Friday, January 16, 2009

Reading Out Loud

Last evening was the monthly poetry reading at our local coffee shop, as usual a good time and lots of interesting work. In a slight departure from our schedule, we heard sisters aged 6 and 10 do a recitation that had us entranced. What a wonderful thing to have kids listening and performing. I hope they come back with a new routine. And speaking of kids, how about taking poems for kids more seriously? We welcomed the publication of a book titled, I swear it, Codfish with Cherries n' Graham Cracker Crust by Lefty Farkleberry. It's full of silliness and rhymes, great cartoon figures, and it rollicks. As opposed to rocks, as kids would say. Because there is a difference. These poems don't cater to the commercial world at all. They speak to and from the mind of their author, as do more solemn, adult, poems. I was much more intrigued by Lefty's poems than by a long, occasional poem written by Robert Frost for the Kennedy inauguration. Timely, but tedious. Not Frost at his best. Seems, however, he never read it because the glare from the snow made reading impossible, so he recited a shorter, much better poem. Maybe the kids in the audience listened in a way they never would have to the longer piece. Saved by snowglare!

How we introduce poetry to kids matters. If left to old fashioned teaching methods that make poetry esoteric and tedious, the up and coming poets among us would rather skateboard. I don't blame them. I remember my rather dignified grandmother, though, reciting something called "O'Grady's Goat." I can still see her standing in the middle of her immaculate kitchen, going on, accent and all, about a goat who ate the shirts off the clothesline. Maybe that recitation was my introduction to poetry, along with an innovative, overworked English teacher from high school, who, desperate to teach me about the great poems, but also having to teach the other kids about writing a full sentence, sat me down by myself in the library with recordings of Chaucer and let me take from it what I could. Then there's my other grandmother who sang to me. We sat in a much painted old rocker on the porch, watched barn swallows feed at sunset, and she sang popular ballads for what seemed like hours. I heard language as pleasure and freedom from childhood. I still do.


Anonymous said...

Karen, I, too, was blessed to have an English teacher who taught me about Chaucer. Her name? Molly Wheeler. A short and broad Southern woman whose drawl never seeped through her Chaucer readings to the class. I loved it. Loved it. Knew I was being exposed to something great...even though Chaucer's actual words didn't do much for me... then.

Karen Douglass said...

I am always interested in how people get hooked on poetry or any type of literature. I also have a theory that childhood solitude plays an important part and we may be sacrificing that quality to the virtual world.

Frank said...

Music and poetry have similar upbringings.

I was a 16 year old with a guitar that had belonged to my recently deceased father.

An only child on an Ohio hillside farm, I found poetry first, then music that I learned from a Mel Bay guitar book.

Karen, I can't remember your exact quote, but you said the other night at the coffee house music show that being an only child was conducive to creativity.

I agree.