For the Love of Poetry

The school year is back in session and with it comes the usual stresses and changes – especially with the introduction of a new Colorado standards and (yet again) a new math curriculum. One thing I’ve noticed on the language arts front over the last few years (and, mind you, my children are just finishing elementary school) is the absence of poetry.

Now I have to admit I don’t remember being forced to learn much in the way of poetry until high school, although I do remember having to learn poems to recite in front of class, and having various poetry anthologies on school supply lists at least since elementary school (yes, I still have them!) so clearly poetry was well integrated into the curriculum program.

Today (sadly) my own boys know little about poetry – the only verses they’ve been exposed to so far are inane ones  about smelly gym lockers or disgusting vegetables. A tragic moment came last year when, after being forced to re-write one of these ‘poems’, my son Jasper declared that poetry was, in his opinion, ‘the most boring and useless thing ever!’. Anyone who knows me well knows that those were ‘fighting words’ and (horror upon horror!) I proceeded to lecture him the soulfulness and beauty of what I call ‘real’ poetry.

This got me thinking though – how much do children (or adults) for that matter get exposed to poetry? Surely even elementary students can appreciate the beauty of Wordsworth, Blake or Keats, or TS Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’…so why is it the poetry seems to have been relegated to some archaic shelf?

Although I admit to wallowing (as many teenage girls did) in the angst ridden poetry of Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, I feel my exposure at school to a range of poets as a both a child and as a young adult was vital to inspiring in me a love of poetry. Indeed, when I’m writing, I still feel the urge to flick through a beloved book of poems  – allowing the beauty of the imagery and language to inspire, in turn, my own prose. I feel sorry that, so far, my own boys haven’t been introduced to the same breadth or beauty in poetry – at least at school (they don’t get off that easy – I plan to inflict as much poetry as I can  at home!).

So what about you TKZers – did you get much exposure to poetry at school? Did you grow to love or hate it as a result? Do you think poetry has become somehow ‘outdated’ in this age of electronic communication or do, you like me, hope that it will make a resurgence, and lead some young people at least to love it and appreciate it as much as I do.


26 thoughts on “For the Love of Poetry

  1. I got lots of poetry in both public and high school. Didn’t like it much then, but over the years, I’ve gained a huge appreciation for poetry.

    Years ago, a fringe newspaper, THE GEORGIA STRAIT, used to publish poetry. This was during the ‘protest’ years… the Vietnam War, hippies, etc. I thought most of it was crap, frankly.

    But why should I apologize? I don’t think I need to apologize because my school years, where I was exposed to poetry, enabled me to judge, to a certain extent, whether a poem was good or bad (allowing for the subjectivity of the process, of course.)

    I sometimes write poems as a way to break a mental block about a passage of prose I’m struggling with, or if I’m not sure where to go next in the scene. That, too, has helped me to appreciate the density of poetry.

    Maybe one way to get children and young people more interested in poetry, to at least appreciate it as a valid art form, is to have them read song lyrics, even some rap lyrics. When a young person can arrive at a judgment about the worth of some lyrics compared to others, s/he might gain a better appreciation, not only for the lyrics, but also for the music (or lack thereof!)

    I think some universities have courses where the material studied comes from popular culture. I know my university did. Sort of like the ‘rocks for jocks’ (geology) courses, where kids on athletic scholarships who might need to broaden their horizons are introduced to science.

    I’m sure that my ‘poems’ are crap, but they sure are fun to write.

    • I do think that if my kids (hopefully) get introduced to more poetry at school that it is more inclusive and not presented in a way that puts them off it all together! I’m hoping they never read any of my terrible adolescent efforts at writing it though…

  2. I got the usual smattering of poetry in grammar school (“Listen my children, and you shall hear …” “Aye, tear her tattered ensign down, long has it waved on high …”) and high school – Wordsworth and Byron and Blake. The problem with most poetry (and its aficionados) is that it’s like a secret code. Someone once presented me with a favorite poem and asked, “Isn’t this powerful?” To me, it was gibberish. And it was MY fault for not being sensitive enough to see the beauty or get the metaphor (something about freedom, I dare say.) not the poet’s fault for being obscure.
    I still have a few favorite poems – “Sea Fever,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and of course, Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam Magee.” And every year on our anniversary I take my wife out to the park and read her love poems. But poetry isn’t part of my life. I think that’s partly my fault, and partly the fault of poets for not trying to engage me where I am instead of chiding me for not being where he/she is.

