April is National Poetry Month, and I'm honored to welcome nationally-acclaimed children's poet Kristine O'Connell George as a guest blogger on Corkboard Connections. Kristine is one of my favorite children's poets, and I know you'll love her work, too! Kristine shares her love of poetry with us and offers tips for teachers who want to foster a love of poetry in their students.
Falling in Love ... With a Poem
by Kristine O'Connell George
Have you ever fallen in love with . . . a poem? One of my first loves was tall and thin with a rhythmic, thoughtful voice. There was a touch of mystery.
The poem begins:
This is my rock,
And here I run
To steal the secret of the sun;
Sometimes, I worry that we have turned poetry into the literary equivalent of broccoli. Or Brussels sprouts. Something you should eat because it’s good for you. Yuck! Too many see poetry as difficult and feel inadequate—uncertain and uneasy. Sometimes, even unsure as to how a poem is supposed to be read aloud.
The poets I know do not write poems as showcases for literary devices. They do not slip in a simile, add a touch of assonance or off-rhyme, and wrap it up in an anapestic rhythm to bedevil and torment teachers and small children.
The poets I know write, revise, and struggle with words to create their poems because something touched them deeply. Amazed them. Tickled them. They write because they want to share these feelings with others. They write—as I do—because we hope our poems will be read aloud and perhaps an unseen reader will share our delight. I like to think that David McCord had his own special rock where he “met the evening face to face.”
The late Charlotte S. Huck, Professor Emeritus of Ohio State, told me that she always read poems twice to her students. (She felt that since so much meaning is packed into a poem, kids needed to hear a poem at least twice.) She read poems aloud. No discussion. No analysis. Charlotte felt that—over the course of a school year—students would absorb, internalize, and begin to truly appreciate poetry. That they would hear and begin to understand the amazing things language can do and begin to use some of these tools in their own writing.
Charlotte also noticed the same thing that I have observed: It’s easy to read a funny poem aloud. The kids laugh! However, students often give us blank stares when it’s a thoughtful poem. They twiddle their shoelaces; we assume they did not understand the poem and we stop to explain it. However, Charlotte noted that it was often the thoughtful poems with surprising images that students would remember months later. While it might seem as if students are not paying attention, they’re listening and if they make a personal connection with a particular poem, they will take it into their hearts. I believe we need to trust that this process works, and get out of the way of a poem. Allow a poem to live and breathe before we analyze, dissect, and label its parts.
Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day
So, how to find those poems you love? While there are reams of poetry on the Internet, I often find myself whizzing and clicking—never giving the poems I find the time and attention they deserve. Instead, I prefer to discover the poems I’ll share with children the old-fashioned way—in books.
- Favorite Kids' Poetry Books
- 44 (and maybe more!) Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month & Poem in Your Pocket Day
Or, listen to poetry readings on the Internet. Here are some links to get you started:
- Poetry Aloud - I’ve recorded a few of my own poems on this page.
- Favorite Poem Project
- Record-a-Poem, sponsored by Soundcloud and The Poetry Foundation
- Poetry Out Loud – National Recitation Contest
Kristine O'Connell George is one of the principal voices in contemporary children's poetry. Since her first highly-acclaimed book, The Great Frog Race, was published in 1997, Kristine O'Connell George's poetry has generated excitement and earned honors and praise. Awards for her books include the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Golden Kite, Claudia Lewis Poetry Awards, and many, many more. Visit her website to learn more poetry teaching tips and to find teacher guides for her books.