In addition to being National Art Month, April is National Poetry Month.
Begun by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month was created to encourage more Americans to read, support, and promote American poets.
However, poetry is a global activity. Since the beginning of writing (and as part of the oral tradition), people around the world have expressed themselves through poetry and in just about every language on earth.
So let’s take this opportunity to celebrate all poetry, regardless of nationality.
Keep in mind, two of the highest-selling poets in recent years have been a Persian (Iranian) Muslim poet from the 13th century named Rumi and a 99-year old Japanese woman named Toyo Shibata!
Here are five things you can do to encourage your child to read – and appreciate – poetry from around the world.
1. Explain poetry to them. When you’re just getting started reading poetry there are a lot of things that don’t seem to follow the rules. Sentences are broken up across multiple lines. Sometimes the punctuation is different from what you’d expect – or missing. Explain to your child that a poem doesn’t have to follow the same rules as other types of writing. It is a concentrated expression just trying to burst off the page.
2. Read poetry with them. To begin with, get a good children’s poetry anthology such as The Random House Book of Poetry for Children or Caroline Kennedy’s A Family of Poems, and read one aloud to your child during your reading time. Read the poem a few times before you ask your child any questions about it. If they’re confused, go through line by line and explain what the poet is saying.
3. Memorize poetry. Select a poem that you think would be easy and enjoyable for you and your child to memorize and then work on it together. Making poetry your own in this way is a great incentive to read more and it boosts children’s confidence in their ability to understand and relate to poetry.
4. Make your own poetry. The great thing about poetry is that it has no rules. You and your child are totally free to create a poem based on anything you would like – from roller coasters to apples to a favorite TV show or stuffed animal. Once you have written your poem, make sure to share it with others.
5. Collect your favorite poems. Since I was in elementary school I have collected poems I like by copying them over in little notebooks. Sometimes I try to gather the poems together by theme but usually the poetry I copy reflects the way that I am feeling at a given moment in time. So over the course of one little book, I can revisit the happy and sad times that made me relate to particular poems. I have started doing this now with my son and I can only hope he will treasure these poetry books as much as I do.
For more resources on poetry for children, check out the Poetry Foundation’s website and their page for children and this great blog, Poetry for Children, with ideas and book recommendations.
To get you started on your family’s poetry collection, here’s a wonderful poem from American poet Maya Angelou.
I Love the Look of Words
Popcorn leaps, popping from the floor
of a hot black skillet
and into my mouth.
Black words leap,
snapping from the white
page. Rushing into my eyes. Sliding
into my brain which gobbles them
the way my tongue and teeth
chomp the buttered popcorn.
When I have stopped reading,
ideas from the words stay stuck
in my mind, like the sweet
smell of butter perfuming my
fingers long after the popcorn
I love the book and the look of words
the weight of ideas that popped into my mind
I love the tracks
of new thinking in my mind.