    • John
      That’s a great observation about the ‘secret code’ – maybe a reason poetry is ‘dwindling’ at school is because the way it’s been presented in the past, frankly, put many teachers off so now they don’t want to teach it. I was lucky I could just read what I wanted at home and find my way into loving poetry without feeling the need to interpret or analyze it (until late high school at least!)

  3. My dad loved to recite poetry, traditional adventure and inspirational– e.g., Charge of the Light Brigade, Hiawatha, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, Invictus, If. He had each of his three boys do some memorization. I can do a killer rendition of Casey at the Bat.

    Poetry is a great way to expand writing style. Ray Bradbury said he read some poetry every day.

  4. Jim – how lucky you were! And I was also lucky that I had parents who loved poetry so I could have access to the books and could chat about poems they loved. My grandfather was the one who would recite poetry – in a very thick Lancashire accent. Sadly I lived thousands of miles away in Australia so I didn’t get to hear him recite it often but I do feel his love of the way words can be spoken aloud passed down to my mum and then on to me. I should take a leaf out of Ray Bradbury’s book and read some poetry every day!

  5. It will sound silly, but after seeing Dead Poets Society, I realized the depth behind the beauty of just a few words and how powerful they could be.

    Carpe Diem

  6. I have to add this. When my oldest sister was born, my parents’ first child, Dad was stuck in the waiting room for 11 hours with nothing but an old copy of Life magazine. It contained “The Cremation of Sam Magee,” so he passed the time memorizing it. It became a family touchstone. That was more than 60 years ago, and today, all eight of his children can (and do!) recite that poem at the drop of a hat.

  7. I don’t remember poetry as part of my elementary, middle or high school curriculum. Then again I don’t remember much algebra either.

    I recently took an online course “How to Write Poetry” with IWP and Univ of Iowa. I was encouraged by the strength of support and was in awe of the number of prolific poets.

    I took that information into the classroom last fall. But the seniors eyes glazed over (imagine) when I mentioned poetry. But. Instead I spoke their language. I offered the first two lines of a haiku and asked the students finish the poem using UK basketball as the theme. And. I tossed a softball bribe to the “winners” – told them I’d select the best last line and post the haiku to Instagram. They were thoughtful and excited in their response. Small steps. Big gains.

  8. My dose of childhood poetry came from the old Childcraft books. (Anybody old enough to remember those?) I loved those books. I still can remember one poem in particular that I loved then and still do:

    A book, I think, is very like
    A little golden door
    That takes me into places
    Where I’ve never been before.

    It leads me into fairyland
    Or countries strange and far
    And, best of all, the golden door
    Always stands ajar.

    I’d like to believe it is no coincidence that I grew up to be a writer.

  9. I teach British Romantic and Victorian poetry to my HS seniors, but I always start by giving them stanzas of song lyrics with no contextual information. By determining what info could help them better understand what the stanzas mean (they don’t know I’m using anything from Rise Against to Public Enemy), it helps them recognize what context can help them understand the poetry we cover. Plus, they get to hear the song once they or their classmates recognize and try to explicate it.

    May not teach them to love poetry, but it helps them break that secret code. I also try to teach my kids that the “right” answer isn’t as important as being able to support or “prove” the answer they come up with using the text and a correct understanding/application of the contextual info as evidence.

  10. I had some poetry in high school and college, and a trusty “Norton Anthology of Poetry.” My favorite was the romantic “Highwayman”: “The highwayman came riding, riding, up to the old inn door.” That sort of poetry is out of style, but I loved it. We were also introduced to e.e. cummngs, and the lovely poem about spring and “the goat-footed balloon man.” Children should get a chance to explore poetry. My teacher friends here in Florida say they’re so busy preparing kids to take the state-mandated tests they don’t have time to teach poetry.

    • I think I’m going to have to read the Highwayman to my boys aloud – I’d forgotten that and it’s great to recite. Oh and don’t get me started on the whole teaching to the test thing…argh!

  11. It’s so hard to remember. I went to a private grade school and high school, with 7th and 8th grades at a public school. I recall a small amount of poetry in grade school, and lots and lots of it in high school; the previously mentioned Norton Anthology was an assigned textbook. But I recall no poetry from the public junior high. I understand the beauty of poetry, but hey, I like fast-paced action, and action and poetry don’t really go together.

  12. I read and write poetry. Here is one of my killer poems that readers of Kill Zone may enjoy. Or not. I think it’s accessible.


    If you chance upon a body in a field,
    first, stop.
    Calm down!
    Think, think, think!
    Were you seen?
    If so, shout, “Somebody call 911!”
    If not, keep calm, sniff the air.
    Do you smell any sickly-sweet decomp? No.
    What do you hear?
    A moan, a groan? Yes!
    Don’t use your knife, it’s too messy.
    Casually approach the body.
    Look out at the distance.
    Place your boot on its throat.
    Don’t let it scream!
    Keep calm, remain calm.
    Again, don’t let it scream!
    Don’t look down!
    Did you hear the bones crack?
    Good, it’s done.
    Now walk away.
    Leave the same way you came.
    Remember, no matter how strong the urge,
    never return to the scene

    But what about your boot mark?
    The diamond shaped treads?
    The trace evidence that fell from the crack in your boot.
    The bloody bits that same boot picked up.
    Your shoe size,
    your height, your weight?
    Your gender. Your age.
    The insects crawling in and out of
    the body.
    The time of day. The temperature.
    Your fibers and hair and dander and skin cells
    and any vegetation that dropped from your clothes?
    The shrub that scratched your arm?
    The DNA that dripped in the sweat from your brow?
    Your stomach ache. Your vomit.
    That neon GUILTY sign flashing across your face?

  13. I don’t remember much poetry during my HS years, although I do like some poetry.
    I must share this true tale and a poem. Margaret E. Weldon, my sister’s mother-in-law, began writing poetry in her HS years-wrote lines on bits and pieces of paper and stuffed them in a drawer. She was the daughter of a farmer and rancher, and when she retired she began writing again. When she moved from Oregon to Arizona the “paper pile” was rediscovered and my sister encouraged her to publish them which she did. She won a Silver Poet Award and traveled from Arizona to Sacramento, CA to accept the award. She was eighty-one years old.

    One of my favorites:
    Travel the Trail that was Blazed for you

    Do not divulge your secret self to me,
    For it is thine;
    You keep it, for I have mine.
    But from the start
    Reserve for me
    A small place in your heart.

    Then take the blazed trail
    To your well-known
    Heavenly heights sublime,
    And travel it your way,
    But let me travel mine.

    Then if mine should chance to be
    An Unknown Journey,
    Over a mystic sea,
    Then worry not my dear,
    For it was meant for me.

    So may it ever be,
    Just let my mind be free
    To grasp a small part
    Of this great unknown,
    And grant that this Universe
    May be my home.
    Author: Margaret E. Weldon-deceased in 2002


  14. I don’t really recall a lit of the poetry from high school days, with the exception of some Edgar Allen Poe and being introduced to Richard Brautigan.

    At home, though, Pop read Robert W. Service, Ogden Nash (which may explain a lot), and tried to improve my handwriting by having me copy the Charge of the Light Brigade (Half a line, half a line, half a line onward…), to no avail.

    I have since developed a fondness for what I call “structured” poetry~ defined rhyme scheme, rhythm pattern(s), and/or syllable counts ~ villanelle, sonnet, haiku, sestina, etc. ~ there’s something about the challenge of making the pieces come together and seem effortless/natural that is satisfying~ kinda like writing prose~


  15. And how could I forget:
    e.e (of lower case fame) cummings,
    Dr. William Carlos Williams and his Red Wheelbarrow,
    and Robert Frost mending fences on a snowy evening in a yellow wood (and “Out! Out!” kinda creeping me out at 13).

    So maybe I WAS paying a bit more attention than my ADD initially recalled…

  16. I read and wrote poetry as a young man, and wrote a couple as an adult, then just sort of dropped it. I do have a book by Ogden Nash, whom I love.

    Lawrence Block, in one of his writing books, mentioned that to his knowledge he has never perpetrated a poem. Guess that sums up his attitude.

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