old. On the other hand, some of his poetry can be read by people of any age. My choice would be My Sad Self.

Besides reading poetry, you might want to encourage your kid to write it when his or her emotions seem too high to contain in regular prose. Is he mad at you? Does she want something she’s likely never to have? Are two siblings fighting incessantly?

Ask them for a poem. Two poems. Ask them to spill all their emotions into those poems and have a read-off to see whose poem captures those emotions the best. Share poems you think are similar to the ones they wrote and talk to them about the lives of those poets.

Will that make your kids love poetry? I have no idea. But years from now when a teacher or boss asks them for a writing sample, you can pat yourself on the back because at least you got them started. And who knows, you might discover one of your children has a really fine inner poet and all they needed was a little prodding to get it to come out.

For more on introducing poetry to your kids or your kids to poetry, try these sites and links: